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Teaching and Learning Tip #28: Helping Students Succeed in General Science Classes Through SI

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Tip #28: Helping Students Succeed in General Science Classes Through Supplemental Instruction

Contributed by Arianna Thobaben, Learning Center and School of Education

Did you know HSU has a Supplemental Instruction (SI) Program?  Help students succeed in general science classes by encouraging them to join!

What is Supplemental Instruction?

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is a program run through the HSU Learning Center that offers peer-led review sessions for bottleneck science courses. Students voluntarily enroll in a 1-unit CR/NC class and are expected to attend two 50-minute sessions a week. HSU offers 70+ sections annually and has over a decade of data supporting its value to students.  

SI courses have a strong representation of underrepresented groups (URG) and first generation students; success rates are significant for all who attend. There is a very strong correlation between success in SI and success in the content class. In fact, a larger percentage of students who attend SI achieve As compared to students who don’t take SI.

HSU’s SI program started in 1996 and follows the International Center of Supplemental Instruction’s research-based model developed by the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) and is led by a UMKC certified Supplemental Instruction Coordinator.

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SI is offered for BIO 102, 104, 105, 340; BOT 105; CHEM 107, 109, 110, 328; PHYX 106; and ZOOL 110. In the 2016 -2017 academic year, the program served over 920 students, which is approximately 20% of those enrolled in the core classes.  Even if you don’t have an SI section attached to your class, you can still adopt some of the impactful tenants of the SI program into your pedagogical practice.

What makes SI so impactful?

SI sessions are based on research supporting the effectiveness of collaborative, active, and peer-to-peer learning. SI sections are led by trained student leaders who earned high grades in the SI-attached course. These SI leaders communicate regularly with the lecture faculty and with the SI Coordinator.

  • SI sessions give a structured environment to actively grapple with difficult material. While students are exposed or introduced to the material during class and through readings, they don't necessarily know how to process that new knowledge.
  • SI embodies creative activities so that students can practice retrieving and rehearsing content and problems. Through recall and rehearsal, they better understand their gaps in knowledge and can work with others to fill in those gaps (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014).
  • SI leaders are perceived as less intimidating than faculty, so students are more willing to ask questions and take chances.
  • SI teaches effective and transferable study skills.
  • SI is collaborative: students in SI teach and learn from one another. Although the SI leader is there to guide activities, the role of the leader is not to lecture, but instead create collaborative and active learning activities (Laal, Naseri, Laal, & Khattami-Kermanshahi, 2013; Bruffee, 1993).
  • SI is purposeful about creating a community of learners. Community promotes risk taking in answering and asking questions, helps students form study groups outside of SI, and in general, helps students feel connected to the university and their peers (Elliott, Gamino, & Jenkins, 2016; Tinto, 1997).
  • SI is fun. SI leaders go out of their way to develop novel activities to challenge students and get them excited about the subject.

Faculty feedback about SI:

“Supplemental instruction is a fantastic resource for both the students who take it and the students who teach it. Physics is an inherently difficult subject and as such many students need extra help. SI provides a low-stress environment where students can help, and learn from, their peers, providing them with the support and confidence they need to succeed in my course... Working with the SI instructors has also been a great experience, many of whom are already dedicated to the craft of teaching. It's wonderful that they get valuable hands-on experience as they delve deeper into the subject at hand.” - Tyler Mitchell, Ph.D.;  Physics 106

“SI is highly beneficial to students! It allows them to review material in a friendly, low-stress environment because they are not graded and because the lessons are led by peer undergraduates. The small class setting builds community among the students and that has been shown to improve their performance and grades…”  - Mihai Tomescu, Ph.D.; Botany 105

Learn more at the Chancellor's Office Supplemental Instruction webinar on April 6 from 12-2pm in the Library’s Scholar’s Lab.


Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., & McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it stick : The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Bruffee, K. A. (1993). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bruner, J. S. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Elliott, D., Gamino, M., & Jenkins, J.J. (2016). Creating community in the college classroom: Best practices for increased student success. International Journal of Education and Social Science 3, 29-41. Retrieved from

Laal, M., Naseri, A.S., Laal, M., & Khattami-Kermanshahi, Z. (2013). What do we achieve from learning in collaboration? Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 1427-1432.

Tinto, V.  (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 68, 599-623.

Humboldt State University