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Effective Lecture Preparation and Delivery

The term "lecturing" refers to both planning and delivering a classroom presentation. While the lecture has certain elements in common with a formal speech, a classroom lecture places greater emphasis on the importance of presenter-audience (instructor-student) interaction.

Below is a brief listing of suggestions for effective lecture preparation and delivery. The suggestions are arranged under one of three phases of a lecture – the introduction, the body, and the closing.

Beginning the Lecture

A. Plan an introduction to catch the listener's interest.

Suggestion: Raise a question to be answered by the end of the lecture.

Example: "By the end of the hour, you should be able to answer the question 'Are essay test questions better than objective test questions?'"

Suggestion: State a historical or current problem related to the lecture content.

Example: "It was conjectured by Gauss that the number of primes up to any point X was less than a certain smooth, easily calculated function of X. This conjecture was supported by extensive numerical evidence. However, in 1914, Littlewood proved that, in fact, the relation becomes false for an infinite sequence of large X's. Let's take a look at Littlewood's reasoning."

Suggestion: Explain the relationship of lecture content to laboratory exercises, homework problems, professional career interests, etc.

Example: "Today, I'll lecture on cost-of-living indices, a topic in macroeconomics which will help you understand the recent discussions in Congress related to inflation."

Suggestion: Relate lecture content to previous class material.

Example: "For the past few weeks, Skinner, Osgood, and others, who take a behaviorist view of language acquisition, have occupied our attention. Today, I'll introduce another, different perspective on language acquisition and learning. We'll spend the rest of this week and the next on understanding this view and comparing it with the behaviorist position."

Alternative: Ask a student to summarize previous course content.

B. Provide a brief general overview of the lecture's content.

Example: "In Victorian England the conflict between religion and science was well reflected in the literature. Today we'll look at two poems, 'In Memoriam' and 'Dover Beach,' which illustrate this conflict."

C. Tell students how you expect them to use the lecture material.

Example: "Today I'll offer a specific model of evaluation and illustrate its applicability in several kinds of settings. When you meet in your discussion groups this week, you'll be asked to apply the model as you discuss the Brown v. Board of Education decision."

D. Define or explain unfamiliar terminology.

Example: "In physics, the term 'work' has a precise technical meaning. The work done by a force F when the object on which it acts moves a distance (puts a drawing on the board) is defined by W-F . 'denotes' the work. It is assumed that F does not change much during the motion and can be positive, zero or negative. Now, let's look at this diagram and see how well you understand the definition of work."

The Body of the Lecture

A. Organization

Allow for some flexibility in the presentation in order to respond to student questions and comments.

Determine which key points can be effectively developed during the class session. It is necessary to strike a balance between depth and breadth of coverage. When every nuance, detail or instance of a topic is discussed students often lose sight of the main ideas. Or, when too many ideas are presented and not developed, students fail to gain understanding.

B. Organize material in some logical order.

Suggested organizational schemes include:

  • Cause-Effect: Events are cited and explained by reference to their origins. For example, one can demonstrate how the continental revolutionary movements of the late 1700s affected British politics at the turn of the century.
  • Time Sequential: Lecture ideas are arranged chronologically. For example, a lecturer explaining the steps in a clinical supervision model talks about the first step to be undertaken, the second step, and so forth.
  • Topical: Parallel elements of different discussion topics are focused on successively. For example, a professor lecturing about the differential features of common diseases in canines and felines may speak about their etiologies, typical histories, and predisposing factors.
  • Problem-Solution: The statement of a problem is followed by alternate solutions. For example, a lecture on the Cuban missile crisis could begin with a statement of the foreign policy problem followed by a presentation of the alternative solutions available to President Kennedy.
  • Pro-Con: A two-sided discussion of a given topic is presented. For example, the lecture is organized around the advantages and disadvantages of using the lecture method of instruction.
  • Ascending-Descending: Lecture topics are arranged according to their importance, familiarity, or complexity. For example, in a lecture introducing students to animal diseases, the diseases of primary importance could be discussed first, the tertiary ones last.

C. Allow time within the lecture to summarize key ideas and prepare relevant examples to illustrate key ideas.

Provide transitions which show the relationships between key ideas. Throughout the lecture check on student understanding by:

  1. Asking students to answer specific questions: e.g., "Who can describe in his/her own words the theory of neuron transmission?"
  2. Asking for student questions: e.g., "Did you have any questions about the application of Kirchoff's rules in problem 6?"
  3. Presenting a problem or situation which requires use of lecture material in order to obtain a solution; "Over the last few days we have been discussing regression analysis. How can we use this information to predict your final grade in this course given your midterm scores and the correlation between midterm and final scores?"
  4. Watching the class for nonverbal cues of confusion or misunderstanding: e.g., look for such behaviors as loss of eye contact, talking, or clock watching.

D. Ask for and answer student questions.

Closing the Lecture

A. Answer any questions raised at the beginning of the lecture and provide closure for the lecture.

Suggestion: Briefly summarize lecture material and preview what lies ahead.

Example: "Today I have identified five phases of the reflective thinking process. Tomorrow we will see how these phases can be useful for our understanding of human learning."

Suggestion: Relate lecture material to past or future presentations.

Example: "During the next lesson, we'll break into discussion groups and get some experience applying this evaluation model to the first three case studies in your file."

Suggestion: Ask a student to summarize the lecture's key ideas.

Example: "Who will summarize the key issues developed during today's lecture?"

B. Restate what you expect the students to gain from the lecture material.

Example: "As I stated in the introduction, given the appropriate data you should be able to plot the appropriate supply-and-demand curves."

Delivering the Lecture

The following questions relating to lecture delivery should be considered throughout all three phases of lecturing:

A. Vocal Delivery

Do you:

  1. Cue important ideas by varying speech rate, volume, and pitch?
  2. Speak to students and not to the blackboard, walls, notes, or floor?
  3. Enunciate clearly?
  4. Let your sense of humor show?
  5. Avoid repetition of pet words or phrases (e.g., okay, you know, uh)?

B. Physical Delivery

Do you:

  1. Establish and maintain eye contact with your students?
  2. Use gestures and physical movements which complement your verbal statements (e.g., looking at students while asking for student questions)?
  3. Practice in advance with audiovisuals?
  4. Avoid using distracting gestures or physical movements (e.g., grooming, pacing)?