Giving a Good Lecture

Tell Them What You Are Going to Say.

Say It.

And Then Tell Them What You Said.

The three sentences of the subtitle above comprise the fundamental rule for one preparing to give a speech. The rule applies just as well to those preparing to give a lecture. Below are some specifics derived from the fundamental. Say it three times: Tell them what you are going to say. Say it. And then tell them what you said.

  • Never go to a class without a plan of how you are going to lecture. The great lecturers know that each group of students has a different personality. Adapt the lecture to the audience.
  • Focus on the main points of what you want your students to take away from class. List the learning outcomes for the day. Ask: “what will students know and be able do by the end of class time?” Start with the main ideas. Link this day’s topic to last day’s topics.
  • Consider the wisdom. Handle *.ppt with care. Waving at densely packed slides or, worse, reading from them is not teaching. Consider alternatives. 
  • Keep slides consistent. Changing design, color, and animation from slide to slide is distracting. Deliver content, not distracting context.
  • Slides are not course notes. Keep slides terse: write out only the main idea with a maximum 3-4 bulleted, subordinate words or very short phrases. Students hear you better when they are not distracted by on-screen readings.  Slides are keynotes. The details are in your exposition of those keynotes. Post your terse slides on the course RPILMS site before class so students have them to print as structured guides to their in-class note-taking.
  • Lecture concentrating on essentials. Spice the essentials with well-crafted examples from real life, specific details, a joke if appropriate. Humor catches attention but, if you’re a clumsy humorist, leave jokes to those with timing.
  • Avoid extremely specific and highly technical language, especially if you teach a first-year or an introductory course. When bringing in new language be sure to explain its meaning. Don’t take attention for granted. Students suffer attention lapses and later forget words they do not understand.
  • Avoid gender, race, or any other kind of bias in your language. Use inclusive language that speaks to all groups in your audience.
  • With a well-planned lecture, you should not be reading from slides. Avoid(!) facing the screen with your back to your audience.
  • If possible, do not stand immobile at the lectern. Walk the aisles. Wireless microphones are available from media-ops (518.276.6646 website). Remote control USB devices will allow you to advance slides while walking the room and, incidentally, keeping students focused on the lecture (not their laptops). Look at your students, not at your papers or slides. Dim lights and monotone promote napping, so bring the lights up from time to time, and vary the pitch, vary the intensity of your voice.
  • Teachers and students are partners in constructing a good classroom. Plan for Q&A at the end of class, or anytime. Encourage students to ask questions. Pose questions, and allow time for students to come up with a response. To eliminate response-reluctance, use iClicker, the Institute-standard classroom response system. (All students have them. Contact Maureen Fodera at 518.276.4847 for assistance.) Another antidote to response-reluctance is to encourage raised hands with miniature candy bars as a prize. Be creative; encourage students to hold up their end of the learning conversation.
  • At the end of class, repeat the main ideas to take away from class—the do-not-forget collection. The final PowerPoint slide should be the list of main topics discussed that day. A last-slide reiteration wraps and summarizes what was taught, and it also helps students construct their understanding of the day’s take-away ideas. Several short assessment methods can be helpful: main idea, muddiest point(s), one question, KWL, Door Pass, etc.
  • A teacher is someone who never says anything once. Say it three times.
  • Last but not least: Smile! :-) Students prefer professors who are passionate about what they teach. Show enthusiasm as an aid to building enthusiasm in your discipline’s next generation.