Interactive Lecture Structure

Initial Publication Date: August 10, 2009

You might add an occasional activity to your regular lecture class, include an activity every class period, or establish a consistent structure for your class and repeatedly use a limited set of activities. The choices you make about structuring a class period will reflect your goals for the course, the size of the class, and other factors.

Structuring an Interactive Lecture Class Period

If you want to incorporate Interactive Lecture activities on a regular and consistent basis, possible structures for a class period include:

  • Start with a Question: Start off by asking your students what they know and can deduce about a topic. Begin this investigation by starting with an image or a specific discussion-question. This is a good way to get started using interactive lectures, as you can start by using one activity per class period, and can gradually add more if desired.
  • Step and Repeat: This structure relies heavily on one or two techniques that are used several times each class and is especially useful for a content-heavy, fast-moving class. The students move slowly at first as they learn the techniques and what is expected of them, but then respond quickly and effectively to questions. Eric Mazur (NSF, 1996 ) gives his students ConcepTests every 10 minutes, collects responses, has them discuss their answer with a neighbor (think-pair-share) and then repeats the ConcepTest before lecturing for another 10 minutes.
  • Book-ends: This structure includes an advance-organizer (some type of introduction to the topic) at the start of every class and a five-six minute summary at the end. Within this structure, questions or activities are added to break the lecture into still shorter segments. This format may take students a while to get used to, but if the format is kept consistent, you can use it to include various kinds of student activities suited to different purposes. An example of a mixed-format book-ended class is given below.
    The class starts with a 5-minute think-pair-share activity: "Summarize the main points of the reading assigned for this class." Every class, it's the same topic, so students know what's expected of them and are motivated not to let down their friends. The discussion will focus them on the material, a good thing to do before lecture starts. It may be helpful to have them turn in their summaries on index cards for a minor grade, to discourage tardiness (especially in students who are trying to avoid this activity).

    Lecture for about 10-12 minutes, then ask a ConcepTest question to determine if they understand the topic and can apply the ideas in it to simple problems. Evaluate the responses. If the class adequately mastered the concept, repeat the process with a new topic. If not, a new lecture on the old topic, a Socratic Question-and-Answer session or some other relevant activity is in order. Use the same or a related ConcepTest question to see if the class now understands the topic.

    For the last fifteen minutes of class, spend the first ten answering questions from students from last class. How to get those questions out of students? Well, the last three minutes are for a think-pair-share activity to be turned in on an index card: "What are two questions that you still have on today's topic?" The instructor will review the most representative of these in the last lecture segment of the next class.