Good lecturing results from a combination of the following elements: subject knowledge, study program awareness and student engagement, all wrapped up with effective communication skills.
When EPFL students rate teaching highly, they typically point to the following characteristics of the course:
- The class is regarded as well-organised and well-structured.
- The teacher is perceived to be enthusiastic or dynamic.
- The teacher’s explanations are perceived to be clear and adaptable.
- The teacher or their assistants are available and willing to answer questions or provide guidance.
- The content is seen as being new, interesting or important.
- The teaching resources (such as the polycopié or the Moodle site) are good.
In the next section we will explore a method to help you structure and organise your lectures.
- Starting where your audience is
- Keeping it short
- Supporting with illustrations
We propose a five-step template called LOAFS which is designed to help teachers use instructional strategies which have shown to have the highest impact on learning. Below is the explanation of each part of the LOAFS structure. We also share are some ideas to inspire you in organising a successful lecture:
L – Lead-in
O – Objectives
A – Active information processing
F – Formative assessment
S – Summary
Learning requires effort and attention, and it is important that your students are convinced of the value of paying attention to what you will be doing during the lecture. As a teacher, you do not want them to miss out some key messages because of ‘inattentional blindness’. During the first few minutes of the lecture you therefore want to make sure that you ‘hook’ their attention. Some strategies ‘lead-in’ to the lecture are:
- Make your class relatable and relevant by using ideas that students might find interesting, useful or intriguing. E.g. knowing the real-world application of the concepts is likely to stimulate students’ interest in most subjects. You could use examples, illustrations, or ask questions about a concrete problem that will awaken their curiosity and ‘hook’ students to your explanation.
- Activate students’ previous knowledge which is relevant to the lecture content. For example, if the lecture will use a mathematical technique they have seen previously but may have half forgotten, then let them know at the start. Another way of activating prior knowledge is to carry out a short ‘concept test’ at the start. You can use ‘electronic voting’ (delete clickers) clickers as support for this.
- Give students a reason to pay attention. E.g., this can be done using an analogy, a cartoon, an experiment or a vignette. Make an explicit reference to the academic or professional importance for covering the material seen in the lecture (that is, give them a reason to learn).
- Present students with a structure of the concept you will explain. This could be a mind map, a chart, a table, a diagram, anything that helps students get an overview of what is planned for the day.
Clearly state the goal of the lecture or the explanation (learning objective), what it is that you expect students to know or be able to do by the end. This focus on what is important helps students direct and concentrate their attention. This will also help you design and prioritise learning activities and assessments that best support your learning objectives.
3. Active learning processing:
This should be the longest part of the lecture.
- Think of engaging the students in the learning process rather than just presenting the information. You could include active learning methods such as flipped class, think-pair-share, peer instruction, the jigsaw (Refer to Active learning for more ideas).
- Use a narrative from the general to the particular, from ‘real-world’ situations to abstract models, or from simple to difficult. Make this explicit by telling students the path you are following (even if it seems obvious to you, it may not seem obvious to many of them).
- It can be difficult for learners to keep taking in new ideas continuously over a 45-minute period. Therefore, it is a good idea to take one or two interactive breaks of five minutes or so. You can use this to ask questions, solve an exercise / check solution or give them time to complete their class notes. This allows students to consolidate what they have heard before moving on to new material. Remember to allow for time to reply to questions.
- Use AV supports (slides, black or white board, simulations, etc.) that help make the structure of your argument clear. Try to ensure that the support does not contain so much information that it ends up competing with you for the students’ attention.
4. Formative Assessment:
A formative assessment would take place during the learning activity and thus, it provides information both to you as a teacher and to the student. For instance, based on the responses to formative feedback you may realise that you have to clarify misconceptions or repeat an explanation. By asking students specific questions on the concept just explained, you can get feedback on how well this was received. It is important to ask stimulating questions, which lead students to assess the status of their learning. E.g. instead of asking “Are there any questions?”, or “Is it clear?”, asking specifically “Can you explain in your own words the difference between heat and mass?” or “What is a characteristic of solid-state matter?”.
Often teachers feel they run out of time and so they do not get to conclude properly. This is unfortunate, because a good conclusion can really help students understand how the lecture fits together and how it relates to the rest of the course. From your point of view, it may seem that you are repeating yourself, but from the student’s point of view it is often a chance to organise ideas and understand them better. Before the end of class, you may:
- Remind students of the goal of the lecture and make a quick summary of the main points covered.
- Remind students what is to be done for the next lecture / exercise session.
- Take notes of students’ questions and points that need clarification after the lecture, to help you prepare the introduction for the following one.