Teaching for Learning

Almost all instructors will need to lecture some of the time. An effective lecture can stimulate and involve students. A boring lecture becomes another requirement to be suffered through. Lectures are useless as a learning tool if students are not paying attention. Lectures that are poorly organized or presented in a boring way simply do not hold student attention. Let's look at some ways to develop an interesting presentation.

Develop Stimulating Lectures

  • Decide on 3 or 4 key points to be covered and organize material around these themes. Students need a clear framework based on some major themes in order to grasp and retrieve the ideas. (e.g., Today I want students to understand A) the basic chemistry of the photosynthesis reaction, B) the importance of chlorophyll in photosynthesis...) Relating points to this outline and summarizing frequently can help students to organize their thinking about the topic, and can help them to see how different parts of the class are connected.
  • Develop illustrations, stories, examples, multimedia units for major learning points. Restate the point after the example or illustration. (e.g., Tell a story about a nursery school teacher and a one-year-old to illustrate a point in child development.)
  • Capture student interest in the beginning of the lecture. Read a 'powerful quote, state a question that will be answered in the lecture or a strong generalization which contradicts common thought, introduce puzzling facts, tell a personal anecdote, give an example, tell a joke, or do a demonstration. Plan to set the stage by telling students what will be covered in that class session. (e.g., How many of you drank a soda this week? What did you do with the can? Today we'll be talking about the economic impact of recycling.)
  • Caution: Too many changes can make the material confusing.
  • Pace lectures in 15-20 minute chunks. Doing the same thing for more than 20 minutes without a change of pace or transition causes students to "tune out" and lose interest. This does not mean that you have to be some sort of entertainer or run a multimedia show to keep student interest, rather that you need to change your pace at regular intervals. For example, learn to punctuate your lectures with rhetorical questions, vivid examples, or demonstrations. Pace-changing transitions often occur easily if you link them to the presentation of your 3 or 4 key points. See the topic on student involvement for suggestions on how to keep students actively "tuned in" to the lecture.
  • Develop a good summary of major learning points at the end of the lecture and connect those with what is coming next.
  • Develop audiovisual aids to support the lecture.
  • Explain specialized terms. Faculty often hand out a glossary, put specialized terms on the board, post them on a course site, set up "treasure hunts", or explain special terms in language a student will understand. Remember they don't know all the language that an instructor will already know. (e.g., Baud rate refers to the speed at which the computer can accept information.)

Plan lectures to Promote Students' learning

As you plan your lecture, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are my students like, with respect to:
    1. motivation for this course?
    2. interest in the subject?
    3. learning skills and strategies?
    4. confidence in their ability to do well in the course?
  2. Why do I want students to learn this material? What purpose(s) should this particular lecture fulfill for students?
  3. How will my students need to use the information given in this lecture on tests and assignments?
  4. How can I best let students know how the day's lecture will be structured and alert them to key points and transitions during the lecture?
  5. How can I begin the lecture so that students will be motivated to need or want the information that I will be giving?
  6. What 3 or 4 points do I want to make in this lecture?
  7. What examples can I give to illustrate these points? Can I start by giving an example that my students can relate to their own experiences?
  8. How can I vary the pace of the lecture? Can I break it into segments to keep students' attention?
  9. Can I model thinking, problem solving, interpretation, and/or evaluation processes for students, rather than merely presenting the conclusions of those processes?
  10. How can I get feedback from my students during the lecture?
  11. How can I reach students who tend to process information visually, rather than auditorially?
  12. Will the world really come to an end if I don't convey all of the information I intended to convey? Which is more important - promoting my students' learning or "covering" all of the lecture material?

Presentation Skills

A well prepared lecture with good examples and illustrations can still be boring or poorly received if the faculty member presents the material in a boring way.

You can probably remember the droning monotone in your 3:30 class or the instructor who read lecture notes and never seemed to notice the students. Stimulating teachers present material in ways that keep students interested. (Remember the most stimulating faculty member in your academic career. What made him or her so effective?)

  • Maintain eye contact with the class. Eye contact captures student attention. It also allows the faculty member to observe student body language so that a sudden increase in doodling or increase in whispering can be used as a signal that the instructor needs to stop and ask for questions. Eye contact is one reason why reading lectures is not the best method.
  • Vary vocal tone, gestures, speed of talking and your position in the room. Pauses or changes in voice tone for emphasis can keep students involved. When everything you say and do stays just the same, students may find it really difficult to pay attention, even if the subject matter is interesting.
  • Be enthusiastic. It can be difficult to show enthusiasm about a subject when you are first learning to teach; however, the teacher's energy and enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm will communicate to the students. They won't be enthusiastic if you aren't. Try to remember what made you like that subject and then share that interest with your students.
  • A void distracting gestures. A faculty member who clears his or her throat after every sentence or jiggles keys or fusses with hair can be very distracting to students.
  • Get feedback on your presentation. Audio or video recording one of your lectures or getting feedback from colleagues can be very useful in finding out how you are coming across to your students.