Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Course Design > Content Warnings
Content warnings precede and flag sensitive themes and content. Content warnings are sometimes represented by the acronym
might also be referred to as
content notes, or
Some prefer to use the framework of “informing” rather than “warning.” Choose a label that best fits with your teaching and courses.
Trigger warnings are a more specific type of content warning that alert people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other disorders to content that can cause intense emotional, physical, and mental symptoms. As researchers describe, “The concept of ‘triggering’ describes the re-experiencing of unpleasant PTSD symptoms such as intrusive thoughts being evoked by exposure to materials which spark traumatic memories.”
Content notes are not meant to censor faculty or excuse students from engaging with difficult course material. Instead, content notes help students to prepare and care for their health. When students are aware of difficult or triggering content ahead of time, they may be able to take necessary steps to support their mental and physical health that will allow them to more effectively participate and engage with course material. Still, sometimes, students may need to skip part of a class to balance their well-being with their learning; this has always been true, regardless of content or trigger warnings.
Researchers categorize content warnings or notes into three broad categories:
Warnings in the course schedule help students to look ahead and prepare. Building specific descriptions of content addressed in your classes may also have the added benefit of helping students see connections between topics and themes. Give students some specific instructions for how they can talk with you about any concerns, such as a First Day Survey or office hours.
Choose a strategy for setting up sensitive content: a verbal reminder, a note on the board/screen, a note in the chat, or a note within the course materials. Then, provide students a short break so they have time to check in with you if needed.
You can keep it simple: “Let’s take a break before we discuss [insert sensitive topic].”
The tips in Facilitating Difficult Discussions may also be helpful.
Send or post a brief note to students about the upcoming material. In asynchronous courses, this method works well before a module or week begins.
Frame the content with a brief warning and provide additional context for the texts you’ve assigned. This is also a great way to relate the assigned materials back to your course goals and learning outcomes.
This can be facilitated during synchronous or asynchronous small or large group discussions, or individually with free writing. Through these activities, students can begin exploring difficult content or themes. As a bonus, you’ll be providing students opportunities to transfer prior knowledge.
Use exit tickets and a midterm survey to solicit input from students.