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Watch the Teaching Basics video on Engaging Lectures

Connecting with your students during lectures

Speaking with a clear voice, strong projection, and eye contact may seem like common sense, but with the large international student body at the Academy of Art, these features of speaking are very important to keep forefront in your delivery. If they can’t understand you, they can’t learn. In addition, it's during lecture that students are most susceptible to distraction, and if you are so involved in presenting that you lose awareness of what and how they are doing, they will use that lack of awareness as an opportunity to work on an assignment for a different class or to text a friend.


Try these strategies to facilitate greater student comprehension:
  • Ask students if they can easily hear you. Some classrooms have distractions, like street noise or fans, that interfere with students’ ability to hear and see you.
  • Stand up when you’re lecturing. This improves eye contact between you and the students and also helps you project your voice to the back of the classroom.
  • Move out from behind the desk or monitor. Walking around the room while giving a lecture can be a great way to keep the students on their toes and paying attention. In addition, if your classrooms have computers, you may need to move around to maintain eye contact.
  • Face the students while you speak. When using a PowerPoint, it’s tempting to speak in the direction of the screen. In most cases, you then have your back to the students, making it more difficult for them to understand what you’re saying.
  • Aim for the back wall of the classroom with your voice. This will ensure that your words are loud enough even for people in the last row.
  • Make eye contact with the students. Scanning the room periodically is not enough. Making sustained eye contact (3-4 seconds), especially with non-native English speakers, lets students know you’re connected with them in the learning process. 

Speak slowly and count to 5 in your head after asking a question. Many in your class, especially international students, need time to process what they are hearing in English, decode it for meaning in their heads, and formulate their answer to a question in English. This may take longer than you’d think. Slow down, enunciate clearly, and give them time to respond before answering your own question.

Interactive lectures

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Lecturing has been described as instruction that takes place with or without learning. In short, lectures can sabotage learning because they require students to listen passively for long periods of time. Imagine, instead, a scenario wherein the lecture is a brief part of a larger interactive lesson, during which students understand the lesson goals and are actively engaging with their peers to process the information presented.


Here is an example of how an interactive lecture might look in an intro Graphic Design class.

What to do?

(from an intro Graphic Design class)

Why is this useful?

Communicate a concrete learning outcome to your students.

"As a result of participating in this lecture, you will be able to identify layouts that effectively use The Law of Thirds and Negative Space."

Clarifying what you want students to do with lecture info keeps presentations focused and gives students a reason to listen.

Before your lecture, get students talking about the topic

"Take a few moments to think about The Law of Thirds and Negative Space. Jot down what you know about how these principles impact the effectiveness of a piece. Share your thoughts with the person next to you."

Then call on several students to share something they heard with the class.

Giving students time to think, write, and discuss helps them gather/articulate their thoughts. Asking students what they already know about the topic honors existing knowledge/gives you a sense of how much to elaborate or not.

Next, present your lecture information with visuals. Keep it brief (10-20 min. max)

Post or project several different layouts and talk about how they utilize The Law of Thirds and Negative Space.

Limit lectures to hold attention and interest. Provide just enough detail to relay the key points. Many people need visuals (images, models, etc.) to process what they hear.

Then, pose a problem for students to grapple with.

Group students around magazines and have them find 3 layouts that use The Law of Thirds and Negative Space. Then have them come to consensus about the most effective layout.

When students propose their own solutions, they expand and test their understanding.

Finally, check students' understanding.

Groups present their layout choices to the class and explain their choices.

Presentations help students develop confidence and articulate their thinking. They also show you how deeply students are grasping the material and where they need more guidance.

Give students feedback.

Comment on the effectiveness of each group's chosen pieces. Acknowledge students who grasp/explain the concept well. Ask questions to clarify students' reasoning. Offer alternative perspectives, with explanations.

Clear, specific instructor feedback lets students know how well they have applied the information, and where there are gaps in their understanding.

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