When the word “lecture” is mentioned, this image may come to mind: a lone speaker hidden behind a podium reading directly from an inch-thick stack of papers, never meeting the audience’s gaze. Typically, a lecture is defined as an oral presentation that transmits or conveys information. When we consider how people learn, lectures should not consist of tedious, lengthy orations.
In contrast, lectures that are carefully planned and designed bring the classroom back to life. Lectures become short presentations focused on engaging students with the material presented through a variety of interactive ways. In this section, evidence-based teaching and learning principles are discussed and applied to help you plan your lecture.
Your lectures must have a clear structure to be productive, especially in today’s distraction-filled classroom. You want to avoid moving from one topic to another without making explicit connections, as this makes it difficult for students to understand the information.1 Organize the lecture information into a meaningful sequence to support student learning.2 For beginning instructors, structure lectures around the book chapters or central ideas in the discipline.
Amount of Information
To plan and evaluate how much information will be delivered through lecture, set aside the notes and materials under consideration and ask yourself: “How much of this information will students actually remember?”
There is a limit to how much information people can remember.3 Ask yourself: “What are the two or three main concepts of the lecture that I want students to understand and retain?” Limit the concepts to help focus on the most important ideas to be delivered during the lecture (Learn More). To help students retain information, divide the lecture content into “familiar units or chunks."3
Create an outline of the lecture, so that students don’t spend extra time trying to make sense of how the presented information is connected. Present this outline at the beginning of the lecture, to provide a framework students can use to organize their knowledge. Revisit the outline when you transition to a new concept.
Consider different ways to present information. A concept map, which is a graphical representation of connections between ideas, helps students make sense of information, especially if the topic is unfamiliar. It also helps you reflect on the amount of information being presented.
(1) Dubrow, H. & Wilkinson, J. (1984). The Theory and Practice of Lectures. In M.M. Gullette (Ed.), The Art and Craft of Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
(2) Davis, B.G. (1993). Tools for Teaching. Josey-Bass: San Francisco.
(3) Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. The Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.