Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of learning and teaching in medicine

Creating teaching materials

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 26 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:921
  1. Richard Farrow

    The nature and qualities of the teaching materials that you use can have a substantial effect on the educational experience of your students. Teaching materials can often distract learners rather than help them to learn. Common avoidable problems include overcrowded or illegible slides, irrelevant or badly prepared handouts, and incompatible multimedia equipment. It is important therefore to know how to create effective teaching materials.

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    Ground rules

    Five basic principles apply to preparing teaching materials, irrespective of the type of material you choose: links, intelligibility, general style, highlighting, and targeting (LIGHT). You may sometimes decide to ignore one or more of these principles, but if you do, think carefully about what you are trying to achieve.


    Your teaching materials should have obvious and direct links to your talk, discussion, or presentation. Handouts are the main offenders in this category, and it is not unusual for handouts to have little in common with the talk. It is quite acceptable for the teaching materials to give some additional information, but this should not be excessive.

    Preparing overhead transparencies

    • Try to use typed rather than handwritten script

    • Use a type size that is big enough to be read by the whole audience—for example, at least 20 points

    • Make sure that the colour of your text works—for example, dark print on a pale background

    • Limit each transparency to one idea or concept

    • Use small print

    • Use overhead transparencies packed with tables and figures

    • Use light colours


    The teaching material should be easy to understand and learn from. How this is achieved will depend on the medium used and the venue of the talk or presentation. Use simple language and avoid overlong sentences or statements. Diagrams can help to clarify a complex message. If you are using slides or overhead transparencies, the size of the print needs to be large enough …

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