As class sizes increase and university budgets tighten, lecturing remains a dominant teaching method (Goffe & Kauper, 2014; Smith & Valentine, 2012). Knowing how to lecture well is therefore a crucial skill to master. Effective lecturing is characterized by enthusiasm and expressiveness, clarity, and interaction (Murray in Perry & Smart, 1997). Consider using the tips below to introduce students to — and stimulate their enthusiasm about — your course material.
Prepare in advance
- Visit your classroom in advance. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the desks and the front of the classroom. Decide where you will stand and how you will move from one place to another. Find out whether the classroom has audio-visual equipment or whether you will have to request it from audio visual services. Make sure that you know how to use the audio-vidual equipment.
- Have a back-up plan. If you are using technology, have a back-up plan ready in case you run into technical difficulties. Technology problems can negatively effect your credibility, even if they are beyond your control.
- Plan your lecture and visual aids beforehand. Outline how you will introduce, explain, and summarize the main ideas. Select examples and prepare how you will show students the relationships between the main ideas.
- Prepare speaking notes. Prepare notes that work for you (e.g., a detailed outline, a list of major points, key definitions, proofs, solved problems, examples, etc.). To better engage students, avoid reading from a script, a computer screen, or overhead projector.
- Include delivery reminders in your notes. Include cues to remind yourself to smile, look at the whole class, pause after posing a question, etc.
- Practice your lecture. Practice to ensure that you have an appropriate amount of material and activities for the time available. Resist the common error of including too much material in a lecture. Students’ questions and learning activities can take up to 50% more time than you may first think.
- Bring a bottle of water. The water will soothe a sore or dry throat. Taking a sip is also a good way to buy thinking time before responding to a student question.
Structure the lecture clearly
- Be transparent. Show your students “the big picture.” Don't assume that your students know the pedagogical purpose of your lecture. Instead, explain how the lecture relates to previously-learned material and the course themes and goals in general. Begin the class with a short review of the key points from the previous class and end with a preview of the topics for next class (along with a reminder about any readings or assignments to be completed).
- Make explicit transitions between topics with mini-summaries. Link current material to previously-learned content and future lectures. Be explicit about how one topic connects to the next, or ask your students to explain the connections. By linking new material to previously learned content, you help students understand and organize new information in their minds.
- Cover only a few main points in each lecture. Plan to cover only three or four points in a fifty-minute lecture and four or five points in a seventy-five-minute class. Select key points that introduce, complement, and/or clarify the course readings, assignments, and goals. Focus on presenting central points or general themes that tie together as many topics as possible.
- Avoid merely repeating the course readings. Elaborate on readings using new examples and sample exercises or problems. For more information about selecting and organizing content, see CTE's Course Content Selection and Organization teaching tip.
- Be flexible when following your notes. Watch students’ level of interest and confusion and be ready to adapt your lecture accordingly. Your notes are there if needed, but the lecture should arise out of your interaction with the students, not the notes themselves.
Strive to engage your whole class
- Be aware of shifting engagement levels. In a university lecture, students engage in mind wandering approximately 33% of the time; however, this amount varies according to several factors, including engagement (Wammes, Boucher, Seli, Cheyne, & Smilek, 2016).
- Ask first, then tell. Prompt students to engage by asking questions rather than simply telling them information. For example, rather than telling students the findings from a study, ask them to predict what the study found based on what they know so far. Learn more in our Question Strategies teaching tip.
- Allow breaks during long classes. Encourage students to move around, talk with one another, or just to relax quietly. Creating breaks also allows students to catch up on and digest what has been discussed.
- Use questions to prompt students to think about how the material relates to their life experience. Relate the content to students’ interests, knowledge, experiences, and their future occupation in the discipline. Making the material relevant helps students retain the information.
- Invite student questions and use them in class. Invite students to submit questions in person and/or online via the learning management system. Incorporate the answers to students’ questions into your lecture, or introduce an activity that allows students to discover the answers for themselves.
- Ask students for feedback. Provide opportunities for students to share feedback, in written form, and anonymously. An effective low-tech method is to circulate and then collect note cards, which students can use to record questions or comments. More high-tech methods of encouraging feedback include using online polling tools.
- Consider posting your partial notes or slides online before or immediately after class. You might also consider making the audio or video of your lectures available online. Videos can be captioned using free online tools like YouTube's automatic caption creator, or ask for help with captioning from AccessAbility Services. Captions increase accessibility and can help students whose first language is not English.
- Encourage students to take notes. To help students make good notes, provide a clear structure for the lecture and use a pace that allows them to keep up. Rather than writing extensive notes that students must copy word for word, write key terms on the board or slides to facilitate students’ own processing of the information, or provide skeletal course notes for the students to annotate. Pause regularly so that students can ask for clarification.
- Use inclusive practices. Be mindful of potential biases and stereotypes conveyed in the images, phrases, pronouns, examples, images, etc. that you use in class. Follow the six principles of inclusivity.
- Prepare accessible teaching materials. See our People Helping People: The Essence of Accommodation teaching tip.
Use effective presentation strategies
- Maintain regular eye contact with the entire class. By doing so, you create connections with them, are able to gauge their note-taking, and discourage distracting class noise.
- Avoid turning away from students when you speak. It helps many students to be able to see your face and mouth while you speak
- Use a microphone in large classes. Amplifying your voice will help all students — not just students with hearing impairments — and will also put less stress on your vocal cords.
- Speak clearly, but use a conversational tone. Think of the lecture as an opportunity to speak with the students, not at them.
- Convey your enthusiasm for the material and the students. Vary your vocal speed and pitch, as well as your facial expressions. Smile often. Consider using humour when appropriate.
- Ask the students periodically if they can hear and see everything. Make changes to your volume and visual aids as necessary.
- If possible, move around the room, and use natural gestures. This movement is especially important for engaging large classes. Changes help to refocus students’ attention, but remember to move with purpose so you avoid distracting your students.
- Interact with your students to create positive rapport with them. Arrive at class early so that you can welcome students. Address them by name as much as possible, and plan to stay after class to chat with students and answer their questions.
- Use visual aids to stimulate and focus students’ attention. Multimedia aids using sound, colour, and/or animations can help to attract and maintain students’ attention, particularly in large classes where the impersonal situation makes students feel less involved. Visual aids should be a support for, not the focus of, your lecture. They also should not replace your personal interaction with the students.
- Avoid writing everything that you say on your slides. Consider providing partial or skeleton slides that leave space for students to write down examples and other notes.
- Follow the guidelines on good slide design. If you are using overheads or PowerPoint, aim for twelve to twenty slides for a fifty-minute lecture. Be conscious of speeding through the slides and/or overloading students with content—common problems with these types of media. See Designing Visual Aids.
- Reveal visual information gradually rather than all at once. This keeps students focusing on your oral development of each point, instead of rushing to copy down the material.
- Consider creating visual aids during the lecture. Solving problems, showing processes, or building models in real time is often clearer for students than seeing completed work. You can also create visuals to reflect the outcomes of interactive exercises, thereby validating the students’ input. The act of writing also helps you to pace the lecture appropriately.
- Write down key words and names. Many students try to write down everything they see. If information does not need to be copied down, mention that to the students, or consider whether it is important enough to include in the first place. Consider providing handouts that give an outline of the lecture material for students to annotate.
- If you show a video in class, ensure that captions are turned on. Doing so helps all students.
- When using a projector, dim the lights appropriately. If the lights are not sufficiently dim, the projected image will not be visible. But if you are going to be verbally commenting on the projected images, ensure that students with hearing issues will still be able to see your face and lips.
Goffe, W. L., & Kauper, D., (2014). A survey of principles instructors: Why lecture prevails. Journal of Economic Education, 45(4), 360-375.
Perry, R.P., & Smart, J.C. (Eds). (1997). Effective teaching in higher education. New York: Agathon Press.
Smith, D. J. and Valentine, T. (2012). The use and perceived effectiveness of instructional practices in two-year technical colleges. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 23(1), 133-161.
Wammes, J. D., Boucher, P. O., Seli, P., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (2016). Mind wandering during lectures I: Changes in rates across an entire semester. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(1), 13-32.
CTE teaching tips
- Designing Visual Aids and Using Visual Aids
- Nine Alternatives to Lecturing
- Active Learning Activities
- Building Community in Large Classes
- People Helping People: The Essence of Accommodation
- Bligh, D. (2000). What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Brown, S. & Race, P. (2002). Lecturing: A Practical Guide. London: Kogan Page.
- Tonnu, Tracy. (October 2016). These awesome charts are here to help with design accessibility. Visual News.