Plan to teach inclusively

Planning is key to teaching inclusively

Proactive not reactive

Planning means taking a proactive approach that will pave the way to more successful and engaged seminars and classes. By contrast, reactive approaches follow a deficit model that requires individual adjustments and retrofitting, which risks alienating or stigmatising particular students. Planning to teach inclusively means thinking about what adjustments are required that benefit all students.

Learner-centred not teacher-centred

Successful inclusive teaching is about adopting a learner-centred, flexible approach that caters for a diversity of students and takes into account all students’ skill levels and understanding when delivering curriculum content.


Add this handy PowerPoint presentation to your Unit site and class slides as a quick guide on Where to find help at Deakin (PPTX 213KB). An alternative format is available to download here Where to find help at Deakin (DOCX 40KB). This includes links to study skills learning resources and as well support services for all aspects of student life.

Deakin students studying
The following sections will guide you through key areas that will help you to plan to teach inclusively.

Pre-plan checklist

Key questions to ask yourself

  • What prior knowledge or experiences are students bringing into the learning environment and how can I build upon that?
  • What are some of the physical, conceptual, linguistic, and cultural barriers that may exclude students from succeeding?
  • How will I ensure that all students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and/or understanding to achieve the learning outcomes?

How do you answer these questions?

Build knowledge and awareness: develop knowledge of inclusive teaching, how to manage classroom interactions (see below), and teaching diverse learners.

Know your students:

  • Class lists: obtain class and photo lists of your students from STAR to gain some sense of your student diversity. You will need to request access to STAR if you don't already have it.
  • Students with a disability: check with your unit chair to find out if any students have a Learning Access Plan (LAP) and if there are there any note-takers in your seminars. Do you know what you can do to support students with a disability?
  • Review physical learning environments: check physical learning spaces and assess that the layout is accessible and inclusive. Rearrange the room in a circle or semi-circle to encourage inclusive participation. For more information about assessing physical learning spaces see Located learning spaces.

Check teaching technologies: arrive early to check that you can operate technology and that it is all working. Contact the IT HelpDesk if you require assistance. All phones in teaching spaces have a clearly marked line to IT Help.

Check teaching materials: check that your teaching materials comprise a range of accessible formats ensuring that no students will be disadvantaged.

Become familiar with student support services: find out where to direct students to get help such as study support and faculty student services: Arts and Education, Business and Law, Health and Science, Engineering and Built Environment. Remember you are not expected to do it all on your own. See Teaching support services at a glance for a complete directory of student services.

Top 4 planning tips for the first day of teaching

1. Introductions

2. Expectations

  • Ensure your students are clear about your expectations, particularly in regard to behavior, attendance and class participation.
  • Consider drawing up a class charter or 'rules of conduct' as a collaborative activity.
  • Make clear what pre-class preparation is expected, for example weekly set readings.
  • Clearly outline key dates, such as assessments, census and intra-trimester break, as well as assignment guidelines, Assessment Procedure, and special consideration. Refer your students to the key dates in Deakin's academic calendar, including public holidays and university shut-down dates.
  • Explain the marking system including the marking turnaround. Don’t assume students know what a High Distinction, Distinction, Credit and Pass mark mean.

3. Explain learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are often perceived as somewhat of a mystery by students.

  • Remember that for many students, particularly those from equity backgrounds, university is a foreign land with an alien language and culture.
  • Take time to explain each of Deakin's eight graduate learning outcomes in plain language.
  • For more information about learning outcomes see Chapter 3, Leading Courses (PDF 867KB) and Curriculum Development for Unit Chairs (via self-registration on CloudDeakin)


  • Engage students by dividing the class into small groups and ask them to discuss and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in relation to some of Deakin's graduate learning outcomes.
  • Ask groups to report their responses to the class.
  • Relate student responses to a curriculum map that illustrates how learning outcomes align with the scaffolding of skills, resources and assessment tasks. This will help consolidate student understanding of how all the unit components 'fit' together.

Watch this short video that presents Deakin students discussing the importance of clear learning outcomes.

Students' perceptions about learning outcomes


A video transcript may be downloaded here: Learning outcomes (DOC 14KB)

4. Introductory learning activity

Given students are generally unprepared for their first class or seminar, devise an engaging learning activity that introduces students to a fundamental concept of their unit material. For example, show a short video (ensure it is accurately captioned) and ask students in pairs or small groups to see if they can identify key issues that relate to their understanding of the unit. This will encourage collaborative learning, help alleviate first day anxiety, and allow students to get to know each other as well.

Make a lesson plan

Take time to plan your teaching sessions using a lesson plan.

Constructing a lesson plan will:

  • provide a framework for you to deliver unit content
  • give a clear focus
  • provide you with confidence in the classroom
  • organise your teaching time
  • make certain you have appropriate resources and materials (e.g. handouts)
  • prompt you with fall-back options (go to Plan B if Plan A doesn't work!)
  • ensure learning objectives are met
  • accommodate skills' acquisition.

Lesson plan templates, guides and examples

Lesson plan templates are a useful way to help plan your seminars and classes. Download this simple-to-use learning activity plan template (DOC 42KB) that we designed for inclusive teaching.

Guides that suggest questions to ask yourself and what you need to include when planning a teaching session:

Examples that will help you construct your own lesson plan:


Key teaching strategies to remember when designing an inclusive lesson plan

Avoid overloading the student

  • When dealing with a dense and complex piece of writing or video clip, identify key concepts which they should focus on to avoid overloading students.

Avoid over-complicating slides

  • Don’t overcrowd your slides with many concepts as this can be difficult for a student to process, especially if they are trying to decipher the meaning of the concepts and listen to you at the same time. Remember that first year students are still coming to grips with academic language, and students for whom English is not their first language will struggle with reading and listening at the same time.

Unpack the language

  • Explain specific terms, jargon, slang etc. in plain language.
  • Ensure that students can identify and understand terms as they are being used in context. Use glossaries and other language tools to assist students in understanding threshold concepts and discipline-specific language.


  • Annotated exemplars of both strong and weak assignments will assist in clarifying expectations and ideas.
  • Use inclusive exemplars relating to positive experiences, contributions and ideas of resources that could be used.
  • See UTS Sample Written Assignments for a suite of annotated essays by discipline.

Student groups

  • Consider Group Work in learning activities and assessment tasks to facilitate sociocultural and linguistic understandings or to provide certain cultural perspectives on a discipline topic.

(Deakin University 2015, pp. 6 – 7)

Download this quick one-page Deakin guide to Inclusive teaching hints and tips (DOC 36KB).

Plan inclusive class discussions

Anticipating how you will handle discussions, argument and debate will help ensure that all students feel that they are able to contribute and that their contribution is valued.

Creating a positive classroom environment will facilitate inclusive debate and can help ensure no student feels excluded.

Inclusive teaching takes a student-centred approach that enables students to:

  • feel they belong and are part of a group
  • be acknowledged as an individual
  • have supportive group relationships
  • are encouraged but not pressured to contribute
  • understand that making mistakes is a valuable part of the learning process and not one that stigmatises them
  • have opportunities to participate and be involved
  • feel they have learnt or achieved something at the conclusion of the seminar.

To achieve this tutors should:

  • show interest in the subject matter and the students themselves
  • make the aims of the teaching session clear and achievable
  • challenge students via questions to develop students' capacity to reason, analyse and think critically
  • vary learning activities
  • anticipate student difficulties and problems
  • demonstrate flexibility, openness and that tutors 'don't know everything' but learn from students as well as teach them.

(Adapted from Griffith Institute for Higher Education, now Griffith University Learning Futures n.d.)


Create ground rules for discussion

Task students to create their own ground rules for discussions. Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Think about the best group discussions they have been involved in. What things happened and made these conversations so satisfying?
  • Think about the worst group discussions they have been involved in. What things happened that made these conversations so unsatisfactory?
  • What common themes, shared experiences, and features of good discussions would you like to see present in this unit?
  • Try to suggest three things a group might do to ensure these characteristics are present.
  • What common themes, shared experiences, and features of unpleasant discussions would you not like to see present in this unit?
  • Try to suggest three things a group might do to ensure that characteristics of bad discussions are avoided.
  • Draft a charter for discussion from these suggestions.

(Adapted from Brookfield & Preskill 2005, pp. 121 – 122)


Create culturally inclusive discussion

This infographic models the key points of creating a culturally inclusive classroom:

  • Positively interact with students.
  • Actively discourage classroom incivilities.
  • Encourage open, honest and respectful class discussion.
  • Use inclusive language and appropriate modes of address.

Culturally inclusive classroom graphic
(Barker, Fredericks and Farrelly n.d.)


Refer to Teaching International/CALD students for more practical tips and strategies.


Planning questions to facilitate inclusive discussion

Using questions in class is a useful strategy to assess the level of student understanding and foster student engagement. Effective questions will help you identify vulnerable students earlier so you can direct them support services, such as study support. For more information see Using questions in class (PDF 67KB).

The following table outlines effective ways to ask inclusive and open-ended questions.

Technique Actions
Pausing Allow students time to think about a question before responding.
Re-phrasing Perhaps the students aren't responding because they have no idea what you mean?
Direct the question in different ways Question to group followed by volunteer response.

Give question, choose individual, and then receive response.

Choose individual. Give question then receive response.

Redirecting A useful technique to involve other learners and draw out other views.
Reacting Always react in a positive way despite the response. In the case of an inadequate answer it may be necessary to clarify the question or redirect it to another student.
Probing Probing questions help to stimulate thinking skills. Teacher may probe for clarification or examples.
Distributing Make sure the questions involve all the students if possible.
Encourage student questions Perhaps allow time for reflection. Respond positively to any questions that emerge.

(Flinders University 2015, p. 10)

Be prepared for tackling difficult situations

It is good to have some strategies in hand for the rare occasion when a discussion gets overly heated or when a student demonstrates challenging or aggressive behavior. Of course, if you feel a situation has escalated and you are unable to handle the situation by yourself, remember you can call Deakin Security for help. Responding promptly to ‘hot moments’ without judgement can diffuse tense situations.

Tips for dealing with difficult behaviours

Stay calm

  • Don’t allow emotions to guide your response.
  • Avoid being dragged into power struggles.

Keep the issue about the behaviour, not the person.

Use ‘assertive language’

  • “I” statements e.g. “I would like everyone to hear that.” Rather than: “You are talking too much.”

Allow students to ‘save face’

  • Don’t challenge them in front of their peers.

The student needs to know that they are being heard

  • Ask them privately: “You seemed a bit distracted in class today. Would you like to talk about it?”

Ask yourself who owns the problem

  • Is there something that you’re doing (or not doing) as the teacher, that’s contributing to the problem?

Remain solution-focused

  • While it is not your responsibility to solve students’ problems, you can support them in the problem-solving process.
  • Use statements like the following: What would you like to see happen? What can you do to help bring that about? What are your options?

Be self-protective

  • Never allow yourself to be bullied.
  • Seek support if necessary.
  • Keep documentary records of difficult situations or challenging behaviours.
  • If you do need to speak with a student privately, be visible.
  • Keep the door open, or have a colleague join you.

(Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching n.d., pp. 7 – 8)

Tips for dealing with hot moments (PDF 217KB) discusses how to manage controversial discussion topics.

Critical incident analysis (PDF 411KB) presents a reflective teacher perspective on dealing with critical incidents in higher education.

Further resources

Center for Research on Learning and Teaching 2016, Diversity and inclusion, University of Michigan, retrieved 11 May 2017.

Devlin, M, Kift, S, Nelson, K, Smith, L & McKay, J 2012, Effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds: practical advice for teaching staff (PDF 1.14MB), Office for Learning and Teaching Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, retrieved 11 May 2017.

Devlin, M & O'Shea, H 2011, ‘Effective university teaching: views of Australian university students from low social-economic backgrounds,’ vol. 17, no. 4, Teaching in Higher Education, pp. 385 – 397, retrieved 11 May 2017.

Devlin, M & O'Shea, H 2011, Teaching students from low socioeconomic backgrounds: a brief guide for University teaching staff (PDF 1.25KB), Higher Education Research Group, Deakin University, retrieved 11 May 2017.

Effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds: resources for Australian higher education,, retrieved 16 June 2017.

University of Colorado 1999, On diversity in teaching and learning: a compendium (PDF 729KB), Office of Academic Affairs, retrieved 16 June 2017.

University of Western Australia n.d., Culturally inclusive practice (PDF 698KB), retrieved 16 June 2017,


Australian Mathematical Society 2014, M3—Planning and designing lessons, AustMS, retrieved 13 June 2017.

Barker, M, Fredericks, E & Farrelly, B n.d., GIHE good practice resource booklet—designing culturally inclusive learning and teaching environments—classroom strategies (PDF 52.3 KB), Griffith Institute for Higher Education (now Griffith University Learning Futures). Reproduced for Deakin staff with permission by Griffith University, 26 April 2018.

Brookfield, S 1995, Becoming a critically reflective teacher, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Brookfield, SD & Preskill, S 2005, Discussion as a way of teaching: tools and techniques for democratic classrooms, 2nd edn, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.

Deakin University 2015, Inclusive teaching practices (PDF 552KB), Deakin Learning Futures, retrieved 9 May 2017.

Fautley M & Savage J 2013, Lesson planning for effective learning, Open University Press, Maidenhead (eBook available DU Library).

Flinders University 2015, Laboratory demonstrator’s handbook, Centre for University Teaching, retrieved 13 June 2017.

Griffith Institute for Higher Education (now Griffith University Learning Futures) n.d., Teaching in tutorials (PDF 168KB), Griffith University, Southport (with permission from Prof. Kerri-Lee Krause).

International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) 2013, Learning and teaching across cultures, IEAA and Office for Learning & Teaching, retrieved 21 June 2017.

RMIT 2015, Using questions in class (PDF 66.5KB), Study and Learning Centre, retrieved 9 May 2017.

Penn State University n.d., Introduction to planning a class session (PDF 254KB), Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, retrieved 19 June 2017.

Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT) n.d., Guide to tutorials, TILT, retrieved 20 June 2017.

University of Birmingham n.d., Critical Incidence Analysis (DOC), University of Birmingham, retrieved 18 June 2017.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *