Before you try to improve your lecture skills, you first must decide if the lecture approach is the best method of teaching to achieve the instructional goals of your course. Lecturing is quite appropriate for some goals, but inappropriate for others.
Lecturing is advantageous in that it:
- Gives you a means of conveying enthusiasm for the subject and providing a role model of the scholar in action.
- Lets you convey material otherwise unavailable, including original research or recent developments that have not yet been published.
- Provides organization, particularly for students who read poorly or who are unable to organize print material themselves.
- Creates a low-risk situation for students, in that most of the activity is your responsibility.
- Emphasizes learning by listening, an advantage for students who learn well this way.
Lecturing also has several drawbacks:
- Students are largely passive in lecture situations and give you little feedback about what they are learning.
- Lectures are not well suited to complex, detailed or abstract material.
- Lectures do not readily promote higher levels of learning such as application, analysis, and synthesis.
- Lectures assume that all students are learning at the same pace and at the same level of understanding, which is hardly ever true.
- Lectures rarely sustain student attention, and tend to be forgotten more quickly than more interactive lessons.
Planning a Lecture
The best lectures are well-planned and require effort on your part to make them cohesive, clear, complete and relevant.
Consider your audience.
Undergraduates represent a broad cross-section of backgrounds and skills and, as a result, may arrive at college with varying levels of competence. You neither want to talk over their heads nor patronize them. You will be more effective if you try as much as possible to draw on knowledge they already have or appeal to experiences that, by analogy, suit the topic.
Determine how the lecture fits into the course as a whole.
What are your objectives? Do you want to provide the students with an overview of the subject, give them some background information, or provoke them into further contemplation?
Generate an outline that will enable you to cover everything relevant within the time allotted.
Organize well to downplay less relevant material and cover important points more thoroughly. To generate an outline for your lecture, follow these steps:
- Formulate one general question that covers the heart of it, one you could answer in a single lecture. Take time to write it down and study it.
- Generate three or four key points you could develop to answer this question.
- Define the elements of your key points.
- Generate effective examples or analogies for each.
- Develop your examples beforehand, to illustrate a particular point and broaden students' understanding of the subject.
- Prepare ways to illustrate examples with chalkboard diagrams, slides, overhead transparencies, demonstrations, or case studies, any of which can increase students' understanding and interest.
Beginning a Lecture
The beginning of the lecture is critical. Here are some strategies for starting, to help capture and keep students' attention.
Find a "hook" for getting students' attention.
- State a question that will be answered (or at least better understood) by the end of the lecture.
- Pose a problem. Unlike stating a question in a single sentence, posing a problem may require a paragraph or two.
- Give an example of the phenomenon to be discussed.
- Tell a relevant anecdote about yourself, a friend or famous colleague.
- Create a demonstration that illustrates the topic or puzzles the students.
- Review some previously covered material, when directly related to and essential for understanding the current lecture.
- Provide an overview of the lecture.
- State the objectives to be accomplished with the lecture.
- Tell a funny story or joke, if relevant to the material.
- Give the lecture a title.
Provide an introduction.
Begin with a concise statement, something that will preview the lecture. Give the listeners a frame of reference for the remainder of your presentation. Refer to previous lectures. Attract and focus their attention.
Present an outline.
Write the outline on the chalkboard or use an overhead transparency or handout. Be sure you refer to the outline as you move from point to point in your lecture.
Delivering the Lecture
There are a number of points to remember about the style and clarity of your lecture presentation. The following suggestions can ensure that your lecture is clear and well received.
Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard.
This may seem obvious, but undoubtedly we have all sinned against this prescription. Perhaps in the very first class you should suggest that people signal you if they cannot hear.
Avoid distracting mannerisms.
Verbal tics like "ah" or "you know," straightening your notes, adjusting your tie, or fiddling with a pen can be quite distracting.
Emphasize principles and generalizations.
Research suggests that these are what people really remember—and they are probably what you really want to teach.
Repeat your points in two or three different ways.
Your listeners may not have heard it the first time, or misunderstood it, or had no time to write it down. Include examples or concrete ideas—these aid both understanding and remembering. Use short sentences.
Stress important points.
This can be done with your tone of voice. It can also be done explicitly, e.g., "Write this down; this is important; this will be on the test." Pause. Give your listeners time to think and to write.
Concluding the Lecture
The conclusion of the lecture gives you the opportunity to make up for any lapses in the body of the lecture. Allow some time to conclude effectively.
Encouraging students to formulate questions by asking questions yourself can facilitate memory and understanding. The prospect of unanswered questions to be treated in future lectures creates anticipation.
Restate the main points.
Without merely summarizing, use a new example, ask students to restate the main points, show where the class is now.
Give students the chance to immediately process the information from the lecture.
You can stimulate discussions and increase interaction after presenting a lecture or large amount of content by pairing up students and giving them two to three minutes to react, respond, and raise questions or issues about the material just presented. Ask for volunteers to report on the issues or questions raised in their dyads.
A final point: Do not let students rush you to the end.
Avoid verbal or behavioral cues that habitually signal the end of class, such as gathering notes or returning to the podium. Prepare remarks to refocus waning student attention (a friendly reminder such as, "You have four more minutes for which you have paid your tuition, and I shall end promptly, so just wait to grab your backpacks.")