Eight Steps to Active Lecturing

Eight Steps to Active Lecturing

Developed by Terry Doyle

Ferris State University

Definition of Effective Lecture


Lecture should be used and is most effective when it presents information students can not learn on their own.


Information that is complex and difficult to understand that needs to be organized in ways that make it clear and reasonable for students to grasp should be lectured  The most effective tools for  helping students to understand are the use of analogies, metaphors, similes, and examples that represent concrete images that connect to the students background.


An effective lecture includes the use of images that illustrate the concepts and ideas being discussed. Images are among the most powerful teaching tools as 70% of the sensory cortex of the brain is made up of the visual cortex.


Eight Steps

1.                  Know your audience (students)


2.                  Have a map to follow (lecture outline)


3.                  Grab the students’ attention (have a beginning)


4.                  Recognize students’ attention span


5.                  Plan an activity for students (have a middle)


6.                  Use visual aids/voice and movements


7.                  Have a conclusion (an end)


8.                  Have students do something with the lecture material




Step One—Know Your Audience


1.                  Know students names

2.                  Know their learning styles—they probably do not learn the way you do.

3.                  Know their attention span limits

4.                  Know why they are taking the course

5.                  Know their background knowledge (content and/or skills)



Build Community in the Classroom


1.                  Students need to feel safe, valued and challenged


2.                  Let them know diverse perspective are encouraged and valued


3.                  Choice is given to students when ever possible (Zimmerman 1994)


4.                  Recognition that learning is a social/emotional  process as well as a cognitive process  (Bransford et.al. 1999)


Step 2—Have a Map to Follow


1. Be guided by the underlying principles of the course, the most important cognitive functions and the most important content


2. Significant Questions that the course will answer (Project Zero, Harvard School of Education)


3. A daily lecture outline that:

a.                  provides a meaningful context for the lecture material

b.                  provides an organization to the lecture material


c.                   provides a visual outline of the lecture


Step 3—Grab the Students’ Attention


1.                  Every lecture needs a beginning that does some of the following:

·         engages the audience

·         prepares the audience

·         builds curiosity

·         creates challenge

·         states a question

·         offers a problem

·         outlines the audience’s role

·         sets expectations


2.                  How a person feels about the learning determines the attention they will give to it. ( Goldman,1995)


3.                  Attention Grabbers

·                     personal experience

·                     story

·                     joke/cartoon

·                     challenge/problem/question

·                     tests or quizzes

·                     the unpredictable

·                     dress/movement/voice

·                     surprises


4. Give the homework or other important out of class information at the beginning of class


Step 4—Recognize the Attention Span(s) of Students


Reasons for short attention spans?


  • Recent research at the National Institute of Mental Health conducted by Peter Jensen concluded, “Extensive exposure to television and video games may promote development of brain systems that scan and shift attention at the expense of those that focus attention.”


  • Children lose attention when they do not understand what is happening (in Gladwell, 2005)


  • Since the images change rapidly so does the shift of the child’s attention.( Vincent Ruggerio , A Guide to Critical Thinking)


  • Contrast this externalized control of attention with the internal control required while participating in a self-directed play activity. The child, not a scriptwriter or producer, determines how long he or she will attend to individual tasks.

Step 5—Plan an Activity for the Students in the Middle of the Lecture


1.                  Break up lecture by using small 2-3 person groups to write, discuss, summarize , solve a problem related to the lecture

2.                  Have students rise up and stretch at the mid-point of the lecture

3.                  Lecture with an end of class quiz every day—research has shown this to raise long term retention of course material

4.                  Have students prepare study questions before lecture and then discuss them at the mid point of the lecture for 10 minutes

5.                  Have a Question Box in the class with discussion topics related to the lecture—pull one or two out at the mid point and have a 10 minute discussion

6.                  Have students write a test question or a study guide question

The key is that the activity is meaningful and relates to understanding the lecture material.






Step 6—Use Visual Aids/Voice and Movement to Hold Attention


1. They should attract and hold the students’ attention.


2. Should aid the organization, illustration and clarification of the lecture.


3. Should encourage active thought—but not distraction.


4. Should increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the presentation.



When Using Visual Aids Don’t…


1.         Don’t talk to your slides—all the audience will know about you is the back of your head.


2.         Let the slides speak for themselves. Don’t read the slides word-for-word. It will bore the students and is redundant.


3.         Limit the amount of information on any slide.


4.         Pause after highlighting points on a slide. Give students time to absorb the information


5.         A lecture is not an exercise in note taking—students should not spend time writing large amounts of information from overheads or slides—when students are writing they are not listening


6.         Remember you are the central force behind your lecture not your slides


Voice and Movements

Not many of us are motivational speakers—but we don’t have to be boring


1.                  In planning the lecture include thinking about where you can use your voice for emphasis, demonstration, exaggeration, surprise etc.


2.                  Students sitting in the back should be able to hear you clearly


3.                  Use your voice as an attention getting tool


4.                  Don’t talk to the chalk/white board




 The average TV commercial changes the camera angle (and therefore the focus of the viewer) 15-30 times in 30 seconds.


Students today are conditioned to expect changes in their viewing focus.


The location of where we hear information

(Episodic memory) is one of many memory aids students can use.


Location in the classroom can force students to pay closer attention—especially if you are standing right next to them.


Step Seven—Have a Conclusion


Lectures should be planned to have an ending—not just a last word for that day


The ending could include:


1.                  A summary of the days main points


2.                  A recap of the questions that were answered that day


3.                  The solution to the problem for that day


4.                  An activity for the students

a.                  A one sentence summary

b.                  A written accounting of the most important point/or most confusing point

c.                   A one question quiz

5.                  Listing of test worthy information from that days lecture


6.                  A chance for students to ask questions


Step Eight

Have Students do something with the Lecture Material


Current memory research indicates that most learning occurs OUTSIDE the classroom when students read, reflect, write or experience the information given in lecture.


The sooner and more often students engage with the material the more likely they will learn it.


Example—For most students a minimum of 3-5 uses of semantic information is needed for that information to form long-term memories

(Sprenger 1999)


What should students do?

1.                  Write summaries of the lecture material


2.                  Make mind maps of the information


3.                  Answer question about the information


4.                  Prepare for a quiz on the information


5.                  Make up test question from the information


6.                  Writing in a journal


The key is if they use it they can better retain it and relate it to the new information they will be given—if not it will not form long-term memories


Final Tips


1.                  As you lecture stop to check students’ comprehension—the one who does the talking does the learning—hear from your students


2.                  Keep the presentation fresh—vary your classroom routine—a certain degree of unpredictablilty is a positive motivator


3.                  Use a multitude of tools to enhance your lectures—role play, guest speakers, video, websites, demonstrations


4.                  Decide in advance when you will take questions and what you will do with questions that require long explanations or are questions not share by many in the class—some can be handled by e-mail


5.                  Focus on “what concepts need to be taught not what concepts do the students need to know”


6.                  Limit lecture to 4-5 main points—too much information will result in less understanding not more


7.                  Write your test questions the same day you give the lecture to increase accuracy of test questions.


The Final Final Tip


Fill your lectures with analogies, metaphors and examples that are real world so they can connect to the students’ backgrounds


The brain is an analog processor, meaning essentially, that it works by analogy and metaphor. It relates whole concepts to one another and looks for similarities, differences, or relationships between them. It does not assemble thoughts and feelings from bits of data (Sylwester 1999)



  1. nice piece of writings hoping to get more u information

  2. Wow I enjoyed the guide….it was quite enriching

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