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Strategies for Office Hours and Review Sessions for TAs

Introducing strategies for more inclusive, accessible, and effective office hours and review sessions.

This article introduces strategies for more inclusive office hours and review sessions for all graduate student teaching assistants across disciplines. We cover tips that make office hours more accessible. We also link to active learning techniques to address common challenges during office hours and review sessions.

Define office hours and review sessions

Office hours and review sessions are additional meetings held outside of regular course meeting times where TAs provide guided support for students to review material and reinforce learning. Office hours tend to occur regularly throughout a quarter or semester. Review sessions typically occur shortly before an assessment and are explicitly dedicated to helping students prepare for the assessment.

The purpose of office hours and review sessions is to:

  • Guide students to identify key concepts.
  • Spend time with an individual student or in small groups to learn how you can assist and guide them.
  • Facilitate deeper learning for students by sharing advanced resources and engaging in critical dialogue.

Communicate with students about office hours and review sessions

Some students may have past experiences where office hours are seen as a punishment or only for struggling students. Communicating clearly about your office hours can help clarify their purpose and encourage all students to attend. As a TA, you can rebrand your office hours and remove the barrier for students to attend. Here are things that you may try:

Change what you call office hours to something inviting and descriptive, such as Co-working time, Coffee Break, Consultations, Continuing Conversations, Office Chat, Open Space, Q&A Sessions, or Study Room.

Use warm, welcoming language when communicating about office hours to avoid negative connotations. Some sample language may be, “I highly encourage everyone to visit me during office hours or to set up a meeting. Even if you don’t have questions, I want to get to know and support you in this learning experience!”

Clearly define the purpose, expectations, and ways to benefit from office hours to students by specifying the format, modality, preparation work, attendance frequency, and so on of office hours in your syllabus. Also, consider examples of how previous students have effectively used office hours or share how you have used them in similar courses.

Schedule office hours to support students

There are multiple ways to improve equity and inclusivity in office hours.  Try the following strategies to make office hours easier for students with different needs to attend.

  • Ask for students’ input about office hours time.
  • Offer an online option.
  • Hold office hours at regular times. If online, use a recurring Zoom link and post it in a prominent place on Canvas.

Helpful scheduling tools

Scheduling appointments with students by email can be a lot of work. These tools can make it easy to allow students to book appointments themselves. 

If you work in a TA team, consider varying the time that each TA offers office hours, or offer both appointment-only and drop-in office hours to accommodate different needs.

Plan content for office hours and review sessions

In addition to effectively communicating about and scheduling office hours and review sessions, carefully planning content is essential to make office hours and review sessions most effective in reinforcing student learning and preparing students for assessments.

Selecting content for office hours

The format and content of office hours and review sessions vary across disciplines. Here are a few examples:

Example formats of office hours
Class typeExample office hour content
Laboratory Class
  • Helping students apply data analysis approaches to student-generated data for writing a lab report
  • Discussing odd observations or data that is difficult to interpret
Math or Engineering Class
  • Addressing questions specific to weekly problem sets
  • Relating concepts taught during the lecture to assignments
Language Class
  • Leading activities to reinforce new vocabulary or grammar concepts
  • Leading discussions of readings to check comprehension and support students in assignments related to readings
Writing-Intensive or Project-Centered Class
  • Scheduled one-on-one or small-group meetings to identify areas of interest, brainstorm sources of evidence, generate and finetune thesis statements or arguments, and review feedback on deliverables

Selecting content for review sessions

Assessments vary widely across disciplines, departments, and classes, so review sessions also differ. Strategies for selecting content for review sessions are backward-looking or forward-looking.

Backward-looking strategies for content selection

The backward-looking perspective involves identifying and remediating unfinished learning. Ways to do this include:

  • Student performance on homework and other assignments
  • Questions asked during class and office hours, particularly any that have gone unanswered
  • Allowing students to submit questions (maybe anonymously) via a poll
  • Asking the instructor or previous TAs what students typically struggle with

Forward-looking strategies for content selection

When using a forward-looking perspective, you can help students develop and practice the knowledge and skills that they will need in the future to succeed on an assessment. To do this, you might consider:

  • Questions asked on previous exams or practice questions you develop
  • Activities that require students to identify concepts that are key to the assessment (e.g., revisit important readings or lecture notes to extract key takeaways from each)

It is important to maintain academic integrity at all times while supporting student preparation. If you are ever in doubt about what you are allowed to cover during review sessions or office hours, ask the course instructor.

Use active learning strategies to engage students

Engaging students using active learning techniques can improve learning outcomes (Freeman et al., 2014). In traditional lecture formats, students passively receive information, whereas, during active learning, students complete activities and are actively involved in the learning process. These techniques can also help foster a more equitable and inclusive learning experience.

Many active learning strategies can help enhance your office hours and review sessions (Tanner, 2013). Learn more about active learning strategies with these resources from the Teaching Commons: 

Learn more

Works cited

Favero, T. G. (2011). Active review sessions can advance student learning. Advances in Physiology Education, 35(3), 247-248. doi:10.1152/advan.00040.2011

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415. doi:doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Tanner, K. D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 12(3), 322-331.