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Lecturing & Presenting

a professor lecturingWilliam E. Cashin, in his Idea Paper titled, “Improving Lectures,” provides several suggestions for effective lecturing and presenting of material. First, the appropriateness of the lecture format is dependent on the goals of the course, and the instructor should evaluate the course aims before determining whether a lecture-style course will most effectively achieve the course goals. The strengths of the lecture are that it “can communicate the intrinsic interest of the subject matter, and it can present the newest developments” (Walker & McKeachie, 1967).

Other strengths of lecture formats include their ability to restructure information into a unique manner, relevant to the course directions. Lectures are also useful in that they provide a large amount of material to many students at the same time. Finally, they can also be used as examples for how professionals approach an intellectual question.

The negative aspects of lecturing include the lack of feedback that students receive, the presumption that all students are learning the material at the same pace, and the problem that lectures are not well suited for higher levels of thinking, such as what is involved in synthesis and application. To overcome these hurdles, Cashin offers several recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of lectures:

  • Fit your lecture to your audience, by gathering information about your audience beforehand.
  • Prepare an organized outline with 5–9 major points, and decide which minor points you will include. Present this outline at the beginning of class.
  • Present multiple sides to an issue, to make your audience aware of the various viewpoints, or to help strengthen an argument you are making.
  • Repeat the points you are making in two or three different ways, and stress the points you deem most important.
  • Look at your audience, include discussions, and solicit questions.

Another way to enhance your lectures is with effective blackboard or overhead use. Students’ notes are often an exact copy of what appeared on the chalkboard or overhead, with very few additional points or connections. Effective board work highlights and emphasizes the organization required in problem-solving or the evolution of an argument. Remember that even the best students will occasionally lose the thread of a lesson or forget the original objective of a discussion. The chalkboard is their major, and often their only, resource for reentering the lesson. Therefore, be organized, use headings, write clearly, and when solving problems on the board, show each step in a logical sequence. If at the end of a lecture, you can stand back, look at the board, and reconstruct the lecture using what is written, then you are developing good board skills.

Lectures can also serve as a mechanism for encouraging higher levels of thinking in your students. In his book What’s the Use of Lectures?, Donald A. Bligh addresses how to promote thought using lecture. He recommends the following: Make sure the your lectures encourage application and discovery of the material (see also Teaching Inductively) as opposed to only serving as a platform for the presentation of material. In this way, students learn how to use the information provided to analyze novel situations. Second, ask questions throughout the lecture, focusing on questions that promote critical thought, not rote memorization (see also Leading Discussions). In order to assist student thought, provide a visual display of the presented material, include handouts so that students can focus on thought rather than note taking, recommend that students pre-read the material so that lecture is not their first exposure to it, and watch the speed of your lecture. Bligh (2000) found that students performed best with thought-provoking questions when the lecture material was presented at a slow speed, as compared to when the lecture was presented at a faster pace, because a slower pace allows students time to think about the material itself. For more information related to the promotion of critical thinking, see Active Learning.


Cashin, W.E. (1985). “Improving Lectures.” Idea Paper No. 14. Kansas State University: Center for Faculty Evaluation & Development.

Bligh, D.A. (2000). What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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