Active Lecture as a Method of Teaching


An effective lecture can be one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of an educator's responsibilities. The instructor who is able to maintain participant interest with an exciting, dynamic delivery using a variety of instructional methods is more likely to be successful in helping students reach the learning objectives. The time and effort invested in planning pay off as the instructor and students interact, discuss, question and work together.
A good lecture may cover the most material in the least amount of time. Given the proper audio equipment, it lends itself to groups of almost any size and can be handled with a minimum mastery of material on the part of the lecturer. For example, one does not have to be an Old Testament scholar to present a fairly comprehensive lecture on Psalm 23. Obviously since the total context of that psalm is the entire Bible, one would be a better lecturer if he had competence in all of the Old Testament Scriptures, but such competence is not necessary.

Effective lectures do not just happen-they are planned. The educator must:
  • Establish the purpose of the lecture
  • Consider the logistics of the lecture
  • Plan a variety of approaches (e.g., use of questioning, media, small group activities)
  • Prepare a set of lecture notes
In what kind of setting will they receive this information?
  • Large lecture hall or small seminar room or classroom.
  • Lighting and sound issues.
  • Time of day.
Take into account the "me, here, now."
  • Picture yourself as a member of the audience and ask "How does this message affect me, here, now?"
  • Me, here, now translate into what you as a sender have to offer your students/receivers-what they will be able to understand, accept, support, consider important-because it matters to them.
Establish cognitive / behavioral objectives for your audience:
  • What do I want my students to know?
  • What do I want my students to do
You probably can't cover everything you want to in a lecture.
Decide what is essential, what is important, and what is helpful (what would be nice).
  • Cover the first; try to cover the second;  forget about the third.
  • Release a little control over the material and rely on the textbook or a list of supplementary readings for the nonessentials.
Set objectives.
  • What do you want to have accomplished at the end of the lecture?
  • What do you want the students to know at the end of the lecture?
Plan a lecture to cover less than the entire period.
  • It takes some time to get going.
  • Questions always take up more time than you expect.
Divide the lecture into discrete segments and follow the standard speech structure.
  • Divide it both in terms of time and in terms of material.
  • Try for ten or fifteen minute blocks, each one of a topic.
  • Briefly summarize the previous lecture; introduce the topic(s) for the day; present the material; summarize briefly; preview any homework and the next lecture.
Lecture from notes or an outline, rather than a complete text.
  • It's too tempting to simply read, rather than lecture, from a complete text.
  • Reading also creates a barrier between lecturer and audience.
  • Writing up an entire lecture is very time consuming.
  • A written lecture often becomes a fossil that never gets updated.
The "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Rule.  Practice, Practice, Practice.
  • Be conversational; speak naturally; be yourself (or your best self).
  • Vary your pacing and voice.
  • Use gestures to emphasize points.
  • Look at the audience.
  • Use language to create pictures.
  • Use metaphors, analogies, and similes.
Observe the techniques of others.
  • Try out in your own class techniques you admire in others.
  • Like any skill, delivery is not innate, but must be learned.
You are the most important person in the room.
Think about antecedent image--perception is often stronger than reality.
Credibility is enhanced by:
  • Your own sense of comfort and confidence presenting material.
  • Your enthusiasm and interest in teaching.
  • Your research and own ideas.
Commitment is enhanced by:
  • Relating your own experience, ideas, and feelings.
  • Taking the first person approach, not separating yourself from your subject.
  • Relating your "passion" for your subject.
Delivery is tied to both commitment and credibility:
An old UCLA study of effective presentations analyzed 3 elements (verbal, vocal, visual).  Here's what it found was important in establishing credibility/believability:
  • Verbal (words you say):  7%.
  • Vocal (how you sound when you say them): 38%.
  • Visual (how you look when you say them): 55%.
Your energy and intensity will move your audience-and help you (them) reach your objectives.
Learning is not a spectator sport.
Learning takes place best in an active, not a passive environment.
Interaction is a continuous way to
  • Assess the me, here, now.
  • Determine whether or not your content is understood.
  • Share the responsibility of learning more equitably and appropriately.
How to build interaction?
  • Have questions prepared--begin with relatively easy, accessible ones.
  • Set up hypothetical, problem-solving exercises, brainstorming.
  • Work to get everyone involved, even in large classes.
. Move yourself!
  • Begin class from somewhere besides the front; invite students to consider the issue on board with you, so that you're looking at the board with them.  That telegraphs your expectation that learning is a joint experience.

(and other high tech media)
If your handwriting is really terrible, perhaps you should go to med school.
Use the board (slides/overheads) to reinforce your points visually.
.If you have a great deal of board work,
  • Consider having most of it put on the board before class.
  • Make a copy of it as a handout.
  • Consider using an overhead projector.
Don't talk while you write. .
Limit the amount of material you put on a slide or overhead.
. Have a plan for your board work.
  • Remember: all visuals are supplements or complements, not substitutes.
  • It's hard to answer a good question--and even harder to pose one.
Explicitly request and encourage questions.
  • Be aware of how your behavior and comments can set the tone for questioning.
  • Make sure everyone hears the question.
  • Clarify questions.
  • Answer questions as directly as possible.
  • Be diplomatic when students raise tangential, overly-complicated questions, or persistently ask questions just to be asking.
    • By the time you get end-of-term evaluations, it's too late.
  • Get regular feedback.
    • Ask students to spend the last five minutes of class writing down the most important thing they learned that day or one question they have as a result of the lecture.
    • Answer the questions at the beginning of the next class.
  • Use eye contact as a tool for continuous feedback.
    • If you notice students with questioning looks, stop what you're doing and ask if you need to clarify.
    • If you get no response, go ahead and clarify.
  • Conduct a mid term course review.
  • Borrow students' class notes from time to time.
  • Arrange to have your lecture videotaped.
    • You can view it yourself or with a consultant who can discuss it with you.
  • Poor answers are often the result of poor questions, not poor minds.
  • Decide what your goal in testing is.
  • Consider the format of questions.
  • Consider the format of the exam as a whole.
  • Make your grading and testing policies clear on the first day of class.
Lecture Components
Silberman (1990) suggests five approaches to maximizing students' understanding and retention during lectures. These can be used to help ensure the effective transfer of knowledge.
  • Use an opening summary. At the beginning of the lecture, present major points and conclusions to help students organize their listening.
  • Present key terms. Reduce the major points in the lecture to key words that act as verbal subheadings or memory aids.
  • Offer examples. When possible, provide real-life illustrations of the ideas in the lecture.
  • Use analogies. If possible, make a comparison between the content of the lecture and knowledge the students already have.
  • Use visual backups. Use a variety of media to enable students to see as well as hear what is being said.
The key to an effective lecture style is to break down the lecture into its component parts and use a variety of approaches within each component. This is especially critical when a group of students will be attending a series of lectures by the same educator. The three main parts of a lecture are the introduction, body and summary.
The purpose of the introduction is to capture the interest and attention of the students. It can also serve to make students aware of the instructor's expectations and encourage a positive learning climate. A good introduction is critical to the success of a lecture.

Tips for Creating an Effective Introduction

  • Review lecture objective(s).
  • Ask a rhetorical question.
  • Ask for a show of hands in response to a general question.
  • Ask a series of questions related to the lecture topic.
  • Use an interesting or famous quotation.
  • Relate the topic to previously covered content.
  • Use a case study or problem-solving activity.
  • Use a videotape or other media.
  • Show an appropriate cartoon with the overhead or slide projector.
  • Make a provocative statement to encourage discussion.
  • Give a demonstration.
  • Use a game or role play.
  • Relate the topic to future work experiences.
  • Share a personal experience.
  • Relate the topic to a real-life experience.
The instructor can then make a smooth transition into the body of the lecture once the attention of the students has been captured with an interesting introduction . The body of the lecture contains the core of the information to be transferred to the students. Beitz (1994) recommends that the instructor use brain-storming, discussions, problem-solving activities, case studies and games to make the lecture more interactive.
The purpose of the lecture summary is to draw together the critical information presented and ensure that students leave the lecture with a clear under-standing of this information. The summary should be brief and address only main points. There are several techniques which can be used to summarize a lecture:
  • Ask the students for questions. This gives students an opportunity to clarify their understanding of the content.
  • Ask questions of the students. Several questions which focus on the main points of the content may be used to summarize the content of the lecture.
  • Use a transparency, slide or flipchart to review the summary points.

Lecture Notes

Many lecturers make the mistake of thinking that they know their content well enough to deliver a lecture without notes to guide them. This is very difficult for most instructors and usually results in an unsatisfactory experience for both the instructor and the student. Instead, the instructor should prepare lecture notes to serve as a script or set of cues to follow during the lecture. Lecture notes are key words, phrases and other reminders (e.g., audiovisual cues, questions, examples, notes for activities) organized into an outline format. If a text rather than an outline format is used, the lecturer may begin to read the notes and the students will become bored.
Lecture notes help the instructor:
  • Stay on topic and prevent getting lost.
  • Cover the main points without forgetting anything.
  • Glance at a specific point and quickly return attention to the students.
  • Relax and focus on delivery instead of worrying about what point to make next.

Tips to Reduce Presentation Anxiety

  • Avoid eating a big meal before the lecture. Not only will a full stomach make you drowsy, but it makes it more difficult to move around the room with energy.
  • Arrive early to make sure that everything is ready before the first student arrives.
  • Make sure all of the media equipment is working.
  • Locate and check the lighting and temperature controls.
  • Decide where the lecture notes will be placed (e.g., on a lectern, desk, table) when they are not being held.
  • Have a glass of water available during the lecture.
  • Go for a short walk just before the lecture.
  • Look over your lecture notes one last time.
  • Greet students as they enter the room. Shake their hands, welcome them to the lecture and talk to as many of them as possible.
  • Take a few deep breaths to relax before beginning the lecture.
Follow this three-step process to conduct a self-evaluation:
  • Arrange to have the lecture videotaped. Explain to the students the reason for the recording equipment.
  • At the conclusion of the lecture, distribute a student satisfaction form (if applicable).
  • Using a lecture skills checklist, watch the videotape (with an experienced presenter if there is one) and critique the performance.
With planning and effective presentation techniques, the lecture can be a highly effective and interactive method for transferring knowledge to students. If the lecture is carefully planned, the educator will have a clear purpose of the lecture and will have considered the logistics associated with the number of students, amount of time allocated for the lecture, room size and available media. Planning will also help ensure that the educator uses a variety of approaches to introduce, deliver and summarize the lecture. Lecture notes in outline form will help the instructor give an effective presentation.

Other key points to remember in preparing and delivering a lecture:
  • The first few minutes of a lecture are important. Plan them well!
  • Verbal communication skills are critical. These include appropriate voice projection, avoiding fillers, using students' names, making smooth transitions, using examples and providing praise.
  • Nonverbal communication skills also are very important. These include eye contact, positive facial expressions, gestures and movement.
  • Effective questioning and interaction are critical to the success of the lecture. Questioning skills include planning questions in advance, asking a variety of questions, using students' names and providing positive feedback.
  • The lecture should be summarized by asking for questions, asking questions and using media to review main points.
  • An evaluation using a video recording or an observer can assist the lecturer in assessing the quality of the presentation and improving lecture skills.


  1. Arredondo MA et al. 1994. The use of videotaped lectures in surgical oncology. Journal of Cancer Education 9(2): 86-89.
  2. Beitz JM. 1994. Dynamics of effective oral presentations: Strategies for nurse educators. AORN Journal 59(5): 1026-1032.
  3. Cavanagh SJ, K Hogan and T Ramgopal. 1995. The assessment of student nurse learning styles using the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory. Nurse Education Today 15(3): 177-183.
  4. Edlich RF. 1993. My last lecture. Journal of Emergency Medicine 11(6): 771-774.
  5. McIntosh N. 1996. Why Do We Lecture? JHPIEGO Strategy Paper #2. JHPIEGO Corporation: Baltimore, Maryland.


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