Prof. Blumenthal engaging with students in a conversation about different methods of birth control and how they are represented in the novel "A Care of Need"

What is a seminar course?

Although “seminar” can mean a course with different speakers at each class, here we are using it to mean a small, discussion-based course. In a seminar course, students do assigned reading and then, under your guidance and direction, grapple aloud with the ideas they’ve read. They learn to form arguments and support them with facts; they learn to communicate coherently and courteously with those who disagree.

Why teach a seminar course?

Advanced material in many disciplines, especially the humanities, cries out for discussion in depth. As you help your students explore the ideas, you convey why they’re important to you and to your students. Seminar courses are often cited by students as the most meaningful and transformative of their college career.

Developing a seminar course

To develop an effective lab or field course, we recommend these steps:

  1. Design/redesign your course thoughtfully with our Course Preparation Handbook and Course Design Aids. Stanford instructors can meet with a CTL consultant for course design support.

  2. Create a syllabus that’s not just a list of readings and assignments, but a robust statement of learning goals and outcomes.

  3. Plan your strategy and questions for the small group.

  4. Get feedback on your teaching midway through the term, so you have time to make changes in the same quarter.

  5. After it’s over, reflect on your experience and interpret your end-quarter evaluations thoughtfully.

Tools for seminar courses

Here are some tools for teaching a seminar course. The links will take you to other pages in Teaching Commons where you can learn more.

How to communicate with students

Seminar instructors usually use email and/or a Learning Management System, or LMS (e.g., CourseWork) to communicate with students.

Learning Activities

Seminar courses aren’t just discussions. To help your students learn the material, and to vary the time in class, use these tips on leading small group discussions and sample small group exercises.

Outside class, of course, your students will do lots of reading, so plan and structure that to be as useful as possible with these reading tips.


Assess your students’ learning by having them write, present, and create projects. Here are good resources:

Learn More

Case Studies

The Oracle Team America yacht in the SF Bay during the 2013 America's Cup. Photo by Tom Ehman.

When Engineers Go Sailing

Bob Tatum, Margot Gerritsen, George Springer

Abstract art: Gorge Improvisation by Kandinsky, detail

Using Improv Techniques to Learn Public Speaking

Adam Tobin, Matt Abrahams
COM 42 (Continuing Studies)

Pedagogy Students Learn by Doing

Thomas Ehrlich, Mariatte Denman
CTL 297, EDU 297