Give your students a pause button

Here’s a great, simple tip that offers a non-invasive way for your students to exercise a bit more control over the way a class proceeds. Early in the semester, tell your students that you never want to leave anyone behind, that it is important to you that students are able to keep up with your teaching. Work with the students to come up with a signal—maybe a hand raised, maybe tapping on a desk—that they can use when they want you to stop for a minute. A student might signal if she needs to catch up with her note-taking, or because she has questions about something you’ve said.

Essentially, this is an easy way to offer some control to the students. When we read, we often pause to make sense of the material. Sometimes we read a passage a second or third time. Why not offer your students something of the same control over course content? These time-outs encourage students to more actively process the material, and goes some way to ensure that they’re not just sitting there, passively receiving your words.  -DG

Source: "29. Give Your Students a Pause Button." Robert Magnan, ed. 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Professors. Madison: Atwood, 1990. 12.

Make a lecture map to help students follow

The logic and overall thrust of your lectures are probably very clear to you. But to your students, who are hearing everything for the first time, following closely, seeing how the pieces fit together, is more difficult. Constance Staley suggests a very simple, but effective, technique to put students in a better position to learn from lectures: a lecture map.

A lecture map can be as simple as a list of the topics you will cover, in the order you’ll cover them, posted on the board so the students can see where you are at any time. Or it can be a more complex and creative visual representation of the day’s intellectual journey. What’s important is that, at all times, the students can look and see the itinerary for that journey. You may want to put this map on the board behind you, or give it to students as a handout. Knowing where they are in the lecture can free students to focus better on the nuances of what you’re saying at any given moment.  -DG

Source: Constance Staley. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lectern. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003. 118.

Have students "find the flaw" in your lecture

Here's a tip from Constance Staley's Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lectern,  that suggests a way to encourage your students to pay attention to your lectures, as well as help students test their critical thinking skills.

Before you begin your lecture, distribute index cards, and announce to the students that you will intentionally insert a piece of misinformation some time within the class period. The students must "Find the Flaw": listen for the inaccuracy and write it down on their index cards when they think they've heard it. After your lecture you can either, a) ask students to research and correct the flaw before the next class, or b) use the students' answers to fuel a discussion in class. In both cases, you've invited the students to take a more active role in the day's material.  -DG


Source: Constance Staly. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lectern. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003. 117.

Student answers for student questions

Mel Silberman suggests distributing index cards to your students after a lecture or a class discussion. Have each student write down a question about the material on his or her index card. Collect the cards, shuffle them, and redistribute them to the students. Now ask the students to read their cards and think of answers to their questions. If you have enough time, you can go around the room and have every student give an answer. Otherwise, ask for volunteers or call on students to read their questions aloud and give answers.  -DG

Source: Mel Silberman. "Everyone is a Teacher Here." 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Johannesburg: Pfeiffer & Company, 1995. 174-75  

Encourage attention and discussion with "listening teams"

Here is an easy strategy to encourage students to listen critically to your lectures and to encourage discussion afterward. In both variations, you begin by dividing up students at the beginning of class.

Variation 1: divide students into four teams, each of which has a specific assignment for that day's lecture and discussion. 

  1. Questioners - After the lecture is finished, this team has to ask two questions about the material.
  2. Nay-Sayers - After the lecture is finished, this team comments on two points with which the team disagrees. 
  3. Yea-Sayers - After the lecture is finished, this team comments on two points with which the team agrees. 
  4. Explainers - After the lecture is finished, this team has to give two specific examples that explain the lecture. 

After the lecture, allow the teams to confer. Let each team then report to the class the results of their discussions.

Variation 2: divide students into groups of four students each. Each student will play a specific role within his or her group. 

  1. Example-Giver - This student listens for examples or applications of key concepts.
  2. Questioner - This student asks two clarifying questions about the material presented in the lecture. 
  3. Devil's Advocate - This student comments on two points with which he or she disagrees.
  4. Team Player - This student points out two areas of agreement with the lecture material.  

The groups confer after the lecture, with each student presenting his or her contributions according to his or her role.  

In both variations, the exercise serves to encourage students to follow the lecture more closely, as well as structure the discussion so as to reinforce the material presented in the lecture.  -DG

Source: Variation 1 from Mel Silberman. 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Johannesburg: Pfeiffer, 1995. 101-103. Variation 2 from Mel Silberman. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1996.

Peter Filene’s five keys to a successful lecture

“How can you develop a lecture that will successfully engage your audience?

   “(1) Pose a question, either at the beginning or partway through the lecture. For example, ‘Why do the Balinese regard death with seeming lightheartedness?’

   To dramatise the question, you can embed it in a vignette. Find a quotation, an anecdote, a photograph, or some other type of vivid material that crystallizes the issue you’ll be exploring in the next hour.

   (2) But how will you satisfy those other students who work best by starting with general, abstract concepts? Either before or after the vignette, state (and write on the board) the significance of the question for the day. For example, help your students understand how the question relates to some larger question. (‘I’m using the Balinese cremation ceremonies as a case study to illustrate the ethic of relatedness that we discussed last week.’)

   (3) The best teachers go beyond simply ‘remember this.’ For example they compare two schools of thought on a subject. Or they work with evidence, analyzing and evaluating it, unfolding an interpretation, modeling how an anthropologist (philosopher, historian, etc.) works.

   (4) Offer your own answer, complete with evidence and conclusions. In other words, you are demonstrating the best way to deal with the question of the day. In some cases, this might take up most of the class hour.

   (5) Leave students with a question.”

Source: Filene, Peter. The Joy of Teaching : A Practical Guide for New College Instructors. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005, 49-50.


 To reinforce ideas within a lecture, it’s worth pausing between big concepts and asking students to reflect and interact on what they’ve heard. Here’s a structured way to do that.

   "1. Think—Pose a question either as review (‘What has been the main point so far?’ ‘Why do the Balinese regard death lightheartedly?’) or as a transition” to your next big idea “(‘Given what you’ve heard…?’) Give them sixty seconds to write an answer.

   2. Pair—tell students to confer with a neighbor (for two or maybe five minutes) and compare answers.

   3. Share—Ask one pair to report their answer. Ask whether other pairs have different answers. After a brief discussion, move on…”  -DG

Source: Filene, Peter. The Joy of Teaching : A Practical Guide for New College Instructors. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005, 54-55.