Teaching aids and Instructional materials- tools for teachers and students

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Psychologists, designers, educationalists, and many professors around the world work on improving the quality of education because a lot depends on the education of a whole generation. The resources a teacher uses while teaching play a role in how students learn. Motivation, stimulation, retention, interest, actionable learning, etc. can vary based on how the act of teaching occurs.

In this article, I’ll be covering how the teachers of tomorrow can leverage digital interactions and technology to facilitate learning. Traditionally speaking, we are talking about teaching aids and instructional materials.

If you want to know WHY these help in learning, you can read this article on the psychology and neuroscience behind it.

Teaching aids and Instructional materials

Note: From a 21st century, post-pandemic point of view, teaching aids and instructional materials can be considered as “learning and teaching resources” for a hybrid online-offline educational setting. They are now mostly screens and computers connected via the internet (teaching aids) and educational media (instructional materials). Technological changes have merged the concepts of teaching aids & instructional materials in ways that old definitions did not foresee.

Teaching aids (TAs): Teaching aids are objects (such as a book, picture, or map) or devices (such as a DVD or computer) used by a teacher to enhance or enliven classroom instruction (Merriam-Webster). They could be audiovisual teaching aids such as videos and guest lectures or tactile like 3D models.

Instructional materials (IMs): Instructional materials are defined as resources that organize and support instruction, such as textbooks, tasks, and supplementary resources (adapted from Remillard & Heck, 2014). It refers to the human and non-human materials and facilities that can be used to ease, encourage, improve and promote teaching and learning activities. They are whatever materials used in the process of instruction (IGI global). The great Soviet encyclopedia defines IMs as educational resources used to improve students’ knowledge, abilities, and skills, to monitor their assimilation of information, and to contribute to their overall development and upbringing.

What are Teaching Aids?

Broadly speaking, any device, method, or system that helps to teach can be called a teaching aid. These devices can be traditional items such as blackboards and flannel boards as well as electronic devices such as tablets and projectors. Scientific tools such as telescopes and microscopes could also be used as teaching aids in a given context. Two overarching common factors between most teaching aids: mediums that promote sensory engagement and stimulation.

Examples based on classification systems: 

Classification 1

Non-electronic – Chalkboards, flip boards, slates, print photos & media, telescopes

Electronic/digital – Computers, mobiles, clicker devices, internet-powered apps, PowerPoint slideshows, Augmented reality/Virtual reality goggles, AV-room equipment, music/art-based content delivery

Classification 2

Auditory: Radios, tape recorders, CD players (now redundant)

Visual: Slides, projectors, digital screens (now mostly digital screens only)

Audiovisual: Youtube, Vines (yes, they are helpful), Ted Talks, Live stream apps, documentary repositories, Instagram guides/stories, reels, and TikTok

Audiovisual and tactile: 3D models, field visits, toys, lab apparatus, plant/animal/rock specimens

Collaborative/Social: Online classrooms, forums, Facebook pages, Quora spaces, subreddits, special interest group discussions, virtual meetups, study and support groups, websites that allow collaboration, score/progress tracking websites, feedback websites

What are Instructional Materials?

Instructional materials are those items that assist and describe the information aspect of teaching. These could take the form of textbooks, worksheets, 3D models, charts, infographics, etc.

Instructional materials also include assessment and testing methods. Basically, any material, any information containing resources which that the teacher uses while instructing. Now testing materials don’t necessarily contain information, but they help the retention and learning of information, thus, they are instructional materials. Sometimes, they are a means to an end, the end being the assimilation of information.


Traditional resources: lectures, talks, writings, project rubrics, guidelines, textbook primers, reference books, extra-readings, teacher and student-created summaries, workbooks, supplementary material such as flashcards and charts

Digital media: Explainer videos, photos, presentations, infographics, talking-head videos, audio summaries, podcasts

Open resources: Expert blogs, open-source journals, public databases, open courseware, forum discussions, memes

Testing resources: Standardized tests, classroom assignments, online submissions, quizzes, essays, collaborative projects

Key differences between Teaching aids and Instructional materials 

As you’ll see in this article, TAs and IMs work together to reach teaching goals. However, the traditional separation of TAs and IMs is superficial and needs revision. It breaks down based on who uses a specific tool and how it is used. Dictionaries don’t define Instructional materials clearly. The term “instructional material” is largely restricted to the literature on specific pedagogies. In fact, the term ‘Instructional materials’ is used in the context of reaching course-based learning goals. IMs are specifically designed to align with learning objectives and outcomes. Whereas, teaching aids are not always designed to meet course-based goals. You might have guessed – the same object can be a TA or an IM.

Example 1: A teacher is using a book in the class; each student has a copy.

If a book is used as a course-prescribed resource, it is an instructional material.

If the book is a student engagement activity (reading and discussing a story to build vocabulary) and isn’t a part of the syllabus, it would function as a teaching aid.

Example 2: You are studying algae under a microscope.

A microscope would be an instructional material if a course-based learning goal is ‘using a microscope to study microscopic entities’.

However, a microscope would be a teaching aid for a theory class on algae. A teacher could use one to show students what it looks like in order to engage the class in learning about algae.

Traditionally speaking, teaching aids have been thought of as devices that can be used – white and blackboards, computers, calculators, projectors, slideshows, tape recordings, television, etc. Teaching aids are tools that help the delivery of information. A TA isn’t information, or to put it in a different way, information is not directly embedded in a TA. But IMs often have information embedded in them. Resource books, worksheets, graphs, etc. are all IMs because of this embedding. However, tools such as microscopes are IMs if they are precisely aligned with a teaching objective.

Sometimes, graphical media can be used as both – infographics could be a teaching aid if they help but not a core teaching resource, or they can be embedded within a book or used as a way to summarize a larger concept directly. Digital media is often considered as an Instructional material because information is embedded in it and it needs planning for educational use. This planning is eventually integrated into the coursework as a learning activity.

An incredible amount of learning takes place online. That’s why teachers have redesigned & repurposed their content for online delivery.

Teaching aids, Instructional material, and resources for the digital learning sphere

Many decades ago, TAs and IMs were focused on classroom activities. However, the very definition of the classroom has changed. The world has moved online and online classes are now a valid alternative method of conducting educational activities. Lectures are presented via ZOOM, Skype, and Microsoft Meetings. All notes are provided digitally. A typical class appears on a screen as a collection of students and teachers. What materials and aids work in such a situation? What are the unique problems of such classes that TA & IMs can solve?

  • Most students are very familiar with searching for supplemental material on the Internet. Most prominently, students use Wikipedia, professional YouTube channels like In a nutshell, Sci-show, Veritasium, Numberphile and CGP gray, Reddit (asking questions, finding sources, discussing), and additional independent content offered by courses on Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy. Many students even run their blogs to show what they learn and jot down notes. Some make creative videos and run podcasts. These are all self-motivated alternatives to the use of TAs and IMs. These work because millennial and gen Z students prefer autonomy and control in how they learn. They are intrinsically motivated because they have the choice to choose how they learn. Teachers can facilitate this and tap into this autonomy. Teachers can also curate these resources for students based on their preferences and learning goals.
  • The search for content online taps into our “transactive memory.” A novel problem of internet-based learning is the potential to forget what you learn because we remember where to find information better than what the information is (The Google Effect). Many students can now take the time to look for information because they are good at it. Knowing this, many don’t feel the value in remembering it. However, remembering information is a necessary condition to make it “intuitive.”
  • There are a number of tools that can be used to present information via audio and video. Online tools like graph generators, graphic designing software, coding platforms, podcast notes, qualitative and quantitative research tools like NVivo and python, etc. are alternative digital TAs. Online content sources (audio & video), discussion threads, e-books, and curated lists are alternatives to Instructional materials. The largest advantage of this is an increase in the diversity of thoughts and informational sources – a clear predictor of quality learning.
  • Depending on what students have to learn and what teachers are willing to teach, any aspect of browsing the internet can be a potential TA or IM. For example, browsing Amazon for learning about user experience and e-commerce works as a TA and IM. Most pages on the internet are densely connected to other pages and because of intimate familiarity with the internet, it is possible to explore and learn.

The need for teaching aids and instructional materials

  1. Conceptual knowledge requires examples, familiarity with the concept’s features, contexts, and engagement/experience. These tools directly help.
  2. Some academic subjects like biology or electronics can benefit students in more useful ways if they know what the real-world counterparts to a theory are – circuits, tissue under a microscope, plants, etc. Such information sticks longer because the memory encoding for these concepts involves strong sensory and experiential components. The brain acquires concepts with multiple representations in a network- right from what the concept looks on paper to how it feels to the senses. 
  3. Using YouTube videos and discussing Ted talks puts dense information in a familiar context. YouTube is a part of human culture, so are memes, putting information in the context of the internet culture can motivate or change the perception of the so-called ‘boring’ topics. 
  4. IMs and TAs also motivate students at the level of the classroom. This goes hand in hand with confidence (security that one can learn) as having materials is proof of accessing information. Having access can, at the very least, prime students to learn. 
  5. Relying on general information on the internet can overwhelm students due to an inherent lack of direction and potential misinformation. This problem can be solved by designing IMs to accommodate snowballing around a topic, using authority references, summarizing content or priming content like video overviews and infographics.
  6. The cost of implementing TAs and IMs is not trivial. However, improved teaching efficacy and learning efficacy can significantly lower the burden of learning course content. Teachers may save time, students may require lesser effort to achieve learning goals, and primary organizational resources would be better managed (man-hours to pay for, classroom upkeep, scheduling). And even if it does cost the organization a little more, better learning would probably always be worth it. 
  7. Testing and assessment not only helps to confirm the learning of content but also helps improve the learning. Research has shown that being tested (the testing effect) can promote memory and conceptual understanding. Attempting worksheet exercises, quizzes, essays, etc. reinforce learning as well as create a hub for further self-motivated learning. Check out the 1st link in the articles listed below for referenced research insights.
  8. At the superficial level and the definition level, who wouldn’t want a lively class and learning experience? 

TAs and IMs would work even better if they are aligned with brain-based learning concepts. These concepts are a framework to design a way the brain processes information. If TAs and IMs hijack these processes or even reinforce them, the growth in learning would be dramatic.

Other articles you might find useful:

  1. Study habits for teachers to teach and students to use
  2. Inquiry-based learning: viability, research, and methods
  3. How to learn anything efficiently
  4. Deliberate creative thinking using construal levels

By fully utilizing these resources, you, as a teacher or a learning facilitator, can make your lessons rich and fun for your students!


Special thanks to my partner Prerna Gaikwad, an English Language Teacher from Pune, India, who helped create this article. I wrote this post after detailed discussions with her on how teachers can strategically improvise their teaching method to optimize the quality of learning and help students, especially the ones who need additional support to gain mastery.


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17 thoughts on “Teaching aids and Instructional materials- tools for teachers and students”

  1. please may you help me on how you can employ teaching aids in teaching style on the Caucasian chalk circle by Bertolt Breatch

  2. What are the teaching aids use to make the role play lesson more meaningful to the students? Explain briefly how use of them in lesson.

    • Hey, thanks for taking an interest in this concept. For roleplaying, props, immediate environment, student’s psychological status, and student’s participation is important.
      I’d use multiple items which are symbolic of some important aspect in the role-playing & develop a context which student’s find relatable. You can use regular classroom objects as props. But where is what I think would make things more meaningful for students.

      Plan ahead. Announce that there is a role-play lesson and ask student’s to prepare materials or bring props. This will get them to anticipate the lesson, build some excitement, and involve themselves. You can plan this with the student’s inputs.

    • Hey Basira, when it comes to mathematics, it is important to focus on a number of things simultaneously like conceptual clarity, logical steps, formulas, worked examples, comparison between similar concepts, etc. So teaching aids which can address these will be useful. It’ll be even more useful if students can interact with these TAs and refer to them as and when needed.For example, pascals triangle, trigonometric values, 3D models of shapes + geometric formulas, charts with graphs of various functions. Research also shows that math learning can improve when similar related problems are given one after the other. In this case, guidelines on how to approach those problems can also function as a teaching aid. Perhaps an empty grid on a chalkboard would be a good teaching aid if the lessons require organizing information in a grid.

      If you wish to apply these teaching aids and make it economical, you could recruit students to help build these teaching aids as a class project. Do share the nature of lessons for which you need teaching aids, I can then make more precise recommendations. Hope this helps.

    • Hey Peter, instructional communication is human communication and non-humsn systems of communication which follow a structured approach with respect to teaching and training. Instructional communication is human-centric – students and teachers. Instructional communication also aims to understand and utilize all sorts of communication relationships between students, teachers, peers, assistants, etc. It refers to an ecosystem of how information is delivered (how instruction is communicated to others), talked about, and personal characteristics of all people involved. For example, a teachers style of teaching and conversational tone can be a unique type of instructional communication. A teacher who gives out bullet points and then tells stories which highlight each point can also be a unique type of instructional communication.

      Instructional media is not dependent on humans – video lectures, slideshows, cheat-sheets, etc. These are tools which assist teaching and learning.

  3. can you explain me how can we use instructional materials in teaching social sciences.
    Example: how can we use charts, presentations, 3D models , textbooks in teaching social sciences.

    • It gets a little complicated when we use instructional materials for social sciences. Unlike, the basic sciences, there aren’t too many standardized models, equipment and tools.

      However, here are some starting points:

      History/politics – heatmap charts over time in video format or static format, timeline charts, graphics, videos
      Psychology – Brain models, experimental set-ups

      Presentations can be used for all topics but the contents really depend. If you want instructional materials to deliver or reinforce your lecture content, presentations need to capture fundamentals, global highlights, quick facts, questions to ponder, etc. It’ll also be useful to map textbook references & pages along with keywords to charts, videos, and presentations.

      Please do give me a detailed context so I can answer better!

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