by Lisa McGrimmon
The best crafts to teach are ones that you can teach effectively and that students will want to learn. That may sound obvious, but making those two important factors come together takes some planning.
Knowing how to do your craft, and knowing how to teach your craft are two very different things. When you're going to have a room full of people who are not experienced with the skills they'll need to use waiting for your instruction, you'll be in a better position to ensure success if you've carefully thought through your class from start to finish. You have your crafting skills, now it's time to polish up your teaching skills and determine the best crafts to teach for you.
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The first step in good lesson planning is deciding what you're going to teach. You should be smart and strategic in this decision. The project you choose to teach can make all the difference in the success of your class. Some projects will be far more appropriate than others, and some projects will be far more popular than others. Here are a few things to consider to help you choose the right class to teach.
When deciding what you're going to teach, your options may be constrained by certain realities of your situation. To help you choose the right project for your circumstances, think about the following:
Many crafts involve a wide variety of skills, tools, raw materials, and techniques. Ask yourself whether all of the fundamental elements of your craft are adaptable to your classroom setting. Are there some elements of your craft that would be better left out? Be sure students will still feel they've had a full, satisfying experience if you're not teaching certain elements of your craft. Depending on your classroom venue, and your craft, some types of projects may be a better fit for certain classroom settings than others.
Choose to teach a project that allows students to develop a few skills well enough that they will be able to do them on their own by the end of you class. You don't need to teach everything all in one class.
Ask yourself: What are the essential skills required to do your craft? Do the skills build on each other? How long would it take a beginner to develop and use those skills in a satisfactory way? Are there elements that can be grasped with a few practice attempts, or do the skills take a long time to develop?
Consider what skills a beginner would need to learn to create a simple project. Remember, you don't have to teach all of the skills related to your craft. Just teach enough that your students feel they've learned something new, created something satisfying, and have enjoyed themselves.
In my own experience teaching, I've found students learn more when you teach less. Sometimes teachers get over-enthusiastic, and they want to share everything they know. When that happens, they usually end up teaching nothing.
If you try to throw fifty new skills or ideas at your students in the course of a two hour class, they will learn nothing. You might want to make sure students get their money's worth, but you're actually doing them a disservice by throwing too much at them at once. Your students might feel like they are following along with you during the class, but once they leave and try to use those skills on their own, they won't be able to remember anything.
Your students will learn more and get better value from your class if you just teach them a small number of skills well. Give them time to understand, watch you, practice on their own, and correct mistakes. If you teach a few things well, students will come out of your class confident that they can carry on at home on their own with similar craft projects.
Your teaching location can have a huge impact on the type of class you can teach. Consider the following regarding the venue where you'll teach your craft:
Will the space allow you to develop multi-day classes (like a craft shop), or will you only see your students once (like a home party)?
Does the venue provide enough space to teach any project you could imagine? If you often work on larger pieces (like a woodworker making furniture), you may need to scale-down your project ideas if your space is limited.
Will supplies, tools, good lighting, safety gear, ventilation, and tabletops or other workspaces be provided? If you're teaching knitting at a yarn shop, at a student forgets to bring knitting needles, she can easily purchase a pair from the shop. If you're teaching in your home studio, you might have an extra pair to loan her. But, if you're teaching at a community center, there won't be extra supplies and tools on hand unless you bring them. Think through everything you and your students would need to have a successful class, and determine how you would ensure those needs are met.
How many students can you fit in your space? You may want to maximize profits and your time by teaching as many students as you can, but teaching in an over-crowded space is uncomfortable for the students and embarrassing for the instructor.
I used to run free weekly community-based workshops, and we always over-booked because usually only three quarters of the people who booked would show up. I could comfortably fit a maximum or 12 people in my room, so I cut off weekly signups to 16 people. Then, one week, all 16 people showed up. The poor people were packed in like sardines. Luckily they were a lovely group, and we made it work, but I would not want to be teaching like that on a regular basis.
You have to be very careful about managing the number of people you can reasonably teach at once, not only based on the space you have, but also based on the amount of individual attention students may need. You'll get a feel for the number of students you can comfortable teach over time. When you're starting out, be wary of spreading yourself too thin; you'll need to be able to provide one on one assistance to students along the way. You can always make class sizes larger as you get more experienced and comfortable teaching.
Are your students likely complete beginners who will need to learn all of the basics, or are they more intermediate or advanced and won't need every detail explained. This consideration will have a huge impact on the type of projects you can choose. Remember, you don't want to throw too many new ideas at students at once. If they are beginners, that means you need to choose a project that doesn't require the mastery of a lot of different or complex skills.
When deciding what you'll teach, in addition to thinking about what type of project would work well logistically, you should also spend some time thinking about what type of project would be popular, so you can fill you class with eager students. What you want to teach, and what people in your community want to learn may not be the same thing. Be sure to think this through, it can have a big impact on the success of your classes and whether they fill up or not.
Is there some element of your craft that's trending at the moment? Perhaps now's the time to offer a class. Maybe it's not your craft that's trending, but you can pick up on a fashion or decor trend to highlight in the project you teach. If ombre, or pineapples, or owls, or llamas are hot, consider incorporating one of those trends into the project you choose for your class.
Take a look around, and see what's already being offered in your community. Is there something missing? Look for the gap that you could fill with your class.
A gap might exist in the type craft skills being taught. Perhaps macrame is hot, and you're a pro at it, but no one in your community is offering classes. If you jump on the class idea, you could be the first in your community to offer that type of class, and there's a big advantage to being first.
There might be a gap in the skill level of classes available. Crafts instructor, Gwen Bortner, says filling a gap in skill level is how she got her start as a knitting instructor. There were classes available for beginner and intermediate knitters, but there were no advanced-beginner courses. There was a real need for those classes in her community, so she filled the gap.
There might also be a gap in the style of projects available. Maybe your community has some established classes in your craft, but the style of the finished product doesn't reflect everyone's personal taste. For example, if the classes in your area offer projects featuring more traditional styles, and you have a flair for contemporary, modern design, your classes featuring modern projects could fill an unmet need.
Take seasonal elements into consideration when you develop your class. In the spring, students might enjoy a project that's fresh and bright to usher in the new season and say goodbye to the cold of winter. In late autumn, when Christmas is approaching, students may enjoy learning how to make something that's a great gift-giving option.
I was delighted to find Gwen Bortner's class, How to Teach It, on Craftsy. I've taught everything from jewelry making to career planning, and rarely have I been so impressed with and excited about a teaching resource.
If you want to teach you craft, be sure to enrol in Gwen's class first. It is exceptional and full of detailed resources and answers to questions that all new craft teachers have like, How do I decide what to charge? How should I organize my class? Can I teach a project based on someone else's pattern? How do I promote myself to get teaching gigs? How do I handle a challenging student?
Gwen's class rocks, and, if you want to teach your craft, her class will save you hours of wondering and researching, so you can get right down to creating and marketing your first class.