Effective Lectures

Lecturing is a common teaching approach used in many university classrooms. Although its effectiveness is debated often, when done well lecturing can be effective. Not all lectures involve 50 minutes of uninterrupted presentation. In fact, research shows learners aren’t able to stay focused on the presentation after about 10-15 minutes. One way to improve the effectiveness of lectures is to break the presentation into short segments (10-15 minutes) that are punctuated by active breaks. These breaks can be used to check student learning, have students interact with one another in pairs or small groups, and refocus student attention.

Quick and Easy Ideas for Better Lectures

  • Provide students with a framework for each lecture
  • Aim for three to five main points in each lecture.
  • Begin the lecture with a high-level question that the upcoming information can answer.
  • Prepare a handout of the lecture’s main points.
  • During the lecture, be explicit about what students should focus on.
  • Don’t overload students
  • Give students short breaks throughout lecture to review their notes and ask questions.
  • Include a formal activity or assignment after every 15–20 minutes of presentation.
  • Don’t use too many different types of presentation materials at once.
  • Don’t give students two conflicting things to attend to at the same time.
  • Students are also more likely to remember information that relates to ideas or experiences they are already familiar with.
  • Use examples from student life, current events, or popular culture.
  • Ask students to generate their own examples from personal experience.
  • Tell students how new information relates to previous lectures in your course.
  • Show students how specific skills can be applied to real-world problems.
  • Create activities and assignments that ask students to fit new information into the overall themes of the course

From: How to Create Memorable Lectures. (2005). Newsletter on Teaching, Stanford University. Vol.14(1).

Effective Lecturers at Iowa State

Some of Iowa State University’s most effective teachers have shared their insights on creating effective lectures through CELT’s Award Winning Faculty Series. View their videos to learn some techniques and approaches they have found to be effective in their courses.

Many Modes of Effective Teaching: Engaging Students with Traditional Lecture

Distinguished professor Pat Thiel draws students to her quantum mechanics class from majors across the campus. She shares her strategies on how to engage students, connect their evolving understandings to the basic concepts hiding under complex equations in the field, and how to build personal connections even in classes with increasing enrollment pressure.

View video recording on CELT’s YouTube channel

Maximizing Student Attention: Low-Tech Effectiveness in Large Lecture Formats

History professor John Monroe builds engaging, dynamic lectures using narrative, effective visuals, and sequential outlines to guide 300 freshmen and sophomores through five centuries of western civilization. In his presentation, Monroe demonstrated how to map an overall course, specific units, and even daily lectures with the principles of story structure to maximize student attention.

View video recording on CELT’s YouTube channel

Inside Iowa State story: History prof says storytelling is key to engaging students