Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning


by James M. Lang (Author)

Employ cognitive theory in the classroom every dayResearch into how we learn has opened the door for utilizing cognitive theory to facilitate better student learning. But that’s easier said than done. Many books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In Small Teaching, James Lang presents a strategy for improving student learning with a series of modest but powerful changes that make a big difference―many of which can be put into practice in a single class period. These strategies are designed to bridge the chasm between primary research and the classroom environment in a way that can be implemented by any faculty in any discipline, and even integrated into pre-existing teaching techniques. Learn, for example:

  • How does one become good at retrieving knowledge from memory?
  • How does making predictions now help us learn in the future?
  • How do instructors instill fixed or growth mindsets in their students?

Each chapter introduces a basic concept in cognitive theory, explains when and how it should be employed, and provides firm examples of how the intervention has been or could be used in a variety of disciplines. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication with students.

From the Inside Flap

Cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists all have produced a revealing body of research over the past several decades on how human beings learn, but often translating these findings into the classroom is overwhelming for busy instructors. Small Teaching bridges the gap between research and practice by providing a fully developed strategy for making deliberate, structured, and incremental steps towards tuning into how your students are hardwired to learn.

Developed by a global authority on teaching and learning, the practice of “small teaching” enables every type of educator in all disciplines to energize and boost student understanding by introducing small activities that require minimal preparation and grading. The models inside are specifically designed to be used as both one-time experiences to innovate a course session or unit plan as well as a menu of options that can be combined into an entirely new teaching approach. Each chapter gives examples of how a particular learning phenomenon appears in everyday life, supporting research and findings, up to five small-teaching models, guidance for customizing your own models, and quick-reference features when you need inspiration fifteen minutes before class. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication with students that let you:

  • Capture or recapture the students’ attention, provide quick opportunities for student engagement, and introduce or wrap up new learning
  • Deepen student understanding of material and expand their ability to analyze and improve their own learning
  • Give students the tools, techniques, and principles to effectively practice a range of cognitive skills

Small Teaching gives you all the know-how and how-to for making big improvements to your learning environment.

From the Back Cover

Praise for small TEACHING

“The deft way that Lang positions his learning recommendations as ‘micro’ changes will make this book catch on like wildfire in higher education.”
―Victoria Mondelli, executive director, Teaching Excellence & Engaged Learning, Mercy College

Small Teaching is packed with ideas that will have you highlighting like mad. But this is no mere collection of tips―instead, it’s a powerful, coherent framework aligned to the realities of teaching in higher education today.”
―Michelle Miller, director, First Year Learning Initiative, University College, and professor, Northern Arizona University

“Lang’s book offers what so many faculty members want and need: small-scale changes that can enhance their teaching and their students’ learning―not just ‘someday’ but Monday.”
―Marsha C. Lovett, director, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University

“In Small Teaching, Lang shows us that sometimes less really is more―less disruptive and more appealing, less complicated and more doable, less busy-work and more student learning. Be ready to underline, add comments, attach sticky-notes, and share your copy. In fact, buy two because your first copy will forever be on loan to colleagues ready for easy-to-adopt ideas that offer real results.”
―Susan M. Zvacek, associate provost for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, University of Denver

“Lang’s ‘must-read’ new book Small Teaching presents a vital array of brief classroom activities, course interventions, and course design modifications that can enhance student learning, any of which can be employed at any time during the semester. Supported by thorough research and an engaging narrative style, this book can be mined by faculty across the disciplines on any campus that prizes student learning.”
―Jeffery Galle, director, Center for Academic Excellence, Oxford College of Emory University

“The notion that amazing teaching can come as a result of making small, research-based changes seems simple, but it has the potential to empower many in higher education. James Lang has done us all a great service by providing strategies that allow us to be more efficient and effective in the classroom without overhauling our entire approach to teaching.”
―Joshua R. Eyler, director, Center for Teaching Excellence, and adjunct associate professor of humanities, Rice University

“James Lang’s Small Teaching manages to distill volumes of educational research into practical strategies that can be put to use immediately, without having to remake your whole course. I expect I’ll be seeing well-thumbed copies on professors’ bookshelves for years to come.”
―David Gooblar, pedagogy columnist for Chronicle Vitae, and founder of

About the Author

JAMES M. LANG is director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He is the author of On Course: A Week- by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching and Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty as well as a monthly column for The Chronicle of Higher Education. His website is


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