Lillard's Introduction to Child
Psychology, with a visiting three-month-old
lecture effectively, you must know your discipline in both breadth and
depth and carefully observe it and your students: lecturing consists of
gathering and arranging detailed materials with sensitivity to your audience's
particular needs and interests.
Organizing Your Course
writing individual lectures, analyze your course, both pragmatically and
theoretically. Answer the questions below to help determine the nature
of your lectures: factual, polemical, provocative, integrative, or- most
likely-a varying mixture.
- How many
lectures will you give?
is the logical sequence of topics?
common themes and general trends will you emphasize to create coherence?
- How will
the lectures relate to assignments? Will students consult primary
sources or original research or learn from specialists who have already
digested the material?
- How will
you help students follow lectures and take notes?
- Do you
want students to listen more and take fewer notes?
- How will
you designate key points?
- Will you
have discussion sections? If so, will you orient them around readings,
videotapes, lectures, or a combination? If you are a professor working
with teaching assistants, read "Working with TAs," and "Specific
organized you appear to students (and TAs, if any) and how comfortably
you progress through the semester depend largely on how rigorously you
formulate your syllabus and schedule. When first designing a course, consult
with experienced colleagues about how many readings and how much detail
to include. Be prepared to condense topics that warrant years of graduate
research in order to illuminate the whole subject for students. As the
semester goes on, note problems and necessary modifications while altering
the syllabus as little as possible (changes confuse and frustrate students).
Stick to what you planned to do, and incorporate your great ideas next
to stereotype, I think the most entertaining lectures are the most,
not the least, disciplined ones. . . . A lecture should be as transparent
as possible: clean, not encumbered by a host of qualifications and reservations.
students' backgrounds. Consider your audience as you organize individual
do you expect your students to know before each lecture?
might they have questions, misconceptions, or confusions?
- How can
you best resolve their misunderstandings and difficulties?
The more you
teach the more you will know what to expect. In the meantime, predict
what students will bring to the course and compare those predictions to
the reality that emerges throughout the semester; you will rapidly learn
to formulate reasonable expectations. See "Preparing a Course"
and "The First Day of Class" for ideas about learning your students'
to students. The best lecturers interact with their audience, making
students feel that they care about them and what they learn.
- Come to
class early and leave late; students who might never come to your office
hours will talk with you before or after class if you're there, not
barricaded behind a podium. Initiate conversations with students who
- To make
your material meaningful, determine how well your students follow you.
Watch for negative body language (eyes focused on the middle distance,
whispering, slouching) and for positive reactions (solid eye contact,
nods of agreement, perplexed eyebrows). When possible, stop for questions,
but don't be sidetracked.
- Ask questions
that require students to restate main points and draw conclusions; use
rhetorical questions to provoke thinking.
use an exercise like the one-minute paper to see exactly what students
comprehend (see "Analyzing and Improving your Teaching").
Preparing students. Your lectures will hit the mark more closely if
students have prepared beforehand, and you can motivate study before
class in several ways.
- In your
lectures, allude to assigned material to show that you aren't repeating
information and that you expect students to be prepared (while knowing
that they cannot all invariably keep on schedule).
demonstrate that you expect preparedness and usually encourage students
to rate your assignments a high priority; you might choose to drop the
scores on one or two to reduce anxiety.
- A five-
or ten-minute essay in which students summarize the day's reading and,
perhaps, give their personal opinion checks comprehension (see "Evaluating
Students' Work"). Good lecturers motivate students to study by
making clear the need for basic understanding and knowledge before the
lecture; they don't rehash fundamentals.
my schedule so that I can remain after a lecture and talk and answer
questions as long as any students are there to talk with me. This is
a very important signal to them that I care about them. Its also
a very important time of feedback for me.
worthwhile to spend about 15-30 minutes at the start of the semester to
clarify expectations for the course in order to avoid the frustration
of finding out at the end of the semester that some students had expected
something from the course other than what you designed. Discussing with
your students what they hope to learn from your class, and how those goals
can be reasonably achieved, also encourages students to take responsibility
for learning and engage with the course. As people are more receptive
to ideas they generate themselves, create a teachable moment when students
are ready to listen by asking a few probing questions about the upcoming
course. Here are a few examples:
do you expect to learn in this course?
- How do
you expect this course to expand on the one you just finished?
- Why did
you enroll in this course? o How do you expect this course to prepare
you to go on in this discipline?
the ensuing discussion, focus on students' ideas: you provoke them, hear
and acknowledge them, develop them when necessary, write them for all
to see, help analyze ways to fulfill them, and respond to them. Compare
students' expectations with yours, and explain the rationale behind your
own objectives. You might, in fact, modify your planned expectations in
light of some thoughtful ideas from your students. Later if students complain
that there is too much work, you can refer back to this discussion and
remind them of what is necessary to achieve the learning goals that they
have set for themselves. For more details, see Barnett, "On the Same
Wave Length?" 1999.
your lecture. Once you have a sense of your students, structure your
ideas and main points. Have a goal: What one new idea, concept, or skill
should your students leave the talk with? Many experienced lecturers compare
preparing a lecture to writing a paper: a thesis statement followed by
branching ideas and concluded by a look ahead to the next lecture or assignment.
Know, too, that if you make a point only once, only about a quarter of
your audience hears it. So, tell them what you're going to tell them,
tell it to them, and tell them what you've told them. To plan, ask yourself
questions like these:
- Can I briefly
summarize my main points and the goal of my lecture? If you can't, you
probably don't have a clear direction.
- How does
this lecture fit into the course? Refer to previous lectures and readings
and tell students where you're going.
- Which details
best illustrate my main points, and how can I use them most effectively?
Although personal style, taste, and preference dictate much of each
lecture, you need to grab the students' attention, perhaps by starting
with a key question or paradox, and offer a new idea or a new twist
(Lowman, 1984). To interest your audience, you need to hit the level
at which ideas seem sensible to most listeners but involve some reflection
or reorganization of old ideas. Listeners can understand at a great
depth if you present material in the context of previous lectures, readings,
and their lives.
lectures I bring my personal experiences to convey the notion that concepts
explored in class are not merely abstract thoughts but can be widely
employed to derive basic understanding of natural phenomena.
Fuentes, Environmental Sciences
- Is my lecture
clear? To make your lecture cohesive, reinforce main points logically.
In addition, handouts in class or on the web help most students tremendously:
use them to offer outlines to fill in, thought questions to consider,
definitions of key points, significant dates and events. By furnishing
basic information, handouts can save students from rapid writing and
give them time to think.
- Can my
students assimilate what I'm telling them? Listeners can absorb only
three or four main points in fifty minutes, only four or five in seventy-five
minutes. Make your points count, and reiterate them in various ways:
use examples and analogies, define terms, tell an anecdote, summarize.
People learn and remember in different ways (see "Learning Styles").
- Will I
keep my students' attention? Because the average attention span is about
15-20 minutes, you need to vary your presentation and, when possible,
incorporate moments of discussion. Remember that the first ten and last
five minutes are key; emphasize major concerns then. You're most likely
to lose students' attention in the middle of class; if you have an appropriate
anecdote or shocking idea, use it then.
- Use "Change-ups"
to hold your students' attention over the course of an entire class
period. The term comes from baseball: by throwing the ball at different
speeds the pitcher keeps batters off-balance. Inserting a change of
pace every 15-20 minutes works equally well in the classroom. Make your
activity directly related to that day's course material and seek out
tasks that will help reinforce the main points that you want students
to remember. It is also important to have a clear idea of what you want
your students to do and give explicit instructions about what they are
to accomplish. After the change-up is completed, talk over the exercise
in order to confirm what students have discovered and tie it into the
day's main points. For more information and examples of change-up exercises,
see McAllister, 1997 and Barnett, "Whose Course," 1999.
- Where will
I go from here? At the end of the lecture, tie up loose ends and pique
students' interest in the next assignment or lecture.
your lecture. Your actual writing process depends on you: some people
outline, some brainstorm, and others start at the beginning and plunge
through; some use pencil and legal pad, others prefer word processors;
some write every word, others write notes. As long as students find your
lectures interesting and clear, your system works.
you initially write notes or paragraphs, you will probably come across
best if you lecture from notes. Listening to anyone read for 50 or 75
minutes is difficult unless the speaker has a fine rhetorical style, powerful
eye contact, and brilliantly conceived and clearly stated points. Using
notes competently, you can interact with your students, make effective
eye contact, and show that you really know the subject.
length, you may find it helpful to know that an average rate for reading
aloud is 140-160 words per minute and that ten pages of typed, single-spaced
notes is generally all you can use in a fifty-minute lecture. Time yourself
carefully and practice in advance to be certain you don't run over time.
If you do, you can't tie the pieces together, and students will not be
really listening as they gather belongings and worry about being late
to their next class. If you finish too early or too late, consider videotaping
yourself to analyze how your performance compares to your plans (see "Analyzing
and Improving Your Teaching").
are powerful tools. Too often, the essence of a technical subject is
cluttered by semantics. By stripping away jargon, I can relate the key
elements of a new concept to daily experience or topics previously learned.
Searching for accurate analogies and determining their limitations can
be a challenge, but the search process itself improves the quality of
my teaching by letting me think outside the box.
Rob Kelly, Materials Science
organized lecture can fall flat from weak delivery, and a fine delivery
strengthens a hastily written lecture. Consider appropriate use of visual
aids (see "Using Visual Aids). Scrutinize your lecturing style by
analyzing a videotape of your class or by discussing it with a colleague
or TRC staff member who attends and take notes. In analyzing your technique
and in preparing to speak, consider these points:
The best eye contact lasts about five seconds and focuses on individuals
throughout the audience. Do you seem to be speaking directly to individual
You should be speaking at a speed and rhythm that keeps students' attention
but still allows time for necessary notes. Do your students appear interested
and comfortable or bored or harried? Is your pace varied or droning?
Does your voice demonstrate your enthusiasm for your subject? Is your
voice clear? Do you project to students in the back? If you find that
the atmosphere you want to project just isn't there, consider a voice
workshop sometimes offered through the Teaching Resource Center.
the perception that philosophy is extremely dry and unbelievably complex,
I try to do three things:
absolutely clear and jargon-free in my presentations
students something memorable (for instance, vivid examples and
humorous stories) to help them retain key ideas.
engage and challenge the student, treating her/him as a participant
in an activity rather than as a member of an audience.
John Simmons, Philosophy
and Discussion Sections
a discussion can be somewhat like directing actors who step out of character
when the dialogue is sensitive, try to steal the show, experience stage
fright, arrive late for productions, and sometimes neglect to read the
script. Whereas only very experienced (or foolhardy) directors would attempt
such a production on Broadway, discussion leaders (often TAs) can sometimes
find themselves as jittery as actors on an opening night without a dress
rehearsal. If you feel this way, don't despair; here are some ideas to
help make your class a hit. This section offers suggestions for leading
good discussions, with special attention to TA-led discussion sections.
Setting the Stage for Interaction
important aspect of stage setting is relationships, crucial because genuine
dialogue demands that all participants feel comfortable with one another.
While all instructors need to relate to their students, discussion leaders
have a unique opportunity and a greater responsibility to form teacher-student
relationships and encourage student-student relationships. When participants
value, respect, and communicate with one another, they feel free to express
partially formulated ideas and jointly create their own learning experience.
- Names are
of utmost importance. Tell students immediately what you prefer to be
called and something about yourself (see "The First Day of Class").
Encourage students to learn each others' names by devoting part of the
first class to students' introducing each other, making name placards
(use these for as long as you or the class needs them), or playing a
name game in which students identify each other when you're stumped.
Such procedures may seem laborious initially, but they pay off and students
appreciate your effort to know them.
- Work with
students' individual personalities. When students seem interested but
never contribute, ask them privately how you can facilitate their participation.
Some students would rather be called on than force their way into a
conversation. On the other hand, you can ask students who contribute
too much to hold their comments to give others a chance. If students
are prone to posit hasty, poorly conceived conclusions, give them a
chance to correct themselves before class ends. If students speak with
biases, respectfully point out their implicit assumptions; or, better
yet, make it a course goal that all students learn to recognize their
own biases. To make this endeavor non-threatening, identify biases you
bring to the material and invite students to "call you" on
these, should they appear. To really know your students, spend a few
minutes after class recording observed dynamics and interesting interchanges.
These notes will also prove invaluable should you be asked to write
a letter of recommendation (see "Writing Letters of Recommendation").
props also help facilitate discussion. When appropriate, bring historical
documents, photos, ethnic food and costume, a human brain, poll results,
and so on. Your students may become more involved in the topic and will
probably remember better.
- Last, but
before the semester begins, be sure the physical stage is set for dialogue.
When possible, request a room suited to the anticipated enrollment,
with tables or chairs that can be arranged in a semi-circle. At the
very least, everyone should be able to make eye contact with all other
Where You Are Going
good directors, skilled discussion leaders know what they want to accomplish.
Before entering the classroom (and usually in conjunction with the course
lecturer if you are a TA), determine the discussion goals. Purposes vary:
you can clarify and supplement lecture material; students can learn and
practice new skills, propose and critically evaluate positions, gain confidence
in their analytical skills, and/or draw connections between course material
and the outside world. Discussion sections are not normally used to convey
large amounts of new information.
in mind, next decide how you will accomplish them through both course
requirements and your teaching style. If you are a TA leading a section,
you will probably share requirement decisions with the lecturing professor,
although one of you might hold sole responsibility. Distribute the syllabus
the first day, even if the lecturer has included discussion assignments
on the lecture syllabus (see "Preparing a Course").
teaching style characterizes effective discussion leaders, but style does
communicate implicit expectations about amount and type of student participation.
If you are very directive, students may spend more time guessing your
next point than contributing ideas. Conversely, if you are completely
non-directive, anticipate days when important matters are never covered.
Develop a style between these two extremes, closer to the one more congruent
with your course goals. Choose your style before the first meeting, and
define it in the first few weeks. Changing implicit expectations mid-semester
is as frustrating as changing explicit requirements: for example, if you
intend to call on students rather than wait for volunteers, you must do
so from the first days of class.
whatever your teaching style, students need to leave with a few main points.
At the end of class, with students' help, abstract main issues and their
resolution. A class without a synopsis is like a play without the last
scene. Similarly, running out of time and summarizing during the next
class would be like a director stepping on stage before the last scene
and saying, "Sorry, folks, we'll pick up tomorrow night where we
teaching and research as complementary, even symbiotic. Reading recent
scholarship prevents long-known concepts or texts from ever seeming
stale and, more importantly, reminds me of the necessity to be open
to new ideas and to see that a mind can changeas must lesson plans.
Questions and Listening
you need to direct or frame the discussion to reach a predetermined goal.
The type of orchestration you choose depends on your questioning skills
and students' preparation, motivation, and participation (see also "Case
opt for traditional questions (and you should try them), first ask about
concrete facts and theories previously presented in lectures or readings
and then progress to questions requiring more abstract thought. Abstract
questions may involve comparisons between sources, critical analyses of
logic or methodology, alternative explanations, real-world applications,
or the separation of primary and secondary arguments. For example, when
discussing Skinner's typology of behavior, you could develop a progression
of questions something like the following:
is Skinner's main premise?"
does he support this theory?"
what ways are Skinner's ideas similar to Locke's?"
would the adoption of such a theory affect social policy?"
questions or questions with obvious, programmed answers; they bore students,
and their responses do nothing to facilitate subsequent dialogue.
teaching style is one of guiding students' natural curiosity and feeding
it-not with answers, but with more questions. My greatest reward is
the light in the eyes of the students who realize that they just found
a way to answer their own questions.
Guihard, Materials Science
as important as asking the right questions is the way you ask them-and
the way you listen and respond to students' answers. Here are some tips:
- Treat all
students with respect by considering their contributions thoughtfully.
valuable remarks from all students. Rather than reserving the more abstract
questions for the more "insightful," give all students a chance
at the lead. Students soon realize your intent and fulfill your expectations.
reinforce genuine attempts with verbal or facial expressions. When comments
are slightly off the mark, rephrase elements that come close and give
students a chance to agree or disagree. Of course, when comments are
factually incorrect, you must acknowledge this in a polite and non-patronizing
manner. When comments are particularly brilliant, give the other students
time to recognize them as such. Then, as you summarize and draw the
class to a close, recall noteworthy remarks and weave them into your
synopsis, acknowledging the students who made them.
- Be sensitive
to the different ways students use language, and vary your approach
to accommodate all students. Men are more likely to prefer a devil's
advocate approach; in fact, some men feel that an unchallenged comment
must have been unworthy of attention. Some women are more likely to
react negatively to a challenge, and women generally monitor their participation
more. For example, a woman who has made several comments may refrain
from additional involvement, not wanting to dominate the discussion
(Tannen, 1991). Of course, some women enjoy a good debate, and some
men fear it. The point is: using one approach all the time is likely
to be effective with only some of your students. (See also the TRC handbook,
Teaching a Diverse Student Body.)
- Learn to
be comfortable with silence. When students don't have a ready answer,
wait patiently (5-30 seconds depending on the complexity of the question)
before embellishing, rephrasing, or changing your question. You show
that you value students' learning more than their rapid guessing of
your thoughts, and students prize this time to think. At home, practice
posing a question and waiting to see how long half a minute of silence
feels. At first, it will seem exceptionally long, but you will soon
become accustomed to it. (By the way, if your students always have a
ready answer, reevaluate the quality of your questions.)
students to talk to each other, not through you, by holding your rejoinder
until more than one student has spoken. If necessary, say, "Cathy,
would you please respond to Grant's comment," or "What do
you think about Grant's argument?" If Cathy still seems to be talking
to you, orient her toward Grant with head and eye gestures. Such a directive
may feel artificial at first, but students catch on quickly and conversation
flows more realistically.
mutual respect among students by encouraging inclusive language and
the acceptance of people in various racial, religious, gender, and cultural
- If you
have a good sense of humor, use it positively; it is possible to offend
by comments you believe benign.
students' questions appropriately, and acknowledge when you don't know
the answer. For details, see "Resolving Conflicts."
beginning of a class period, I pose questions in order to focus attention,
gauge understanding, reiterate important themes and facts, or to set
up the topic I want to discuss next. If we are formulating a problem,
I ask individual students to offer a suggestion on what to do next.
Johnson, Materials Science
discussion techniques motivate students in different ways. We describe
a few briefly here; for greater detail, see Frederick (1989) and Kraft
time. Ask students to spend several minutes thinking about their
answer and, perhaps, writing it down. Allowing thinking time emphasizes
the importance of the question and gives all students a chance to gather
their thoughts. As a result, students who otherwise are slow to participate
jump early into the ensuing discussion. One variation on this activity,
think-pair-share, encourages students to share and compare answers in
small groups or pairs before discussing them as a whole class (for more
information, see "Further Reading" on cooperative learning).
Divide students into groups, asking them to develop an answer consensually.
In smaller groups, more students can speak, shy students address less
formidable audiences, students can build relationships, and a competitive
group spirit assures lively discussion when the class reassembles. Vary
the way you create groups: ask students to number off, select partners
whom they do not know, pair with classmates wearing the same color clothing,
and so on. As long as you give very clear instructions, you can assign
many types of tasks to groups. Some favorites are:
truth statements. Each group produces three statements known to
be true about a particular issue; for example, "It is true
about slavery that . . . ." When students feel already well
informed about an issue, this strategy helps you challenge their
the main point of the day's text. Students report on their consensus
and invite response from other groups.
quotes in the text that best illustrate the major premise. Students
read these aloud and defend their selection.
As each student briefly states a salient image, scene, event, or moment
from the text, list them on the board and ask for the connection between
them, the missing link, the emerging theme. With this approach, students
participate in a sort of collective memory-making.
Students formulate the primary questions raised by the text or lecture.
Students might hand them in before class so that you can select some
for discussion; or students can lead the discussion their questions
provoke. Because this latter approach requires more class time, appoint
only a few students to lead each discussion and start early in the semester
so everyone has a chance. You also need to instruct students about leading
discussions and limit time allotted to each question
prepare short reactions to the week's readings or lectures. These can
be the springboard for lively discussions.
Students reenact a scene from a novel, plead their case before a "jury,"
or discuss "in character." Assign characters to volunteers
or by placing placards at students' seats. Students need from several
minutes to a week to study a character before performing
debate or position taking.
Pose an "either/ or" question ("Were the British or the
Americans responsible for Revolutionary War?") and force students
to identify their position by sitting on the side of the room corresponding
to that position. Ask students to change seats if they change their
position. Alternatively, use the seating as a continuum.
With a scientific phenomenon or conclusion on the board, students work
backwards, generating several plausible causal chains.
Nothing Seems to Work
though you are prepared, have sought help from colleagues and/or the TRC,
have tried traditional approaches, nontraditional approaches, and everything
short of a literal song and dance-students 36 don't participate. (Was
it a rainy Monday morning?) The best teachers have classes like this now
and then. Realize that you can't force participation; but if participation
is key to your course, you must uphold your stated requirements. (Note:
If your discussion section doesn't count for a grade, it should; see "Working
the class with a friend or colleague to see if you can spot problems.
For the next classes, prepare students for the assignment in a different
way, or repeat a discussion-leading technique that worked in the past.
Spend ten minutes eliciting students' comments: How effective do they
find the discussions, and what improvements do they suggest? How well
do they understand the readings? What do they think the goals of discussion
sections are? (See "Analyzing and Improving Your Teaching").
most U.Va. students enjoy discussions with leaders excited about the subject
matter and concerned about teaching them as individuals. Similarly, many
instructors find leading discussions very rewarding. So, get out there
and break a leg!
first day of class, I encourage my students to get out of their seats
and move. They cannot just sit at their desks and attempt to learn passively-because
passive learning will not empower them in the rest of their classes
or in their lives more generally. While I believe that the subjects
I teach are important, I know that teaching students how to learn is
far more important.