It can be tough for students to stay attentive during long and demanding lectures, so here are 10 tips to keep students engaged when you're teaching:
1. Ask questions and seek your student's opinions
One of the best ways to engage with your students is to solicit their opinions and comments about the learning material. When students are forced to consider their own views on the material, they'll be able to understand it better and also find it easier to remember. Sometimes, students can be shy about contributing to class discussions, so try to create an atmosphere where questioning is encouraged and students feel comfortable offering an opinion, even if they're unsure.
2. Assess the level of knowledge in the room and tailor your teaching accordingly
Your class will quickly get bored if your lecture material is either too basic or too advanced for them to follow. Mitigate this by asking about levels of knowledge when you first meet a class, and adjusting the complexity of your teaching accordingly.
3. Get students to present work themselves
It's said that one of the best ways to understand something is to teach it, and you can use this to help your students learn. Ask each student to prepare a short presentation on one teaching topic, then get the students to give the introduction to your lectures throughout the semester.
4. Use multimedia like video or audio clips
Dropping a short video or audio clip into your teaching presentation can help to shake up the heavily text-based format of most lectures, and will help those students who are more visual or auditory-based learners.
5. Encourage group discussion
It's important for your students to take an active role in their learning – and having them passively listen while you talk is not the best way to achieve this. Consider breaking up your lectures by having a segment in which the class splits into small groups of 3-6 and discusses the topic amongst themselves.
6. Change up the format of your lectures
It's difficult for any of us to concentrate on one topic for an hour or more, so try to present your lectures in bite-size chunks. For example, if you have an hour to teach, you might give an introduction to the topic for 15 minutes, then give students 10 minutes to re-read the material, then a 20 minute discussion in small groups, then a 15 minute class discussion at the end. Changing format frequently will help to keep students engaged.
7. Set up a debate
In any field, there will be theories, models, or concepts which are contentious. Try splitting your class in half and asking them to present each side of an issue in a debate. Even if students don't agree with the side that they've been asked to present, this is a great way for them to practice argumentation and critical thinking skills as well as learning the material at hand.
8. Allow breaks or changes of setting in longer lectures
It's a rare student who is capable of concentrating for the full length of a three hour lecture. Be realistic about the needs of your students (and of yourself as a teacher!) and allow short 5-10 minute breaks every hour or so, so people can stretch their legs, use the bathroom, and get a cup of coffee.
9. Provide notes or worksheets so students don't have to write everything down
Some lecturers are pleased to see students constantly writing notes during class, as it shows that the students are working hard. However, it can be argued that when students are merely copying down everything they are hearing, they're not really engaging critically with the material. Consider providing pre-written notes or copies of your slides to the students at the start of the lecture, so they are more free to question, comment, and think about the material you're teaching.
10. Make use of technology
There are now plenty of terrific technological tools to help make your teaching more engaging. Your institution may have an electronic content management system like Moodle or Blackboard where you can share materials and set up discussions for your class. You can also try streaming tools like Ustream to enable distance learning, or even use an app like Socrative to create instant polls for use during class.
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