Tip #12| Lectures and Demos: Help Students Get the Most Out of Them
Lectures and demonstrations are the 2 oldest teaching techniques and the cornerstones of most college classes. They can be effective at presenting the latest information on a topic, summarizing information from a variety of sources, and giving students an overview of key concepts or steps in a process.
Though they have their place in the repertoire of teaching activities, live lectures and demos face some challenges:
- Student attention starts to wane after 10 minutes. (Hartley & Cameron, 1967)
- Live classroom presentations are a one-shot deal; a short lapse in attention and students can find themselves lost in the information that follows.
Here are some suggestions to overcome the challenges that lectures and demos present for students:
- Make the organizational plan explicit. Students remember more if they have a “map” of how the lecture or demo will be organized, so provide an outline of the key points you will cover. This could be as simple as a few key words on the white/chalkboard or a handout. A clear structure allows students to get back into the flow if they are momentarily distracted.
- Create a need for the information. Don’t assume students will see the relevance of the topic. Explain how they will use the information in the future; connect the day’s lecture/demo to course outcomes, activities, projects and student goals.
- Break the lecture/demo into parts. Keep the 10-minute attention span in mind; continuous lectures or demos that last longer than 20 minutes provide diminishing returns on your efforts. Embed short activities/practice time into your presentations to see what students are getting along the way.
Use internal summaries. Students only have the opportunity to see this presentation once. In an oral presentation, repetition of key points is a must; periodic summaries reinforce concepts and help students follow the flow of information.
- Be aware of your audience. To effectively communicate, you must take note of what your students are doing and how they are responding. Making eye contact will increase student attentiveness and allow you to watch for cues that students are losing focus (e.g. yawning, having private conversations) or not understanding. Rearrange students to make sure everyone can see the demo or other visual aids. During demos, pause between steps so that you can face students when talking. (This is particularly important for non-native speakers of English.)
- Help students strengthen strategies for retaining the information presented. Share simple strategies for notetaking. For example, find 2 or 3 students who do this well and have them share their strategies with the class. Advise students to review/revise notes within 24-hours to aid retention of concepts. The ARC (Academy Resource Center) can help students develop study skills.
Hartley, J. & Cameron, A. (1967). Some observations on the efficiency of lecturing. Education Review, 20(1), 30-37.
More tips on lecturing from Tools for Teaching (UC Berkeley)
Short activities you can embed in your lecture: the Change-Up
Do your students seem to struggle with the why and what of note-taking? Here are some useful sites for you to share with them:
Note Taking Techniques
Tips for Effective Note Taking