Ed's Hints for Good Lectures
Mostly for Medical School Teachers

Lectures are of three kinds:

Most of your lectures in Medical Pathology will be of the first kind. (Lectures to residents are usually of the second kind.)

Memorable lecture styles vary from logical-penetrating to creative-emotional. Students learn little from traditional-boring lectures that sound like someone reading a textbook. These tips will help you turn your class from bored sponges to active, involved learners.

Students expect you to teach them what they need for exams and practice. Plan to say the word "you" often (and more than "I" or "me"). The best medical school lecturers continually remind their students about how they will use lecture content in patient care. Medical students learn best when you distribute a list of learning objectives. The objectives for a one-hour lecture take up about one page, and take 20-30 minutes to prepare. Preparing objectives also helps you decide what you really want your students to learn.

Today's students expect handouts. They should include lists of unfamiliar words. (If nothing else, they save you time writing on the blackboard.) Big handouts claim that you've done better than the textbook. There is little reason to number-letter items in a handout outline (I II A B C etc.) Be sure the order of subjects on the handout follows the order of presentation.

Run through your slide carousel before you start. Words on a lantern slide are big enough if you can read them without a projector. Students will become angry if you ask them to copy a long list off a lantern slide. (Put those lists on your handout.) Ten to sixty lantern slides is usually enough for one hour of lecture. Each picture tells a story; take time to tell it!

Check your carousel for missing teeth along the bottom. A gap will prevent the carousel from advancing. If a carousel has a missing tooth, throw it in the garbage.

It is usually better to show your pictures while you are discussing each disease, rather than saving them for the end. For each phase of your lecture, plan whether you will have an image on the screen. If there will be an interval without an image, leave a gap between lantern slides in the carousel. You don't want to lecture on "Wegener's" in front of an "amyloid" picture, or yell "Turn off the projector while I talk about Wegener's."

Most pathologists seem to like to dress informally. If you "dress up" for an audience, you show respect.

Start the lecture on time. When students learn that "Path lectures start on the dot", they'll adjust their schedules accordingly.

Do something special in the first ninety seconds of the lecture. Think of something that will involve the students personally or emotionally. This is also your best chance to prove that you are knowledgeable and prepared.

Try not to stand behind the lectern. If you need the lectern light to see your notes, stand to one side. It is better to move around the room, and even into the audience. This keeps people involved. A corollary is that you should try not to turn your back to the audience when you are showing your slides.

Just as you open and close the lecture, you should open and close each subject. Some speakers call this sign-posting. The lecture outline:

Students learn material in gestalts, individual images or cohesive units of knowledge. The best lecture presents the material as it will be processed in the students' minds, i.e., as strings of gestalt images. Sample gestalts:

Try not to break eye contact for more than ten seconds. One way to get at ease while lecturing is to keep making eye contact with the students that seem to be enjoying the lecture the most.

Asking questions of students in the audience is one technique for keeping them involved. You may call on individuals, but don't choose an individual who will not return your eye contact.

If you feel strongly about something, let it show. At the same time, make disclaimers so as not to step on the feelings of anybody in the audience. (See #22, below.)

Close strong. Good closures include:

Every question is an indication of interest, and an opportunity to dispel confusion. Don't say, "Hold all your questions until the end" (or, worse, "You may only ask intelligent questions.") Invite students at the beginning to ask questions during the lecture. Before the lecture, try to anticipate the "smart" questions, and incorporate the answers at appropriate places.

When a student asks a question, it is usually best to give at least a partial answer right away. If you just say, "We'll get to that in a minute", you prolong confusion. If it's a dumb question, ask the class, "Who knows the answer?" Someone will always volunteer. If it's a smart question, you can do the same thing.

If you get no questions, the students might be bored or lost. During breaks, if there have been no questions, ask why.

Sooner or later, you will have to deal with a heckler.

Body language is fun and important. But never touch a student physically (in lecture or outside), unless he or she touched you first! Even then, be very reserved.

Try not to use swear words. Educated people can think of nicer ways to "be contemporary". (You can always mention something in the current movies instead.)

Don't keep the audience in their seats for more than 60 minutes. If there is a break, announce its length, and assign one member of the audience to herd them back in on time. This is actually fun.

Don't complain about poor attendance in front of the class. If they have an exam in another subject next hour, thank the ones who "came anyway".

If the projector jams, try unscrewing the center bolt using a dime. When the projection system breaks down, you can:

If you are wearing a clip-on lapel microphone attached to the lectern, remember to take it off before you try to walk out the door.

Perhaps most important, remember that the lecture plays only a limited role in medical education. Students will learn primarily from whatever document they think will help most with your exam questions. (This may be their personal notes, their friends' notes, your big handout, or their favorite textbook.) Your job as lecturer is to prepare them for this learning.

The best lecture is not the one which contains the most facts, but the one which showcases key ideas and relationships. Do this, and the students will reward you with their attendance and attention.

The Effective Pathology Tutor
Ed's Guide to Classroom Control
Ed's Guide to Small Group Teaching
Socratic Teaching
Preventing "F"'s


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