OTL Newsletter

2008 (02) March »

Teaching Tip: Making Your Lectures More Interactive

Author: Kristi Verbeke

teacher photoWhile the lecture is a commonly-used teaching method, it also draws a lot of criticism. This article will address the characteristics of a good lecturer, the appropriate use of lecture, and specific strategies you can utilize to make your lectures more engaging and interactive.

Characteristics of a good lecturer
Many people feel that only charismatic-types make good lecturers. However, think about some of the great lecturers you have encountered in your lifetime. Why were they so effective? When prompted with this question, individuals often identify the same set of characteristics. Specifically, effective lecturers:

  • Capture and sustain attention. They use elements of surprise, humor, and concrete examples to keep their audience interested.
  • Employ effective delivery techniques. These individuals modulate the pitch, volume, and rate of their speech. They also move around the room and make eye contact to keep their audience engaged. When appropriate, they utilize visual aids to enhance their message.
  • Build trust and community when speaking with others. They appear open and make others feel comfortable and capable of participating in the lecture.
  • Know their audience. They anticipate who their audience is and tailor their material to that group.
  • Present information in a structured, organized manner. This makes it easy for the listener to follow the content and focus on what’s being said (rather than where the lecture is going)
  • Encourage interaction. Audiences become more engaged when they are allowed to interact with the lecturer. This can occur through discussion, questions, and even small group activities.

The Appropriate Use of Lecture
While lecture is not the most appropriate method to use if you’re looking to change attitudes or encourage a deep level of processing and learning, it is effective for getting information out to people, presenting current information not available anywhere else, presenting key concepts, summarizing a large amount of, and difficult to find, material, and building interest. Keep in mind that like a good paper, an effective lecture will have a beginning, middle, and an end. So, when planning your lectures, plan for an introduction as well as a summary. This helps organize your listeners and tie concepts together.

Strategies for making your lectures more interactive
Planning is key! In order to incorporate the suggestions above (e.g., having relevant examples, preparing an introduction and summary, and utilizing activities), you must plan your lecture accordingly. In addition to planning, consider limiting the number of concepts you present. Most of us try to cover more material than we can possibly get through. To ensure maximum understanding and retention, identify 3-5 key concepts your students absolutely must know at the end of your lecture and focus on those. Similarly, chunk information into 15-20 minute segments (research suggests this is the average student’s span of attention). Incorporate brief questions, activities, and discussions between the segments (for a list of potential activities, visit the thiagi group’s list of 36 formats). And finally, have your students DO something with the material. In order for your lectures to be interactive, the students must interact with the material. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate drawn-out activity. It can simply be a one-minute reflection, a turn-to-your-partner activity, or a discussion question.

In summary, you don’t have to be overly charismatic to be an effective lecturer! The key is to be organized and have a plan. Make sure your lectures have a beginning, middle, and end, and that this structure is obvious to your students. It’s also a good idea to break up your lecture into smaller segments and incorporate activities whenever possible to keep your listeners engaged. For more strategies to make your lectures interactive, check the OTL calendar for Interactive Lecturer or contact us at otl@wayne.edu for additional resources.


Center for Teaching, Learning & Faculty Development, Ferris State University (2007). Developing effective lectures: Eight steps to active lecturing.

taigi group, the (2007). Interactive lectures: Summaries of 36 formats.

KristiKristi Verbeke, MEd
Associate Director, Office for Teaching & Learning
(313) 577-6448

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