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Before you ever start working on the content of your lecture, carefully consider your audience. Their preparation to learn from your lecture depends upon a host of variables. For example, what level of students are you teaching: graduate, undergraduate, freshmen, upper-classmen? 

Pre-requisite Knowledge

Think through the pre-requisite knowledge you can expect. Perhaps there are prerequisite courses your students should have. Will they really remember the content of those courses, or will you need to remind and prime them for your advanced topic? Will they be familiar with the jargon in your field? It is more effective to introduce new concepts in everyday language before referring to jargon (McDonnell, Barker, & Wieman, 2016). Some students also have vocabulary deficits that need to be considered.


Sometimes students bring pre-conceptions about your topic that need to be dispelled. For prior knowledge to be useful to learning, it must be accurate and complete (Ambrose et al., 2010). Inadequate prior knowledge may be confused, flawed, and with misplaced assumptions. You will need to diagnose frequently held misconceptions and misunderstandings. Address these head on in the lecture, sharing the common misconceptions and the correct interpretations to guide students to the truth and beyond their prior knowledge deficits.

Why Are They Here?

Another consideration is why your students are taking your course. Is it a requirement that may or may not interest them? Is it an advanced course that most students find interesting? Knowing why the students are there can help you see what relevance about your topic you can bring to the students.

Habits and Attention

What habits of mind and attention can you expect? Sometimes students diligently take notes during lecture, while other times students just listen. What can you expect? Will you need to work to keep their attention or will the majority maintain attention on their own?


What level of diversity can you expect and should you plan for? You’ll want diversity in examples and illustrations to relate to everyone. Use inclusive teaching methods. Examine your cultural background to reveal any biases so that you can correct them. Examine how students’ cultural backgrounds may influence their ability to attend and comprehend your message. Examine your lecture to reveal any content that could be modified to engage more learning preferences of students. Plan to use principles of Universal Design and to verbally explain any complex visual or auditory information.

Physical Arrangement of Classroom

Consider the physical arrangement of the classroom. What lighting will you need for your technology? Will your technology and demonstrations been seen easily from every area in the classroom? Are the seats arranged well for both lecture and activity? Can you move freely about the room? Remove any physical limitations that keep you at a distance from the students. Check for ambient noises that you need to accommodate. Is the temperature appropriate so it won’t be distracting? See what changes are you able to make to facilitate attention and concentration.




Next, consider your overarching purpose for the lecture. You’ll want to make your lecture relevant to the lives of your students. You can do this by examining the relevance of the lecture for the course goals or learning objectives. Also consider the relevance of your lecture for students’ lives outside of the course. You should plan to highlight the relevance at the beginning of your lecture to draw your students in.

Structuring for Your Goal

There are many ways to structure your lecture by considering the goal of the lecture. For example, your goal may be to provide an over-arching theory or to provide examples and illustrations to expand the theory. You may be providing background or context for future readings, activities, or assignments. Your goal may be to explain the text information or to provoke more critical thinking about the topic. Whatever your goal may be, keep it in mind as you begin to structure your lecture so that you support the overarching goal.



We frequently consider the learning objectives of the lecture and it helps guide the purpose and structure of the lecture. Always look for alignment of your learning objectives. For example, how do the lecture objectives relate to course level learning objectives?

Less is More

It is fairly easy to list multiple learning objectives for a lecture period when you are planning. However, less is more when it comes to designing your lecture. Too many learning objectives may indicate that you are planning to cover too much information and it might overload the students. It can also lead to rushed presentations. A good rule of thumb is one major and a few minor learning objectives in a class period, with plenty of examples and illustrations. Also plan to complete your coverage of learning objectives within the lecture. Students may have difficulty following a learning objective that spans multiple class periods.


Make sure your lecture is transparent as that will help students assess their own learning throughout the lecture. Clearly state your learning objectives at the beginning of lecture, perhaps even writing them on the board or presenting them in PowerPoint. Show students where you want to end so that they can follow along the path with you. Work across your course to provide alignment among your learning objectives, learning opportunities, and assessments (Fink 2013).



Use your reflections on audience, purpose, and learning objectives to help guide you through a plan for the structure of your lecture. Structure provides clarity for your message.

Structure Options

There are many options for how to structure your lecture:

  • Argue a case like a lawyer, taking the audience through step by step.
  • Demonstrate a specific problem solving strategy before students will be asked to use the strategy themselves.
  • Provide an overarching theme with many illustrations and examples.
  • Present a mental model of hierarchies and sub points.
  • Present a case study of your theme.
  • Provide a knowledge structure for complex concepts that is not available or obvious in the text.
  • Relate course material to current events or students’ existing knowledge or experience.
  • Present your own thinking about a complex problem in the course or present the latest thinking or research since the publication of the text.
  • Present relationships among theories, hypotheses, and phenomena.
  • Organize an array of sources in a manner that best suits the learning objectives of the course.
  • Serve as a model for how thinking proceeds in your field and show your enthusiasm for the field.

Clarity of Your Structure

Whatever your structure, be sure to incorporate an explanation of your structure for the students: examples and non-examples, demonstrations, case studies, and illustrations. Critical parts of the structure include having an introduction that lays out the learning objectives and the relationship of the lecture to the course overall. Clearly mark your transitions. Make sub-points clear. Provide a variety of restatements of your main points, perhaps in formal and informal language.

Planning Your Conclusion

Plan for a conclusion to your lecture. Leave 2-5 minutes for a summary activity. Don’t rush the clock, but rather plan for the activity in advance. You could have the students do the conclusion by selecting students to summarize the lecture. You could have all students complete a summary task, like writing the most important concepts or the most difficult concepts on a card that you can collect. Quizzing, whether graded or not, is an excellent conclusion because it requires students to retrieve information and the “testing effect” demonstrates that retrieval is much better for memory than simply reviewing information (Nilson, 2010).



Media as a Supplement to Your Lecture

Most lecturers use some form of media to supplement the narrative of their lectures. Some options include white boards and markers or smartboards. It is often helpful to write key points on the board because it slows you down in your rush to narrate. It is also helpful for showing your train of thought more carefully and fully than in a presentation software. There are also audio-visual presentation packages, such as PowerPoint, Prezi, and Google Slides that can be used to aid with lectures and provide interaction with students.

Using Presentations

There are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to presentations. A good presentation will be a skeleton of the lecture you will be following. It is helpful to have the vocabulary you may be introducing present on the board or screen. Complex ideas are often helpful to display and supplement with a careful narrative describing the complexity. It is good to clearly mark transitions in your lecture. Examples and illustrations are good to introduce topics or concepts.

Less is More

A basic and critical point about presentation applications is to remember that less is more. You should not treat your PowerPoint as a teleprompter. There should be a minimum amount of words on each slide and the size of the words should be sufficient to be seen from all seats in the room. Too much information on a slide is distracting and may lead students to the tension of not knowing whether to listen or to read the slide (Mayer, 2001).

Visual Information

It is good practice to present a variety of information on slides. You’ll want visual displays that follow your lecture. Think of visual displays that can explicate your ideas. You can include graphs, photos, drawings, graphic metaphors, diagrams, concept maps, Icons, and cartoons. Be sure to explain all the visual depictions and guide the students through interpreting them.

Using Videos

If you use videos, make sure they are captioned and set up to start at the beginning of your content.

Have a Backup Plan

It is wise to always have a backup plan for technology failure.



Enrichments are short, active-learning opportunities given to break up the lecture into mini-lectures of about 15 minutes, and also provide students with retrieval practice and active learning opportunities to digest the mini-lecture material (Lange, 2016; Nilson, 2010). Students have a limited attention span and need activities to break up long lecture (Bligh, 1999; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2013).

Length of Activities

Breaks should be about 2-5 minutes long. Give students a specific time period to work in a pair or by themselves, then use the remaining time for discussion of the work. Ask students to talk quietly, but expect the room to get rather loud if they are engaged. Use a stopwatch to help you stick to the time limit, but allow more time if students are working diligently (Mazur, 1997).

Retrieval Practice

Make use of the importance of retrieval practice. The testing effect finds that frequent retrieval, as if for a quiz, benefits learning more than any other activity (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). A retrieval practice allows the opportunity for students to check their own learning.

Some procedures for executing retrieval practice include the following:

  • Periodic free-recall: have students close their notes and try to recall the main idea or learning objective they’ve just learned; have pairs exchange and compare what they’ve recalled.
  • Pair and compare: have students pair up to compare lecture notes and fill in information they might have missed from their partner.
  • Solve a problem: have students solve an example problem with the information they’ve just learned. Do this in pairs and then survey the class for answers to the problem.
  • Multiple choice exam question: have students write a multiple choice question for the exam. Students are usually highly motivated and you get, with a little tweaking, exam questions.
  • Pair graphic: students work together to create a graphic representation of the concepts they’ve just learned, producing a concept or mind map, a graphic organizer, a diagram or flowchart, or a matrix.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) can build in active learning with the benefit of letting you know how the students are comprehending you. CATs are also very beneficial as a formative assessment for the student’s own learning – helping the students judge where they are in the learning process (Gurung & Schwartz, 2009). There are a growing number of applications that serve as student response systems (Bunce, Flens, & Neiles, 2010). For example, quizzes can be done in class using Kahoot, Socrative, and Poll Everywhere.

You can use these programs for several CATs, including the following:

  • Multiple choice or true/false questions: pose a question to the class and have them return their answers on a mobile device; project the response patterns and explain as needed.
  • Order the steps: post a random arrangement of steps in your lecture and have the students put them in the right order.
  • Word splash: have students write answers to a question or ideas related to the lecture and then reveal the answers in a word splash.

Lecture Notes

Some lecturers provide outlines for notes and there is some controversy about whether this enrichment is really helpful (Nilson, 2010; Major, Harris, & Zakrajsek, 2016). Research suggests that taking notes, and taking notes well, is very positively correlated with improved learning. Providing copies of complete lecture notes, or the complete set of presentation materials, lulls students into a false sense of learning. The common recommendation is an outline form of the lecture with white space for taking notes. This produces the most effective format for taking notes, in terms of long-term retention.



Finally, plan for the delivery of your lecture. A good place to start is by presenting the learning objectives for your lecture. You might begin by capturing students’ attention with a provocative statement, a complex question, a story, or a quotation.

Humor Helps with Retention

Use humor. Especially when it is difficult to engage attention and the concepts being covered are complex, it is important to use humor. Humor diffuses tense situations. It engages and leads to better retention of material. You can use humor by being funny yourself. If you aren’t particularly gifted in that way, you can use humor by bringing in humorous content from other resources.

Be Active

As you deliver, keep your lecture notes to a skeleton. Avoid reading from notes because that leads students into a passive listening mode and it prevents you from responding spontaneously to students’ attentional needs (Nilson, 2010). Vary your speech and vocal inflection. Vary your verbal pace and include reflective pauses. Use gestures and facial expressions. Walk about the room. Face students and maintain eye contact.


Finally, keep to your time schedule. Don’t rush to include important points.



Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. et al. (Eds.) (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Angelo, t. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2018). Interactive Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Stylus Publishing.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gurung, R.A.R., & Schwartz, B. M. (2009). Optimizing teaching and learning: Practicing pedagogical research. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McDonnell, L., Barker, M. K., & Wieman, C., (2016). Concepts first, jargon second improves student articulation of understanding. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 44 (1), 12–19.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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