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Making lectures more effective and engaging

Making lectures more effective and engaging
© UNSW Sydney
In Week 1 of this course we looked at student approaches to learning and listened to teachers talking about student-centred approaches to teaching. A large majority of university teaching still takes place in traditional lecture spaces with large numbers of students, providing challenges for just how ‘active’ students can be in their learning.
Traditional lectures are mainly didactic and teacher-led. Lectures can be effective in presenting information, but not in changing students attitudes or in stimulating higher order thinking. Yet, students like ‘really good’ lectures (Bligh, 1972 in Biggs & Tang, 2011, p. 136).
In this step we look at some strategies and resources that can help you develop ‘really good’ lectures by implementing active learning.
Be prepared
In step 2.6 we talked about being prepared for tutorials but this is even more critical in lectures, particularly with large classes. Outline what you and the students will be doing during the class at the beginning. Make good use of signposts and transitions to highlight key concepts and help students to follow the direction that you are taking them.
Set your expectations on the first day
Make your expectations clear to students the first time you meet, for example, that you want them to interact with you and their peers, and to ask questions.
Break up the ‘teacher talk’ time
Build group activities into the lecture time to break it into accessible chunks. If you stop after 15/20 minutes and ask students to work on a problem, talk about what they have just heard or write about it you are helping them process what they are learning. After these activities students are then ready to focus on the next ‘chunk’ of material that you cover.
Ask questions that encourage participation
If you ask a specific question to the whole group in a large lecture the reality is that very few students will be willing to volunteer an answer. If, however, you ask for a show of hands for those who think either way, for/against, high/low in response to a question students are far more likely to volunteer a response. This is a useful strategy with low stakes for shy students to get them involved on the first day. Try to avoid answering all the questions that come from student’s yourself, pose the questions back to the class or to smaller groups.
Use technology to encourage participation
Incorporate tools like ‘clickers’, if you have access to them, or freely available online polling tools such as Poll Everywhere or Socrative to gauge understanding during the lecture.
Connect learning to the ‘real world’
To encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts you want them to learn, use complex, real-world examples and draw on their experiences.
Ask for feedback
In any learning and teaching context, whether in the lecture, tutorial, lab or online it is always better to ask your students for feedback during the course. Don’t wait until the end when the students won’t see the value for them in providing you with feedback.

Reflection point

  • What are some of the strategies you use in a lecture format to encourage interaction between yourself and the students and between the students?
  • What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in large lectures, in particular?
Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. Fourth edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
UNSW. Teaching, Lectures. Retrieved from

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on approaches to teaching there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.
© UNSW Sydney
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