What is Interactive Lecture?

Initial Publication Date: October 12, 2009

Interactive lectures are classes in which the instructor breaks the lecture at least once per class to have all of the students participate in an activity that lets them work directly with the material. These activities allow students to apply what they have learned earlier or give them a context for upcoming lecture material.

For example:One way to transform a traditional lecture into an interactive lecture would be have students discuss their observations of the picture linked to the thumbnail to the left rather than telling the students what you see. Then call on some groups for their responses and discuss as a class.

Types of Interactive Activities

Lecturers can use a variety of interactive activities to engage their students. Such activities include having students

  • observe and interpret features of images
  • interpret graphs
  • make calculation and estimates
  • brainstorm

These are examples of the types of activities described in more detail in Interactive Segments. Many of these activities not only involve the students in the material, they can also promote critical thinking, develop quantitative skills, and allow for informal assessment of student understanding.

Some general structures of interactive activities are given below.

  • Think-pair-share: Ask the students a question and have each of them turn to a neighbor and discuss it before resolving on a final answer.
    • This is a great way to motivate students and promote higher-level thinking. Open-ended questions promote discussion.
    • Include time to discuss as a class as well as time for student pairs to address the question. A think-pair-share can take as little as three minutes or can be longer, depending on the question or task and the class size.
  • ConcepTest questions are conceptual multiple choice questions that are used to assess student understanding. Students work on the questions individually.
    • These questions can be used to promote some kinds of higher-level thinking, but as they tend to be quick (often about 60 seconds), this is limited. As these questions take little time, you can ask several in a class period.
    • They provide a quick objective assessment of students' prior knowledge or of how much of the class understood your lecture.
  • The Question of the Day is a short project dealing with the lecture material that requires the student to think actively about it. It takes a few minutes at the start of class and requires a written response that the student turns in for a participation grade.
    • These are not multiple-choice but require short explanations, annotations, calculations, or drawings that develop communication skills as well as higher-level thinking.
    • Students come to class expecting to do one of these every day, and start the class as active rather than passive learners.
  • Longer activities that might take 15 minutes to an entire class period are useful in engaging students in a lecture-based course.
    • Such activities typically require time for the instructor to develop the materials and plan the activity.
    • These activities are useful for getting students to tackle more complex problems.
  • These types of activities provide feedback on what students have learned, enabling you to either discuss a particular concept in more detail or move on with confidence that students have mastered that concept. Learn more about collecting feedback

Some instructors structure the class period using a combination of different kinds of activities to serve a variety of purposes in their classes. For example, one could use a few quick individual ConcepTests primarily for assessment, to see if the students understand and can apply the lecture material to simple problems, and then get them working in groups on a more complicated problem that has them synthesize the current material within the content of previous lessons. Learn more about how to give interactive lectures

Additional Material

Interactive lectures are one method for interactive engagement. The Interactive Engagement page in the Teaching with Models section provides additional information on different methods for interactive engagement, research on student learning using interactive engagement, and some key references. Learn more about interactive engagement

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