Effective Lectures

alt="A professor stands in front of her class making a point, her students watch in the background."

Effective Lectures

Lectures are best suited for helping students make connections with factual knowledge. Good lectures model expert thinking, tell good stories, and share experiences that provide context and insight.

How Can I Do This?

Lectures are one of the most common methods used by instructors in higher education. They can be very effective if planned carefully and delivered mindfully.

What should the structure of my lecture be?

To write an effective lecture think about the beginning, middle and end. These can be thought of in 3 main ideas: context, content, closure.

  • Context will provide a background and explain the relevance and connections with other learning.
  • Content will augment the readings to help students draw connections and alternative explanations (see section why do we lecture).
  • Introducing too many new key concepts in one class will result in cognitive overload for the students. Like trying to pour water into an already full jug, students won’t learn more just because you give them more. Aim for quality over quantity.
  • Provide closure. Helping students summarize the lecture reinforces the learning outcomes and contextualizes upcoming topics as students prepare for the next class.
What type of lecture do I want to give?

Will you present information in an outline format, defend a thesis with evidence, tell a story, demonstrate a procedure, or solve a problem? Or perhaps a combination of these?

  • Whichever format you choose, convey your expertise and enthusiasm for the subject matter. That will motivate students to want to know more.
  • Think about the amount of time you have and the level of the students' learning to decide on the best format(s).
  • State your outcomes for the class and align the type of lecture with these.
What will support my lecture?

What can help your lecture be more interesting for the students? How can you motivate them to come to class and learn? You can use many tactics, from high tech tools to simply using your body and voice effectively.

  • Your voice is very important. Use intonation, speak more slowly than you normally do and make sure you project well or use a microphone. Check that the people at the back of the class can hear you.
  • Don’t stand behind the lectern to give a lecture. Move around the class and make eye contact with everyone, especially those at the back.
  • Sound enthusiastic about your topic; it can be infectious.
  • Teach students how to take notes, especially in courses for first year students.
  • Provide an outline for the lecture where they fill in the details, or give them time every 15 minutes to summarize what has been said.
  • When using a slide presentation, place only the main ideas on the slides, use images whenever possible, don’t read from the slides, and strive to keep the number of slides to a bare minimum. Avoid bulleted lists!
  • While lecturing, remember you are contextualizing and applying the information.
  • Using appropriate music or short videos to supplement the content will break up the lecture to help student attention.
How much student interaction should there be in my lecture?

What will the students do? The higher the level of interaction, the higher the retention of information and comprehension of the concepts. Every 15 minutes the students should have to do something with the information.

  • Ask them to complete a table or graph or draw a concept map of the ideas you have presented.
  • Ask them to summarize the main ideas.
  • Get them to predict what will happen and share it with a partner.
  • Ask them to write down the “muddiest point” of the lecture so far.
  • Ask them to share with their neighbor a time when they had an experience related to a given topic.
How will I know if the students have learned from my lecture?

Assess your students frequently. Ways to do this: quick multiple choice quizzes, looking at their notes, using a classroom response system, checking their summaries.

  • Weekly testing improves long term retention especially if the students get immediate feedback. You can set this up easily in Canvas or some other classroom response system, tool, or app.
  • Use the results from checking student learning to design the next lecture.
  • Asking questions that elicit correct answers from only a few students is not a good indicator of how the whole class understands something.

Why Is This Important?

The main reason we lecture is to add something to the information that students acquire through other material. There is no point in simply repeating what the students have already read; you have to give them a reason to come to class. Lectures should enhance information so students can make it their own knowledge. Good lectures:

  • Provide a conceptual framework for the information
  • Assist students in clarifying key concepts
  • Highlight similarities and differences among concepts
  • Share personal insights, experience and anecdotes
  • Summarize and synthesize different sources of information
  • Organize material to better suit your course outcomes
  • Demonstrate application of the concepts
  • Demonstrate how the discipline thinks about evidence, critical thinking, and problem solving
  • Convey a love and enthusiasm for the discipline