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Effective Lecturing

The lecture format is still the most widely used method for instruction of students at universities. Typically, a lecture is thought of as a presentation that transmits or conveys information. When we consider how people learn, lectures should not consist of tedious, lengthy orations.

Effective lectures should be carefully planned and designed by instructors to bring the classroom back to life. Lectures can be divided into short presentations focused on continuous engagement of students with the material presented through a variety of interactive ways.

Effective Lecturing


  • Your lectures must be clearly organized. You want to avoid moving from one topic to another without making explicit connections, as this makes it difficult for students to understand the information. Organize the lecture information into a meaningful sequence to support student learning. Structure lectures around the central ideas or topics in the content.

  • Create an outline of the lecture. This way students don’t spend extra time trying to make sense of how the presented information is connected. Present this outline at the beginning of the lecture, to provide a framework students can use to organize their knowledge. Revisit the outline when you transition to a new concept.

  • Consider different ways to present information. Other than words and papers, different ways to present information include, but are not limited to, concept maps, graphics, video and audio materials, images, hyperlinks, and social media. For instance, a concept map, which is a graphical representation of connections between ideas, helps students make sense of information, especially if the topic is unfamiliar. Using a concept map also helps you reflect on the amount of information being presented.

  • Plan to set aside time and space to engage your students. It takes two - teaching and learning – to tangle. Effective lecturing should avoid tedious, one-way, and top down transmission of information. Plan ahead to allow students to have time and space to ask a question, summary a mini-lecture, challenge a statement, analyze a case, propose a hypothesis, present a problem, look for a solution, come to a consensus, and much more. The more you allow your students to engage, the more engaged they will become.


  • The first few minutes of the lecture are important. A good beginning is to ask the class specific questions about the lecture topic. This helps determine your students’ background knowledge, helping you adjust the lesson plan if necessary.

  • Connect with students in a personable way. Students’ emotions, interests, and motivations are connected to learning. For this reason, personal stories can help you appear more approachable to students and can convey your passion about a subject to your students. This passion is contagious and can help your students become more engaged, resulting in increased student learning.

  • Provide multiple opportunities and methods for participation in class. Some students are uncomfortable speaking in large groups or are English language learners which may discourage their immediate engagement in discussions. To address these issues, provide opportunities for smaller groups or pairs of students to discuss a topic first, or have them do a short writing activity, then include all groups in a class discussion.

  • Remember that each student comes to class with many rich ideas and experiences. All of this understanding is called prior knowledge. Learning occurs when new information connects to students’ prior knowledge. Activate your students’ prior knowledge by using illustrative examples and attention-getters (e.g., short video clips, warm-up activities, and relevant stories). Examples can be from everyday life and are especially important when content is introduced for the first time. Also, real-life scenarios can help maintain your students’ interest during lecture.

Best Practices

  • Encourage students to ask questions during or after your lecture. When students pose questions during class, all students in your course can benefit from the response. However, you should also assure your students that questions are welcome at any time or through different ways such as via email, after a class, telephone. The questions that students ask will inform you of content that may require more attention or a new approach for explanation.

  • Foster a classroom of active learning. Students come to the classroom with different personalities, comfort levels, knowledge, beliefs about learning, and views on their role as a student. They may not understand the value of speaking and interacting with the instructor or with other students in the class. However, active participation is important for deep understanding.

  • Incorporate mini-lectures into class time. Mini-lectures are a useful method for gathering information about students’ learning strategies during lectures. After conducting the lecture for a short time (e.g., 10 – 15 minutes), provide students with a few minutes to reflect on what they were doing (e.g., taking notes, formulating a question) during the lecture and how these behaviors guided their learning. Mini-lectures provide information to instructors on how they can assist students during lectures such as directing more attention to important content or reviewing a concept for understanding.

  • Make direct connections between mini-lectures throughout the larger lecture. Have an overview of how the mini-lectures connect that your students can follow with your thoughts and understand the transition of topics. Incorporating videos, current news, cartoons, pop quizzes, etc. will grab students attention and help transition between mini-lectures.

  • Assess student understanding during class. If you are having trouble understanding why students may hold misconceptions following instruction, implement an assessment strategy that focuses on capturing information as to why these misconceptions still exist. This reflective process provides you with insights about how to adjust instruction in the future. If students share common misconceptions about a topic, you can reteach the topic and/or use a different instructional strategy to convey the information.

  • Provide timely feedback. Provide students with information about what you learned by examining their responses (such as reviewing common misconceptions) and explain how you plan to use that information to improve their learning experience. If the sole purpose of a classroom assessment is to improve your teaching, consider administering assessments anonymously to minimize the pressure that students experience to successfully complete the assessment.



Bligh, D. A. (2000). What’s the use of lectures? London, UK: Jossey Boss.

Cross, K.P., & Steadman, M.H. (1996). Classroom research: Implementing the scholarship of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

McKeachie and Svinicki, (2006). Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 57.

Middendorf, J. & Kalish, A. (1996). The “Change-Up” in Lectures. The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 5, 2.

Revell, A. & Wainwright, E. (2009). What makes lectures “unmissable”? Insights into teaching excellence and active learning. Journal of geography in higher education, 33(2), 209-223.

Rowe, M. B. (1987). Wait time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up. American Educator, 11, 38-47.