You’re a teacher, a lecturer, a professor. You have an hour’s worth of lecturing to do. How do you help your students get more out of your stuff, so you won’t see them nodding off after half an hour? Try these facilitated learning techniques.
1. Meet people
Before the lecture, ask everyone to get up and introduce themselves to five people they don’t know. Or, if it’s a fixed-seat auditorium, everyone around them. Five minutes. Creates a nice cocktail-party mood and raises people’s expectations.
2. Divorce your friend
Before the lecture, ask people find a new seat so they sit next to someone they don’t know. Good for pairwise conversations (below). Makes people perk up; they don’t want to slouch next to a stranger.
Chairs, no tables. Two or three concentric semi-circles, if necessary. Once seated in the circle, and before the lecture, ask people to turn their chairs a little to face you comfortably. Good for discussions aftwerwards.
4. Divide the lecture in two parts...
...and do something else in the break. Wakes people up. Most people can concentrate for only 20-30 minutes.
Hear what everyone has to say. 1 minute each, strictly enforced. Good for up to 20 people. Forces everyone to speak and listen. Makes people responsible.
6. Pairwise conversations
5-10 minutes. During a break in the lecture or right after. Gives everyone a chance to talk. Lets people hear what the next guy got out of the lecture and thus opens their eyes to other interpretations.
7. Silent reflection
“Now, I want you all to spend three minutes in silence writing down what you got out of my lecture/our discussion.” Good for the introverts. Lets people think without you talking.
8. Pluck ‘em
After a reflection or conversations, take comments and thoughts from 4-8 people. The most excited and inspired students will volunteer. Stop anytime before it gets boring. Good after group work, too: If you tell them beforehand that you will only pluck them, all groups do not expect to be heard, and you can skip, mercifully, the groups that have nothing new to add.
9. The constructive spin
Students will often be critical after a lecture, because that’s what they learn in academia: to criticize. But why not start the discussion calling on those who were inspired and excited about what they heard? Prepare people by asking them to reflect or talk with their neighbor about one of these questions: “What inspired you in the lecture? What did you find interesting? Name one point that seemed useful to you. Identify one thing I said that reinforces an important belief or idea you hold. Identify one idea which in an interesting way challenges something important you think or believe. If you were to write a paper about today’s topic, what part of it is so exciting that you would write it overnight?” After you’ve plucked their appreciative feedback, open up for other comments and critical questions. Gives a rare voice to those who simply liked your stuff, for reasons they get to share, legitimately. This helps other, indifferent students see intellectual opportunities in the material. Gives you something, too: people’s stated appreciation of an inspiring lecture.
10. Ask me during the break
Before Q’s and A’s, tell people you’ll be available for further questioning during a break or after class. Then you can refer weird, show-offish or irrelevant questions to that: “That question requires that I think a little more. Feel free to ask me again after class.” People rarely will – which indicates that their questions in class was a show to begin with.
11. Bundle questions
During Q's and A's, take three questions at a time and reserve the right only to answer the questions you can (that is, want).
12. Return good questions
If a question is asked that you cannot answer, ask the rest of the class: “Good question. Anyone wants to address that?” Gives you time to think and come back. Makes students pleased that they can contribute (unless they recognize this old trick).
13. Class Q's and A's
Dedicate twenty minutes to this. Tell students that in three minutes’ time you’ll be taking questions that you’ll call on the class to answer. This can be questions they would otherwise ask you, or questions about student experience, like how they relate your lecture to subject matter from other professors’ classes.
14. Points for purchase
If you conclude your lecture with a number of points, then reinforce them by pausing after each and asking the class who want wants to acknowledge the importance of this point. This puts them on the spot and makes them pay attention, because there is going to be an embarrassing silence if no one picks it up. After a few seconds, one bright student will, and her reflections on why this point is important or interesting will help other students appreciate it better. She is likely to be able to relate it to student experience better than you can. After a few rounds of this, simply conclude the next point on your list by asking: “So, who’ll buy this one?”
15. Student summaries
Before the lecture, tell students you’ll ask them to summarize the lecture or its five most important points in three-person groups for ten minutes afterwards. Tell them you’ll compose the groups so they get to meet strangers. Have them do this standing up, in the auditorium or the lobby, for a change of scenery. This is an informal peer exam, but don’t say that. Makes them pay attention and spot the structure in your presentation. No one wants to embarrass themselves by admitting ignorance in small groups of people they don’t know.
16. Small-group work
Try other assignments for two- or three-person groups for 5-20 minutes after a lecture; anything that makes students reflect on and talk about your material. Give them questions that appeal to their personal interest or possible use of you material (see “The constructive spin” above), not just objective-factual questions like “How did Nixon change US-China relations? Ask: “What did you find interesting in Eagleston’s analysis of the way Nixon changed US-China relations?”
17. Lunch together
If you lecture period spans lunch, ask students to spend lunch together in three-person groups that you compose. Ask them to talk about your lecture—and what brought them to it or to the academic program, or where they are in life. An ostensibly academic assignment that lets students socialize and befriend strangers, which makes for a safer and better learning environment.
Source: Some of these techniques are classics, others were developed by the Learning Lab Denmark group Facilitating Knowledge Processes, in connection with the research and development project The Learning Conference (see also: Steen Elsborg og Ib Ravn: Lærende møder og konferencer i praksis, People's Press, 2006, 89 sider, 169 kr.) or "Mere effektive møder."