Skip to main content
Femal instructor with her hair pulled back in a ponytail writes notes on a chalkboard as she teaches a class.

Approaches to Engaging Lectures

Lecturing is one of our primary methods of instruction. The method’s greatest benefit is its efficiency for covering material and addressing large groups of students. It can be particularly useful for presenting students with summaries of theories, synopses of current research, background information, and the essential facts of material that students will study in class. Whether you are leading a discussion or recitation section, introducing a lab, or teaching a section of a course, your lectures should be well-conceived and planned and should incorporate student participation. The following suggestions detail many ways to improve your lecturing in large and small classes.

  • Decide what fundamental concepts students are expected to understand by the end of the lecture. Also determine how the lecture material is connected to other course materials and how you will illustrate this relationship to your students.
  • You may begin the lecture by posing a problem, offering a provocative quotation, reviewing a current event, or addressing a question you received in office hours. No matter how you begin, make sure that you introduce students to the main point right from the start.
  • Organize your lecture into ten to twelve minute intervals, the attention limit of most adults.
  • For a fifty minute lecture, you could organize your lecture around four or five main points and/or punctuate the lecture with four or five opportunities for students to interact with one another and/or with the material (e.g., you could pose a complex question and ask students to respond; you could have students do a think-pair-share activity (or a different Active Learning Strategy); you could ask individuals or groups of students to comment on the material). Use these moments to assess student learning.
  • If needed, include stage directions for yourself in your lecture notes.
  • Consider including professional information about yourself (research interests, teaching experience) in your lectures.
  • If you plan to use technology, have a back-up plan in case of technical problems.
  • Use the blackboard or projected presentations to display the lecture’s main points and any definitions of fundamental concepts you expect the students to know. Whatever you display students will copy down, so keep slides and such to key points and then elaborate on them.
  • Be familiar enough with the lecture to deliver it without simply reading your notes.
  • Monitor the pace of your lecture. If students are scribbling madly, slow down and discuss ways to identify and situate the most important points of the presentation. If you sense that your students are not taking notes on important material, direct them to do so.
  • Encourage your students to ask questions and share comments during the lecture. Try to integrate these student contributions into your lecture.
  • Avoid the tendency to speed up at the end to simply cover the final bits of material.
  • Keep in mind the Accessibility and Accommodation needs of your audience.
  • Consider periodically collecting a sample of your students’ notes to get an idea of how well your lectures are understood. Notify students well in advance that you may do this occasionally.
  • Ask your students to assess their own understanding in writing. You could ask students to complete a daily report in which they complete the following phrases: “the point of today’s lecture is...” and “a question I have is ...”. Alternatively, you could ask students to complete a “One-Minute Paper” in which they answer two questions: “what point(s) are most important to you?” and “what point(s) are still unclear to you?”
  • Put a question box in the classroom or lab or outside your office.
  • Have students generate test questions for exams; this can easily be done using ELMS and shared with the whole class.
Back to Top