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November 1, 2015

5 Tips for Taking the Boring Out of Your Lectures

Lectures have a bad reputation, but when you strip away all of the negative connotations, a lecture is just an academic talk, which is an essential element of teaching. Lectures, also known as direct instruction, explicitly teach a skill set, and while they are teacher-led, it doesn’t mean they have to be boring!

An interactive lecture is a technique that actively engages students with content, the teacher, and their peers while challenging them to think critically. Here are five useful strategies to begin implementing interactive lectures in your classroom:

  1. Build a lecture around a question, not an answer

You’ve likely heard (or used) this opening statement: “Today, we will be learning about…” Interactive lectures start with a question or a problem, which make students active constructors of their own understanding, rather than just recipients of knowledge. For example, instead of saying, “Today, we will be learning about mitosis,” ask students, “How do we grow as we get older?” The lecture will then go on to explore and build on the answers or thoughts students provide, leading to a discussion of mitosis (asexual cell division).

  1. Tell a story

Students often zone out during lectures full of facts, theories, definitions, and dates. Student interest and long-term knowledge retention rely on associations between information and previous learning, personal interests, and emotional responses. Storytelling through narratives, case studies, news events, anecdotes, and scenarios is a great way to ensure that students forge these connections. The next time you start a unit on the Revolutionary War, why not focus on Molly Pitcher, a woman that not only carried pitchers of water to the Patriot soldiers, but also took over a cannon after her husband’s death.

  1. Keep lectures short

The length of a lecture is a powerful factor of student learning and engagement. Don’t let a class period define the time you spend lecturing. Instead, let brain-based understanding of attention span determine the length of your direct teaching. Lectures should last approximately ten minutes. After that time, reinforce students’ understanding through authentic learning activities.

  1. Use multimedia carefully

It’s tempting to fill lectures with videos, images, and music, but it’s important that the use of multimedia engages students’ attention and understanding without distracting from the lecture’s focus. Instead, leverage multimedia to reinforce complex concepts. Here are a few examples:

  • Social Studies: Use TEDEd to help students understand the upcoming 2016 Presidential election within context of the election of the first president, George Washington.
  • ELA: Reinforce a lesson on correct capitalization with one of Flocabulary’s catchy hip-hop songs.
  • Math: Teach the basics of probability with Brainpop’s Tim and his robot friend Moby.

By using each of these strategies, you will spice up your lectures to more effectively develop critical-thinking skills and engage your students.

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