Everyone has their own unique teaching style and that is a good thing.  Students respond differently to different teaching techniques.  A good instructor typically has a number of different teaching tactics in their arsenal - if one approach doesn't work, perhaps another will.  Here are a number of well tested teaching approaches.  Take a close look at them to see which ones you use.

Whole Part Whole

This is a common approach we often use when teaching the forward paddling stroke.  We start out demonstrating the full stroke so everyone can watch and get the big picture.  The next step is breaking down the individual components with the clever acronym - CPR: Catch, Propulsion (or Power), Recovery.  After making certain every knows the components, we put the whole package together with another demonstration.  Now that the students understand the mechanics, they get to demonstrate forward strokes under our watchful eyes.  Here is a nice article providing more details on this teaching technique: Whole-Part-Whole Instruction.

Demonstration / Modeling

Sometimes all students need is a simple and clear demonstration.  Make certain you are quite visible to the whole class and concentrate on good form.  When you think of it, many novices run rivers in this manner.  The trip leader runs out in front and the novices pretty much replicate his/her moves through the rapid.  We don't complicate the whole process explaining every turn/maneuver.  This is a simple and often quite effective teaching method.

Modeling is another form of demonstration.  A common tactic is taking Foamie - a simple model kayaker that floats and sending him down a small trickle of a stream to see what happens.  Drawing diagrams in the sand for river currents is another form of modeling.  Toss a stick into a strong eddy to show visually that the current heads back upstream.


We are all quite familiar with this teaching method.  Lecture presentations place a high premium on prior preparation and good speaking skills.  I like to quiz my students throughout the presentation to keep their attention levels high.  It really helps to schedule frequent breaks as well to avoid that all too common dazed spaced out look.  This approach works well for describing theory topics like rescue priorities or topics like liability and the law.


This is a form of teaching I frequently use.  This technique requires engaging your students.  I like to think of it as constantly testing the students as you proceed through your talk.  Asking questions, have someone summarize, clarifying responses when necessary.  Students are often able to process information ahead of your talks and fill in the blanks for themselves.  Providing reading material before the class enables students to come prepared with questions - some of which can be challenging.  You will often uncover some real experts in your class for specific topics and learn something in return.  This can be a powerful teaching method and you will definitely need to control the class to ensure everyone participates.  It is surprisingly good at building student confidence.  Here is a great article on this teaching technique: Reciprocal Instruction.

Role Playing / Scenarios

Scenarios are a key tool in most SWR classes.  We stage a foot entrapment outside the view of the students.  We often add a panicked bystander.  When the students hear a single whistle blast, they walk over to the scene and the exercise begins.  Key to this type of learning is prior teaching of the subject matter.  It also helps to have some stronger students that can take on the incident commander role.  Scenarios often combine many different skills, selecting the best approach, initial confusion to force thinking and bring some reality to the scenario.  After the scenario is concluded, we sit down and have a debrief - what worked, what didn't, ways to improve.


Progression learning takes a fairly complicated skill or topic, starts with the simple parts, and adds the more difficult parts once each proceeding component is well understood.  Teaching the kayak roll is one example.  Start by teaching the hip snap without a paddle.  When they think they have mastered the hip snap, have them hip snap off a paddle float.  The next step is having them demonstrate a high brace with a solid hip snap and head rotation.  Now you can have them relax upside down and simply guide the paddle in a wide sweeping motion while they turn their torso and head to follow.  The next step may be jiggling the paddle when you want them to hip snap.  Finally, they combine the sweep, hip snap, and rotation for a complete roll.

Guided Discovery

Guided discovery is yet another way to challenge your students.  Start out with simple questions.  When it looks like the students are handling those, build up with more challenging questions that require more detail or understanding.  It may be difficult to use this technique in a class with several students that monopolize the class.  Competition is fine but not overly conducive to teaching.

Teachable Moment

Mishaps sometimes happen.  In a recent class, someone slipped on loose gravel in the parking lot while in a hurry to retrieve something from their car.  What a perfect opportunity to teach the value of a first-aid kit, necessary contents, first aid, and proper irrigation.

Concepts in Teaching and Learning

The following articles were written by Robin Pope (ACA ITE) and provides an excellent overview of teaching practices targeted to paddle sports education: