How to Use Interactive Lecture Demonstrations

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Before the class meets

  1. Choose the learning goal for the class. Interactive Lecture Demonstrations are most effective if they focus on a single or related concept that is frequently misunderstood by students. For example, concepts in which:
    • student misunderstanding often persists after traditional instruction.
    • contrasting cases yield different interpretations that are often not recognized by students.
    • abstract principles need concrete examples.
  2. For this concept, what demonstration will generate the greatest enhancement in student learning?
  3. Decide if the demonstration will be conducted by the instructor or if it will be feasible for small groups of students to undertake their own demonstrations. The obvious time-saving advantage in showing the demonstration is often out-weighed by the greater engagement and learning potential when students conduct their demonstrations. As a course progresses, consider a combination of the two approaches.
  4. Have the demonstration ready to go so that student will not be distracted by the preparatory steps. Learn more about using small groups in class.

Interactive Lecture Demonstrations include three steps:

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  1. Before students make a prediction, clearly indicate what will take place in the demonstration. Usually it is best to show all the steps in the demonstration without, of course, revealing the outcome.
  2. Have students record their individual predictions for the demonstration. It is helpful to have a worksheet where students record their predictions. Especially in large classes, it is important to make certain that all students have completed this step, perhaps by requiring students to submit a copy of their prediction before moving to the next step.
  3. Students can discuss their individual predictions with their nearest neighbor or with their group members and change their predictions if they like.
  4. Predictions are reported to the class. Ask students to explain their responses, but be careful not to praise or criticize student predictions; instead record all student predictions without evaluating them. A few students may be called on, or results can be tabulated for the entire class using a show of hands or a classroom response system (clicker). Learn more about using clickers
    Learn more about the prediction step

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  1. Run the demonstration (led either by the instructor or by students working in small groups). Learn about types of demonstrations
  2. Students note differences and similarities between their predictions and the demonstration outcome.
  3. During the demonstration, don't be tempted to describe exceptions, assumptions and extensions. Such discussion could distract attention from the core concept under study.

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  1. After the demonstration is complete, have students consider ways in which the demonstration challenged their prior beliefs (or not), and how the new results can be explained. Such reflection may be conducted as a whole-class discussion, or students may write individually or in pairs about their changed thinking.

  2. The instructor helps the students transfer their learning to new situations for which the concept applies. For example, the instructor may introduce variations of the demonstration: how will the results vary if the initial conditions are changed? What other situations would illustrate the same principles? These variations may be illustrated during the class, or left as thought experiments. Learn more about activities that promote reflection and transfer