Lectures are not evil

April 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain vintage will remember this scene from the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

We laughed because most of us had experienced more than our share of lecturers like this whose voices were devoid of intonation, who operated under the guise of participatory learning but whose pauses were designed to give them an opportunity to swallow, not to elicit feedback from the participants.  We told ourselves that if we ever taught, we’d never be like this guy.

What didn’t occur to someone of us (okay, me…) was how a lecture format could be made to be engaging and participatory.  I thought it was the teaching method “lecture” that was evil, but have since learned this is not so.

The key to effective lecturing is engagement.

Okay, so how?  How do we involve our students in the material we are teaching and not bore them to death?

A few ideas:

  1. Ask questions.  Not rhetorical questions or ones that simply lead students in a direction you want them to go, but rather queries that encourage students to consider the information they have just heard and do something new with it.  Whether it’s figuring out a way to apply it to their lives or establishing the flaws in the logic of what you’ve just said, you move students from the place of passive participant to the one of becoming an investigator of the information.
    • Brookfield(2015) suggests posing a question and then waiting a minute to ask for responses.  It helps to give students a break from the sound of your voice (and the introduction of new content) and to think about what’s been said before responding.  You can ask them to respond through use of a Minute Paper (where students write their responses, made popular by Angelo & Cross), through interaction with one or two of their fellow students – what Brookfield refers to as a buzz groups or through response to the class as a whole.
    • Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning (2010) suggests that by asking a question at the beginning of the lecture, you can gain some insight about where your students are at.  You can also ask questions throughout the lecture so that it is less a monologue and more a conversation.  Every 12 minutes or so is ideal.
  2. Move!   When you hide behind a lectern, it is visually boring for students.  By lecturing from several locations in the room, including those where students are most likely to be disengaged ( an area referred to by Brookfield  as “Siberia), students’ attention follows you. When you stand in one place, you become like a basket of laundry your husband doesn’t take upstairs because it’s been sitting there so long he no longer “sees” it.
  3. Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Seriously.  If you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re teaching about, how do you expect your students to be?  You don’t have to be outgoing and charismatic to show enthusiasm.  To me, part of enthusiasm for a subject is being interested in what other people have to say about a topic.  If we listen to our students, model for them how to think critically and ask them for their opinions, we show enthusiasm for our subject matter and for them.
  4. Use technology.  Cool tools don’t make up for poor preparation or lack of content knowledge, but if you have those things going on, technology can serve to enhance the student’s learning experience.  Check out Wordle.net, iMovie polleverywhere.com for a few ideas.  If you want to post some additional notes after a lecture and want to include some PowerPoint with your commentary, I’ve had fun with Office Mix – https://mix.office.com/en-us/Home which is a free add-on for PowerPoint.

Lectures can be interesting, engaging and yes, even fun…unless you have Bueller’s Economics instructor.



Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom [Kobo DX Version]. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning. (2010). 20 ways to make lectures more participatory. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTlectures.html

pmw8000 (2011, December 29). “Anyone, anyone” teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhiCFdWeQfA



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