Seminar teaching

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 adaptation of the story. Illustration by Leonard Leslie Brooke.

Using fairy tales to teach key literary techniques and concepts

“Students can be encouraged to experiment with different narrative techniques themselves, for instance exploring structural devices such as frame narratives by writing them into a fairytale or nursery rhyme.”



The seminar (despite larger numbers and generally shorter timetabling slots) is still – alongside (and usually supplementing) the lecture – a dominant pedagogic genre in English Studies. At most universities, the chances are that a large proportion of your face-to-face interaction with students will take place in seminars.

The object of these pages is to explore ideas about seminar teaching, largely (though we hope not exclusively) in the English Literature domain. We do not intend to be prescriptive. But we hope that these pages will be found useful by recently-appointed lecturers and others in thinking about and developing their own seminar teaching.

“We cannot take for granted that this is a medium students are naturally good at. “

In these pages you will find, first, a short discussion of the principles underpinning seminar teaching, followed by a series of suggestions for structuring a seminar discussion. These range from brief general suggestions to more specific and focused activities, and some detailed activity ideas kindly provided by Barbara Bleiman and Lucy Webster of the English and Media Centre. We next provide specimen checklists for the peer-assessment  and self-assessment of your teaching. Finally, you will find some suggested ‘ground rules’ for group activity.

Literature teachers have much to learn from colleagues in adjacent practices of Creative Writing (e.g. workshopping) and English Language (e.g. structured, skills-based tasks).

Seminar and small group teaching is the subject of a recently published English Subject Centre good practice guide, Small Group Teaching in English Literature, edited by Jonathan Gibson.