How to kick off a lecture and get students engaged

Lord Rayleigh famously explained why the sky is blue. He was also a Nobel Prize recipient, but for a completely different reason. In 1894, he discovered (quite accidently) a new element, the inert gas argon. This story is one I remember from reading my student’s analytical chemistry textbook. It also relates well to my first lesson from The Chronical of Higher Education article, Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. Lesson #1: start with something engaging! Storytelling wasn’t actually one of the author’s tips for starting a lecture, but the article started with a story and that grabbed my attention enough to keep me reading on. Here are James M. Lang’s other suggestions with my thoughts and comments.

  1. Establish a purpose for each class by opening the lesson with questions. The questions should be answered during the lecture to demonstrate learning.

I like this idea of asking questions at the beginning of class because it right away tells the students that there is a point to the lecture and to the material they are learning. I am imagining a lot of “Have you ever considered this,” or “How might you determine this,” questions for an Analytical Chemistry class.

  1. Review the previous lecture material by asking the students to give the review, aka “retrieval practice.”

I always appreciated when my professors would review the material from our previous lecture. Though it took up some precious minutes of class time, it really helped to get back in the mindset of the course, especially after a weekend or having three other classes in between. I like the idea of asking the students to give the review because it creates an opportunity to gauge what they remember and clear up any misconceptions.

  1. Reactivate what students learned in previous courses or have heard about in the media.

This is so important. I love when professors do this or when I can do this for my students. It’s that “Oh yeah, I remember that!” moment when everything floods back to the front of your memory. Reactivating the student’s memory helps gauge their knowledge and understanding and helps them make connections that can bolster learning.

  1. Have the students write down their answers.

This is not something I have considered before though I think it is a good idea. Ask the students a question, have them write down their answer, and then at the end of class after you’ve answered the question in the lecture have them look back at their answer. That way, they can recall what they knew before the lecture and remember what they learned during the lecture.

I found this article very valuable and look forward to implementing Lang’s suggestions in my classroom.

2 Replies to “How to kick off a lecture and get students engaged”

  1. Excellent post. The first and the fourth points were completely new to me. I can see that they will have a positive impact in the class. I see veteran teachers implementing the second and third points you mentioned. My guess they picked up those aspects by teaching. But most professors fail to establish the purpose of the class. And I have never seen a professor who implemented the last point.

    I do not teach right now. I hope I can remember these points when I start teaching.

  2. Kristen,

    Thanks for sharing your comments. I struggled with getting students engaged during my time teaching. But with time, it got better. Your tips are very helpful, particularly the one with the story telling technique. But I guess experience is what really sets you apart from other instructors

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