Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

Planning Lectures

Good lecture planning begins at the end.  In planning your lecture, try to answer these questions first:

  • What are you trying to say? That is, what should students know or be able to do by the end of your presentation?
  • How do you want to say it? Or, how can you present that information in ways that both communicate your ideas and give students opportunities to process those ideas?

This section will help you plan smart lectures in three steps. First,identify your goals and key points. Second, organize the content for your presentation. Third, design the presentation's introduction and conclusion to capture and keep your students' attention.

Lecture Content: What Are You Trying to Say?

Articulate the goals for every lecture to yourself, and plan to share those goals with your students at the beginning of your presentation

If you cannot identify your own lecture's objectives, neither will your students.  Clarify the particular goals of each day's presentation by listing them to yourself early in your planning process. Then, plan to share that list (or a modified version of it) with your students before beginning your lecture.

Determine which key points can be effectively developed during the class session

It is necessary to strike a balance between depth and breadth of coverage. Given too many details, students lose sight of the main ideas. Or, when too many ideas are presented and not developed, students fail to gain understanding. Be sure to:

  • Stick to 3-4 main points in a 50-minute period
  • Vary your format of presenting every 15 minutes
  • Organize material in logical order:
    • Cause-Effect: Events are cited and explained (i.e., one can demonstrate how the continental revolutionary movements of the late 1700's affected British politics at the turn of the century).
    • Time sequential: Lecture ideas are arranged chronologically (i.e., a lecturer explaining the steps in a clinical supervision model talks about the first step to be undertaken, the second step, and so forth).
    • Topical (Compare and Contrast): Related elements of various selected topics are focused on successively (i.e., a professor lecturing about etiologies, typical histories, and predisposing factors of various diseases).
    • Problem-Solution: The statement of a problem is followed by alternate solutions (i.e., a lecture on the Cuban missile crisis could begin with a statement of the foreign policy problem followed by a presentation of the alternative solutions available to President).
    • Pro-Con: A two-sided discussion of a given topic is presented (i.e., the lecture is organized around the advantages and disadvantages of using the lecture method of instruction).
    • Ascending-Descending: Lecture topics are arranged according to their importance, familiarity, or complexity (i.e., in a lecture introducing students to animal diseases, the diseases of primary importance could be discussed first, the tertiary/less important ones last).

Develop an introduction, body, and conclusion to your lecture to meet those goals and to help your students follow your thoughts

Establish a catchy introduction, a focused body that examines just a few major ideas, and a resounding conclusion that connects and brings closure to the issues raised.  Organize your content into these basic categories; below, we will discuss some different ways to deliver that content.

Begin your lecture with general concepts, then move to specific ideas and theories that build on or explicate those concepts. To avoid merely describing concepts without practical application or context, prepare examples to demonstrate them in practice. Return to your goals again and again: will your practical demonstrations, applications, models, or examples help your students leave the room knowing what you want them to know?

Lecture Delivery: How Do You Want to Say It?

Now that you have identified what you want students to take from your lecture and organized your content into three general sections, consider how best to present your ideas.

Remember: the lecture format does not preclude student participation! Calling on students or asking them to volunteer answers is a great way to foster active learning in this historically passive teaching mode.

Design a catchy introduction

Launch into your lecture with a catchy start or one that somehow involves your students..

Try one of these opening strategies:

  • Try a brief interactive exercise that asks students to pair with a partner for two minutes.
  • Share a story or anecdote related to the lecture content.
  • Begin with a demonstration that will show students what they will be able to do by the end of the lecture.
  • Relate lecture content to previous class material, homework, or current events.
  • Ask students to spend two or three minutes writing about the readings, concepts, or issues to be examined during lecture. Then ask a few students to share.
  • Raise a provocative question that will be answered during the lecture. Ask them to discuss it with a partner, write about it, or respond to it verbally.
  • Open with a three-minute Q&A session. Turn to the textbook or simply ask a question that will lead into that day's lecture topic.

Balance lecture delivery

Break your presentation every 12-15 minutes to incorporate 2-4 minute exercises that require students to interact with the lecture content, their notes and each other. Well-placed and carefully designed activities help students process lecture content and minimize information overload.

This approach to lecturing facilitates learning in a couple of ways. First, active-learning exercises motivate students to use their notes. Second, short activities foster greater awareness of the lecture itself. If students know that the pace will change often, they are much less apt to do crossword puzzles, fall asleep, or even skip class.

Here are some useful active-learning exercises and strategies:

  • Prepare one or two questions to follow each section of your presentation. Show these questions and ask students to answer them verbally or in writing. This exercise both gauges the students' grasp of new material and encourages extemporaneous discussion. (Note: Ask TAs to incorporate a version of this exercise into their discussion or lab sections for a more comprehensive measurement of all students' understanding of new material.)
  • Announce a brief open-notebook quiz on the material just presented. This approach rewards the diligent and reminds the rest to take good (or at least some!) notes throughout the lecture. Collect these quizzes; they can give you a general idea of how well you are communicating your content and achieving the goals of your lecture.
  • Ask students to break into groups of two or three then ask them to demonstrate, model, apply, or practice the concept, theory, or skill they have just learned. This approach gives students a chance to interact both with new knowledge, with each other, and with different approaches to putting this new knowledge into practice.

Build up to a resounding conclusion

Leave your listeners with something to remember: a quotation, an on-screen image, a call to action, a connection that reverberates back to your catchy introduction, a curiosity-inspiring transition to the next lecture.  Craft an ending that brings closure to the topic and issues you have opened up during this hour, leaving threads of inquiry that TAs can explore in smaller discussion or lab sections.

  • Bookend your presentation. That is, try concluding via the same approach you used in the introduction. If you started with a provocative quotation or question on the overhead, return to it: do students know its significance and how to respond to it now?
  • Close out your topic by introducing its bearing on a new idea. This approach gives you a chance to preview your next lecture, lets students begin to sense how the lecture's main points will matter to what they read next for class, and offers TAs a guiding thread around which to plan their upcoming discussion or lab sessions.

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