What is a lecture?

Lecturing is the second oldest form of teaching. "Lecture" comes from the Latin lecture, meaning "to read aloud". (The oldest form of teaching and persuasion was the one-to-one dialogue or conversation of the ancient Greek philosophers; this approach is still used in the modern Tutorial.)

Lecturing was an early form of educational technology and arose at a time when books were expensive and rare; reading them to others was the most efficient way to communicate or introduce new content.

What are the benefits?

Lecturing is still very effective in introducing new topics to large groups. When supplemented with modern communication technologies such as microphones and digital displays, a lecture can communicate the enthusiasm and passion of a discipline expert.

More recently, researchers and practitioners have also developed ways to make the lecture format more interactive and engaging by using Guided Notes and critically evaluating the application of the lecture. [See Choosing to Lecture]

Use a lecture when:

  • the basic instructional task is to give information
  • the information is nowhere else available or is difficult to obtain
  • some content material must be organised in a special way
  • you are trying to establish learner interest in a subject
  • the material presented is needed for only short-term retention
  • introducing a subject or giving directions or learning tasks that will be pursued or developed through some other techniques.

What are the challenges?

The downside of lecturing is that it often takes place in a Large Group setting and is often non-interactive and one-way communication; hence, it is less Student-Centred and less likely to engage all the individual learners at any given time.

Additionally, students often criticise lectures for trying to present too much information. That is, the lecture is overloaded with facts and doesn't allow any time for critical thought or reflection. In addition to providing information, lectures should generate understanding and thought.

How can I teach lectures effectively?

Structure your lectures well

Careful planning is the key to giving effective lectures. Experienced lecturers can easily adjust the pace of a lecture, focusing on the main points if they are running out of time, and adding additional facts, examples, stories and anecdotes if they are ahead of time.

When starting out, use the following basic structure as a guide:

Introduction: Let students know what to expect in the lecture

State the purpose of the lecture.Put this in the context of what they are learning.Give a summary of your aims and the material you plan to cover.This should grab the students' attention and clearly signpost where the lecture will lead.Revise earlier material if necessary.This ensures that you are all at the same starting point.Aim to grab students' attention from the beginning.e.g. open with a controversial statement and put it in the context of your lecture; tell a relevant anecdotal story highlighting the issues at hand.

Main Body: Engage students in the main body of the lecture

Cover the main points of the lecture.A good way to structure each of the key points in a lecture is to:

  • state the main point
  • develop and explain the ideas behind it
  • give examples, and
  • provide a restatement of the point.

After covering all of the main points, provide a conclusion.Allow students some thinking time during the lecture.Allow adequate pauses in your lecture for students to absorb the information.Incorporate active learning into your lectures.See "Incorporate active learning" below.Vary the way you present your lecture.Using a mixture of strategies and materials in your lecture (e.g. visual, auditory, problem solving, demonstrations, etc.) helps address the different preferred modes of learning for your students.

Conclusion: Wrapping up the lecture

Explicity summarise each of the main points of the lecture.Start with words like "In summary..." This helps focus students' attention on the key messages of the lecture.Summarise your conclusion.Help students to understand how you arrived at this conclusion.Recap on the purpose of the lecture and state what you will be covering in the next lectureHelp students to make connections between what they have learned and other parts of the course or program.

Incorporate active learning

It is difficult for students to be passive for a long period (e.g. to listen to a lecture) without losing concentration. Research shows that students lose attention in lectures usually after about 15 minutes!

One way to sustain students' attention is to break a lecture up into manageable components. Intersperse new material with active and Student-Centred learning tasks based on the lecture material. Explain the purpose of such activities to students and let them know when the formal lecture will resume.

Here are some simple suggestions to engage students in active learning and help make your lectures more effective:

  • Pause: Pause at least 3 times per class to allow for student discussion focused on clarifying and assimilating course content.
  • Read notes: Give students 2 minutes to look through their notes, make sure they understand them and try to fill in gaps. Students can also note points that they don't understand.
  • Read another student's notes: Ask students to swap notes with the person next to them, to see what they have written and to note points they could add to their own notes.
  • Read some material: Give students a few minutes to read a case/example/text/poem/idea/newspaper clipping. Then ask several students to outline the main points, or ask students a question about the item, or use the item to lead into a new topic etc.
  • The feedback lecture: Deliver two mini-lectures per class, and separate them by a brief groupwork session. In these sessions, students work in pairs to discuss questions you distribute to them.
  • Summarise important points: Give students 2 minutes to note down the 2 or 3 most important points they've learned in the lecture so far. When students have finished, they could compare points with the person next to them, or you could put up an overhead/PowerPoint and ask them to compare their points with yours. This also helps to ensure that students note the points that you consider important.
  • Write down a question: Ask students to write down one or two questions that they have at this point in the lecture, wording the question so that it addresses what they are really interested in or confused about.
  • Silent reflection: Ask students to take 2 minutes to quietly think about what the lecture has dealt with so far.
  • The responsive lecture: Devote one class period per week to answering open-ended, student-generated questions about course procedures and content. List the questions on the board, and let students rank them in order of importance. This list becomes the outline for the day's lecture. If you're uncomfortable relinquishing so much structure to your students, ask for the questions in writing the day before.
  • Explain a point to the person next to you: Ask students to explain the concept you have just discussed to the person next to them in their own words, as if they were explaining it to someone who was not doing the subject.
  • Discuss an experience: Ask students to form pairs, each member of the pair to think of a example of (the topic) she/he has seen or read about. Then take it in turns to discuss it. Set a time limit of 2 minutes per student. Two or 3 students could then be asked to share their example with the rest of the group.
  • Work on a problem or a case study: Give students a case study from real life, and ask them to work individually or in pairs or threes on any aspect of it, devising a solution, discussing the ethics of particular options etc. Depending on the task, you could reveal the solution that was chosen in reality, then ask students to comment on it, or put forward and discuss options.
  • Group problem solving: Ask students to work in groups of 2 or 3 to devise a solution to a problem. Then ask several groups for their solutions.

Points to consider

  • What is the relevance of the lecture?
  • What are the Learning Outcomes I wish to achieve, i.e. what do I want my students to know, think, feel, and do when I have completed the lecture?
  • How and where does the lecture fit with the course / program overall?
  • What is the key message (or messages) that I want to get across, and is this realistic in the amount of time I have?
  • Who are my audience?
  • What do my students know about this topic already?
  • Should I review previous material before moving on?
  • What issues of Student Diversity should I take into account in giving this lecture?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What equipment is available?
  • What supporting evidence might I use (e.g. facts, examples, images)?
  • Is my approach inclusive?
  • Is my language and delivery Inclusive? Do I avoid sexist, racist, socio-economic and disability stereotypes?
  • Are my Teaching Methods and learning activities varied enough to promote and support different learning styles or preferences?
  • Do my materials, activities and readings provide differing cultural/gender/race perspectives?

Further resources

A lecture is essentially a public address. There are many sources of advice on public speaking at such websites as:

See also

and on the Teaching Gateway:


  • Bonwell, C. The Enhanced Lecture: A Resource Book for Faculty. Cape Girardeau, MO, Southeast Missouri State University, Center for Teaching and Learning, 1991.
  • Gibbs, G. Lecturing to More Students, Book 2 of the Teaching More Students Project, PCFC-OCSD, 1992.
  • Murphy, E. Lecturing at University, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia, 1998.
  • Image: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202 William Hogwarth's 1736 engraving, "Scholars at a Lecture".