While lecturing is probably the most common form of instruction found at UW, it is wise to remember that some topics lend themselves more naturally to lecturing than others. Lectures are useful for such activities as providing structure and organization to scattered material, helping to pace student learning and providing alternative perspectives or sources of information to supplement written and other material used in the course.

Planning ahead

When you start to plan a lecture, you will first need to consider your student audience. Try to think about the degree of expertise they have already developed for the subject matter; take into account the other assignments (reading, writing or other) that have given them the tools to understand your lecture and to incorporate its content into what they have already learned. Ask yourself how this lecture fits into the course as a whole. Also consider its purpose: are you providing an overview, adding supplementary background information or provoking further thinking on the topic?

Once you’ve decided that the nature of your topic is indeed suitable for a lecture and considered both your objectives and the knowledge level of your audience, you still want to make sure that what you need to cover will fit within the allotted time for the class. A typical lament is: “There is so much material and so little time.” However, good organization will enable you to eliminate irrelevant material so that you may cover important points more thoroughly. While you may not feel comfortable with the thought of lecturing from an outline, the approach suggested below may help in organizing your thoughts initially and help to better focus for your lecture.

The basics of lecturing

View a slideshow on the basics of lecturing as summarized from “Delivering a Lecture,” a chapter in Barbara Gross Davis’ book Tools for Teaching.

Generating an outline

Once you have determined your subject, try to formulate a general question which covers the heart of your material. Take the time to write the question down and study it. Then generate three or four key points which you could develop to answer this question. Note these down under the question. You are now looking at your lecture outline.

Filling in the outline

Your next task is to define the elements of your key points and generate effective examples or analogies for each. If prepared in advance, examples can both illustrate a particular point and broaden students’ understanding of the subject. Think the examples through carefully and consider ways to illustrate them with chalkboard diagrams, slides, overheads, demonstrations or case studies, any of which can increase students’ understanding and interest.

The last step in planning a lecture is writing a summary describing the conclusions you were able to draw from information in the lecture.

Delivering the lecture

Delivering a lecture requires thoughtful communication. Your students will appreciate it if you “locate” the lecture in the context of what has already gone on, and what will take place next for the class. Let the class know if they can interrupt with questions or if they should save them for the end of each section or the end of the period. If you are going to ask for brief small group work or one-minute papers during the course of the lecture, you might let students know at the outset as well.

One way to begin is by telling your students what you plan to tell them. In other words, describe and write down on the board the question and key points around which your lecture is organized. Explain how the present topic relates to past and future material and to students’ need to know.

Then…tell them. Work through each key point, writing out the definitions, if necessary, offering your examples and using visual aids. If you want to take questions after completing each section, ask for questions and wait 15 or 20 seconds before moving to the next section. Variety in the form of visual aids or question periods gives students the break they need in order to reflect on the information. After you have completed the lecture, pause and ask for questions. When you are through with questions, tell them what you told them. Reintroduce your original question; briefly describe the information you used to examine it and the conclusions you were able to draw.

Besides questions from the audience, you may want to enrich the lecture by presenting controversies, sample cases for discussion, or rhetorical questions for students to answer later. Try posing problems or questions which do not have “right” or “wrong” answers. Allow students to explore.

Speaking skills

Monitor the technical aspects of your delivery as carefully as you can. Avoid reading your lectures verbatim. If you must refer to your notes frequently, learn to combine this with frequent eye contact. Speak clearly, at a volume appropriate to the size of the room and the class, and not too rapidly, varying your voice as you change emphasis and content. Remember that students are taking notes on your lecture and need time to record key points. You might practice lecturing in front of the mirror, paying attention to how you look and sound. Try taping your actual lecture and then listen to yourself. At some point in your teaching, you may want to arrange for a videotaping by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) so that you can both see and hear yourself. In addition you can have someone review it with you if you so desire.

Additional resources

If you are interested in exploring the topic of lecture development and presentation more thoroughly, the following sites may be helpful to you: