How do I activate students during my lectures?

Activating students during lectures can be challenging, but is rewarding. It helps to capture and maintain students’ attention and engagement in order to foster deeper learning.

Before you start

Make sure that the activating teaching (activity) is not just entertainment or a mere alternative to listening, but conducive to students’ learning. This comprises designing activities that help students achieve the learning objectives of the course.

  • Getting started
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A basic activating teaching strategy that requires little preparation is asking questions during the lecture. Depending on your goals, different types of questions can be useful:

  • Recollection (& application): which of the four treatment that we’ve discussed is most useful (for X)?
  • Prediction / thinking along: what do you think are the main causes of Y? How would you design a study to explore Z?
  • Argumentative/evaluative: do you agree with assertion C and why? What would be a counterargument to what I’ve just explained?
  • Analysis: how does A compare to B? In what ways are the findings of study A and B inconsistent/contradictory?

Answering is often voluntary, likely resulting in an interesting discussion with a particular (type of) student, but to activate all students you could consider:

  • Having students discuss answers with their neighbours
  • Having students raise hands or stand/sit to indicate their response
  • Randomly asking students to answer
  • Using an electronic voting system

Knowing that their answers matter is crucial for students’ motivation for and engagement in class and for the activation to be effective for learning, therefore make sure to refer to their answers.

Activating students during lectures can be time consuming. It can save time to ask students to complete some of the activities outside of class (e.g. make a mind map on topic X, formulate arguments for a debate, reflect on a question, make a summary) and possibly submit it online.

    • If students submit their preparation work online before class, you can adapt your lecture accordingly.
    • If students submit their “answers” to the activity related to the lecture after class, it will help you to assess how effective your lecture was.

More challenging ways of activating students during lectures are described below.