Interactive Lecture Strategies

Many thanks to Community Members Dena Leshner and Jeniffer Obando, Senior Instructional Designers from the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team, who prepared the follow information for the March 21, 2017 workshop which they facilitated.

What it is

Interactive lectures include at least one opportunity for students to interact actively and directly with the material through a specific learning task. These can be brief segments within a larger lecture-based class period, and can include a single repeated technique or a mix of several different ones. As you explore the below sections, click on a concept for more information.

Considerations and Best practices

Pre-planning is crucial

Instructors must choose content, establish learning objectives for both the interactive segments and the lecture as a whole, design overall classroom atmosphere, and address logistical issues.

Set the tone early

Classroom management expectations are easier to set early on.  Even if you don’t plan on using specific strategies until later in the semester, try to establish a classroom culture of engagement from the start. It will minimize confusion and reduce the “learning curve” your students may experience when you introduce more interactive elements to your lectures later on.

Frame and introduce activities
It is beneficial to articulate clearly to students at the beginning of the lecture what activities you plan to include, when, and why.
  • Example: “Today’s lecture will include short, two minute pauses every 18 minutes. During this time, you are to turn to a peer and compare notes, or examine your own notes and jot down any questions you may have. This is intended to give you a chance to pause and digest the material.”
  • Example: “At the end of today’s lecture, we will take 20 minutes for you to submit questions about the lecture content using Poll Everywhere. This time is an important and required component of the day’s lecture, and will be most meaningful and efficient if you jot down questions you’d like to ask as we go through the first part of the lecture.”

General Strategies

Pause Procedure

Every 15-20 minutes during the lecture, pause and ask students to think about the lecture for 1-2 minutes, jotting down notes, and/or asking clarifying questions. You can use pauses for review, discussion, and/or as classroom assessment opportunities. Classroom Response Systems can be handy tools here. (“Interactive Lecture Chart” St. Louis Univ)

Interactive Lecture Demos
Interactive lecture demonstrations introduce a carefully scripted activity, creating "time for telling" in a traditional lecture format. Because the activity causes students to confront their prior understanding of a core concept, students are ready to learn in a follow-up lecture. Interactive lecture demonstrations use three steps in which students:
  1. Predict the outcome of the demonstration. Individually, and then with a partner, students explain to each other which of a set of possible outcomes is most likely to occur.
  2. Experience the demonstration. Working in small groups, students conduct an experiment, take a survey, or work with data to determine whether their initial beliefs were confirmed (or not).
  3. Reflect on the outcome. Students think about why they held their initial belief and in what ways the demonstration confirmed or contradicted this belief. After comparing these thoughts with other students, students individually prepare a written product on what was learned. (“Interactive Lecture Demonstrations” Carleton College)
Note Review/Comparison

After lecturing for 15-20 minutes, stop and ask students to compare the notes they’ve been taking with a peer’s notes. Then, have them work together for a few minutes to flesh out / add to their own notes. This allows students to think critically about the gaps in their own knowledge while building knowledge collaboratively with peers. (“Interactive Lecture Chart” St. Louis Univ.)

Practice Homework Problems

After lecturing on a particular type of problem, give students a problem to work at their seats that resembles the kinds of problems they’ll see on their homework. After giving students a few minutes to try to work through the problem, discuss the problem with the class. By having students attempt what will later be an independent task in a guided setting, they are able to anticipate and address issues they might otherwise have been unable to solve on their own. (“Interactive Lectures” Vanderbilt Univ.)

Lecture Reaction
  • Divide the class into the following 4 sections. This can be done simply by dividing the room into quadrants:
    • Questioners: must come up with 2 questions to ask about the material
    • Example Givers: must provide applications for the material presented
    • Divergent Thinkers: must disagree with some points of the lecture
    • Agreers: must explain which points they agree with or found helpful
  • Give students several minutes to discuss with their neighboring peers and come up with responses appropriate to their group role. (ie. Everyone in the Example Givers section can work collaboratively to come up with examples). This can also challenge students to go beyond their initial reaction to the material.
  • After the allotted time for intra-group discussion is over, conduct a whole class discussion by pulling responses from the different sections of the room.

(“Interactive Techniques” Univ. Central Florida)

BackChannel Discussion

The term “backchannel” refers to the student-to-student and student-to-instructor conversations that can occur during lectures and presentations. All lectures involve some form of backchannel, such as an instructor requesting questions from students or back-of-the-room chit chat between students. However, online tools give instructors useful options for facilitating, directing, and leveraging backchannel conversations. Today’s Meet is an online chat platform designed specifically for classroom use. (“Interactive Lectures” Vanderbilt Univ.)

Classroom Response System Based Strategies

Write a Question
  • Instead of just saying, “Are there any questions?”, ask all of your students to spend a minute or two reflecting on the lecture thus far and writing down one or two questions. Then, have students submit questions using a text-based response system, such as Today’s Meet, Twitter, or Poll Everywhere, rather than calling on them one at a time. This enables you to get a sense of question trends, and choose the best ones to address. (“Interactive Lectures” Vanderbilt Univ.)
  • Pass the Pointer (for visual content): Place a complex, intricate, or detailed image on the screen and ask for volunteers to temporarily borrow the laser pointer to identify key features or ask questions about items they don’t understand.(“Interactive Techniques” Univ. Central Florida)
Choose Your Own Adventure

In this technique, an instructor poses a problem along with several possible approaches to solving it–perhaps approaches suggested by students during class. The instructor has the students vote on which approach to pursue first, then explores that approach with the students. Afterwards, the students vote on which approach to pursue next. (Note: You could also use this technique without the clickers and an alternative voting method) (“Classroom Response Systems” Vanderbilt Univ.)

Peer Instruction

The teacher poses a question to the students. The students ponder the question silently and transmit their individual answers using the clickers. The teacher checks the histogram of student responses. If significant numbers of students choose the wrong answer, the teacher instructs the students to discuss the question with their neighbor. After a few minutes of discussion, the students submit their answers again. This technique often (but not always!) results in more students choosing the correct answer as a result of the peer instruction phase of the activity. This is a fairly simple way to use clickers to engage a large number of students in discussions about course material. This approach can also set the stage for a class-wide discussion that more fully engages all students. (“Classroom Response Systems” Vanderbilt Univ.)

Additional Resources