Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

Delivering Lectures

Move beyond monologue

A good lecture is a dialogue between you and everyone else in the room. That's why you planned those interactive exercises: people learn and retain more detail when someone talks with them, not at them.

Set a conversational tone

Arrive at class a few minutes early and chat with students about topics other than your upcoming lecture. You can break the ice with a comment about current events, a story in the school paper, or a casual check-in.  Later, during your lecture, have some flexibility in your timeline and approach to respond to students' questions and comments.

Get students talking to each other

If they spend this time writing, make sure they also have the chance to talk about their responses with each other. Talking with their classmates–and being called on to share what they've discussed–lets them know that your lecture will be interactive.

Pay attention to your speaking skills

Use variety in your voice:

  • change volume from forceful to soft;
  • change speed and tempo of speech;
  • pause and be silent (to get attention)...think period at the end of your sentences!
  • speak to the students NOT the board, flip chart, or overhead;
  • enunciate clearly;
  • avoid repeating words/phrases/fillers (i.e., "umm, okay, uhhhh......")

Show enthusiasm

  • vary speech (from excited speech to a whisper);
  • raise eyebrows; open eyes wide, maintain eye contact (but do not stare; also look at students not your notes, scan the entire group, look at students individually for 3-4 seconds each);
  • move freely, naturally, change pace of moving (rapidly to slowly...but do not pace back and forth);
  • use highly descriptive words; 
  • vary your facial expressions;
  • show high degree of energy/vitality; (highly demonstrative);
  • be quick to accept, praise, encourage or clarify, nod head when agreeing;
  • try to have an enthusiastic conversation with students rather than lecture at them;
  • smile often; be friendly and positive.

Make a point of learning your students' names

If space permits, use name tents (heavy cardstock paper folded in half and perched on the edge of desks) or ask students to hold up their name card when they ask a question.

Always ask students for their names when you call on them, then try to mention their names again during the same class period. ("That's a good point, Rachel. It recalls what Myan said about the third law of thermodynamics.") Be sure to gesture back in Myan's direction to remind yourself and the class where Myan sits.

Hand back papers and exams in person to connect names and faces

As encouraged above, arrive at class early and get to know some students before each class.

Your goal does not have to be to have all 300 names at your fingertips. Just learning and remembering a fraction of them can mean much to students who are typically identified in large lecture classes by number rather than name.

Check student understanding

Here are some ways to make sure students are following the main ideas in your lecture.

  • ask students to answer given questions (i.e., "Who can describe in their own words the theory of....?").
  • verify student responses by:
    • providing the correct answer;
    • listing some possible correct answers;
    • showing the answer on the board, flip chart etc.
  • guide incorrect answers by:
    • asking a guiding question;
    • explaining the missing idea and then allowing the student to answer;
    • describing what student is doing wrong.
  • ask questions about each major point, first at a recall level, and then gradually increase to more complex levels--comprehension, analysis, synthesis, application, or evaluation.
  • ask students to share questions (i.e., "What questions do you have at this point?" or "Write down the muddiest point for you at this time. Then I'll collect and address your questions.").
  • present a problem, test item, or case study which requires use of lecture content to answer. (i.e., "Based on the content covered so far, answer this multiple choice item...").
  • watch the class for nonverbal signs of confusion (i.e., loss of eye contact, talking, or clock watching).

Reach for the back rows

Whether you're lecturing in one of your 12-15 minute blocks or calling on students during 3-5 minute exercises in between, make a point of incorporating everyone into your conversation.

Here are a few ways to reach those back rows:

Wander the aisles

Get a wireless microphone, and go up to the top of the room, down toward the bottom, stop halfway in between. Try spending five minutes in the middle of the aisle. This breaks up any spatial monotony that might lull otherwise distracted students into continuing with their distraction, and it catches the attention of students in the entire room.

Make the back row the front row

During the first week or two of the course, create a seating chart based on where students have chosen to sit for themselves. (That is, do not assign seats; just record the seats they've chosen.) Tell students that you've made a chart and want them to remember their seats. Then, at the beginning of the next class, tell everyone to sit one row behind their original seats. All rows will shift backwards except for the back row itself; those students come down to the front row.

Some teachers are put off by the logistics of this strategy, but you don't have to forfeit the first ten minutes of your class for the rest of the term to arrange this situation. After two or three class sessions, students will know where they're expected to sit. What makes this practice work is your attitude: don't abandon it a few weeks into the course. Students will adapt to it quickly if you maintain the momentum.

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