Ten ways to make lectures more dynamic

Captivate students from the beginning


In secondary teacher training, one of the first things that teachers are taught is the concept of the ‘plenary’, otherwise know as the ‘starter’.  The idea is to start each lesson with something short and interesting that is going to settle the students and engage them with the lesson.  The concept of having something at the beginning of each lecture to settle and engage the students, is a worthwhile one.  

Organisaton is everything!


I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it would be extremely difficult to give a dynamic lecture without prior organisation.  Spending time thinking about the contents of the lecture provides you with the opportunity to evaluate the information that needs to be included.  It also gives you time to think about the best method of delivery, for example, some subject content might be more suitable to a Power-Point presentation than others.  Preparing a lecture in advance also allows you time to research valuable resources, such as educational videos, YouTube clips, academic articles etc…  


Be animated

Try to vary the intonation (pitch and tone) of your voice, it doesn’t matter how interesting the contents, a monotone voice is guaranteed to send a lecture room full of students to sleep. For a good example of this watch the teachers’ delivery style in ‘Ferris Beullers’ Day Off.’ It is easy when lecturing to present the information to a few students (usually the ones directly in front or who look enthusiastic), in order to engage all students it is vital to maintain eye contact with the whole room and not just a few. Use physical gestures to emphasize points. Break away from the lectern or podium in order to maintain contact with all students. Be conversational in tone. Use humour, since students are more motivated when they're having fun.  It might sound scary but filming a lecture and watching it back allows you to see what your students see.  It is amazing what you can learn from doing this.

Adopt student centered learning strategies

Student-centered learning is all about placing the student at the centre of the teaching process.  It is making students an active and a responsible contributor in their own learning.  Teaching has moved away from the ‘one size fits all’ pedagogy and instead now embraces the fact that students learn in different ways.  This doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours planning individual lessons for each student, but it does mean that we should incorporated a range of strategies into our teaching.   For example, using educational videos and images for the visual learners.  Bringing in models and artefacts for the kinaesthetic learners.  Have group sessions where the students have to move around the room and don’t remain static for the bodily-kinaesthetic learners.  Thinking about students learning needs helps us to think more about our teaching style.

Question time

One of the most effective tools a lecturer has at their disposal and which ensures interaction, is to ask and encourage questions. Questions can be used as a plenary, can stimulate interaction throughout the lecture and can be used to re-visit content at the end.  Involving students through questioning helps to maintain their attention, which is vital when information is complex and lectures are long.   

Change can be good

Don’t just stick with the tried and tested format, week in, week out.  When we have been teaching for a long time it is easy to stick with what has worked in the past and not try new things.  I personally think that it is good to try new strategies and new ways of doing things.  Not only for the student’s interest, but also for our own It might be that the original way of doing something was the best way, but until you try something new, how will you know for sure?

Make the lecture interactive

An interactive lecture is one that includes and encourages student participation. Using techniques that encourage all students to contribute, helps to promote student retention and learning of the content presented during lecture.  Strategies such as ‘think, pair, share’, whereby students are think about a problem initially on their own, then with and partner and finally share with a group or the class, is great at encouraging active learning and participation.   

Technology


We are fortunate to be lecturing at a time when there are so many technological resources available to us, which we can use to improve and enhance the learning experience for our students.  However, I believe that is really important that we use the resource that best fits our lecture and not the other way around.  My three favourite technological resources are: Keynote (Macs equivalent to Power-Point), which is great for summarizing key points and presenting visual stimulus.  Educational videos, especially as there is such a great selection available now, which are both engaging and informative.  Finally, Virtual Learning Environments such as Moodle, which are great for ensuring that the students continue to be engaged with the content after the lectures, have ended.  

Student Feedback

Although it can be scary hearing what students’ think about your lecture, it is a valuable way to find out what is working and what isn’t working.  Very often we use questionnaire at the end of the year to gauge feedback but it can be beneficial to get feedback on a more regular basis, for example after each unit or when you have tried something new.  It is also a mistake to think that this has to be done with a questionnaire or a survey.  Sometimes just saying to the students “what did you think about the video I showed today?’  Or “was that a useful resource?”  Provides valuable feedback that you can use to inform future planning.  

Closing time
Make sure that you end the lecture in a structured way.  Re-focus student’s attention to the main points of the lecture and briefly explain what they will be learning next.  It is important to make these links so that students understand where the information they are learning fits in the grand scheme of things.  The end of the lecture is also a good time to collect any impromptu feedback.
By ending your lectures well you have given students the chance to 'come full circle' by providing a: positive start, purposeful middle and reflective end, all of which are key ingredients when creating a dynamic lecture. 

BBC Active offers a wide range of BBC videos for use to enliven lectures and training courses.