Here are a few bread-making tips to help the aspiring bread maker!
Yeast needs a warm safe place to grow--most recipes call for putting yeast in warm water for a bit before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. The water should be just warmer than skin temperature, but not hot. Too hot will kill the yeast, but too cold will not stimulate it. This is one reason why most recipes call for warm water or milk--it warms the whole dough so that it can accept the yeast.
Add just a pinch of sugar to the yeast as it sits there--yeast loves sugar, and will grow fast and bubbly for you! (Do take care, as I've had it bubble right over onto the counter more than once!!) Happy yeast helps make a nice airy bread though.
Yeast is inhibited (or even killed) by fats and salts. So don't put yeast with butter/oil or salt until after it's growing well. (This is one reason that many recipes call for adding at least some flour before adding the yeast, and also why many recipes say to scald the milk--scalding the milk helps destroy its natural enzymes which would battle with the yeast.)
When you are kneading, put flour on the counter, but get your hands wet with water (rather than flouring them also). I was skeptical of this at first, but it has worked well for me. Basically if you add flour from both the counter and your hands, then it is making the dough stiffer as you work...however if you balance the counter-flour by having water on your hands, it helps maintain the texture of the dough. And no, I don't get sticker hands--if anything, they seem to be less-sticky when I do it this way!
Here is the great secret about kneading. One of my friends told me this, and she heard it from her grandmother...it's certainly a married woman's secret, but I have found it to be perfectly accurate! How do you know when you've kneaded the dough enough? When it feels like the family jewels! ☺