“I lecture, but I do it in a dynamic, interactive way!”

Teachers are sometimes justifiably defensive about their lectures. In many circles, lectures are a four-letter word. This flies against not only hundreds of years of pedagogical practice, but cuts against the teacher-as-expert model of instruction.

Of course, there are good reasons for that too. Lectures can be too long and a not terribly good medium for conveying information. I do think it is a good medium to generate excitement and momentum about a topic, as well as brief explanations of the pitfalls in a particular concept.

This isn’t a pro- vs. anti-lecture argument. This is just a brief atlas of four different lecture models, with animated .gifs of course.

Lecture Model 1: Teacher talks


This is our lecture hall model. The lecturer talks aloud, leading listeners through a topic.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though, potentially. This is basically our TED Talk model and people love TED Talks. Provided the material and/or the presenter are interesting enough, this is a perfectly fine model of information and interest conveyance. If you can pull it off and retain interest, more power to you.

Lecture Model 2: Teacher talks –> Teacher questions a student –> Student responds –> Teacher talks


This is actually the lecture model that inspired this post. When teachers claim their lectures are “interactive”, a lot of times this is what they mean. I’m not sure this is terribly interactive. It can be! But it also can not be.

This is probably my least favorite type of lecture, and probably the most prevalent. Under the guise of a “dynamic, interactive” lecture, it often becomes a “gotcha” lecture and “can you recite what I just said?” lecture. It’s basically the tactic I use when my kids start to tune me out.

Certainly there are benefits to such a lecture, but unless you’re being incredibly precise about it, it’s quite possible for a student to go the entire time without engaging with the topic at hand. I suppose the option is usually on the table: “students are free to ask questions in the middle of my instruction!” But in practice, unless that’s truly a norm the lecturer often goes unquestioned.

It’s also inefficient. Consider a 30-minute lecture in which only one person is talking at a time (the student or the teacher). That’s 30 minutes of “discourse.” Even in Lecture format one (outward), you’d have 15 minutes of outward lecture and then 15 extra minutes to do something to get other kids talking. This lecture could easily have been replicated via Zaption or other interactive videoing program.

Lecture Model 3: Teacher talks –> Teacher questions a student –> Student responds –> Student responds


This is what a “dynamic, interactive” lecture ought to look like. This is what I think teachers are going for when they go down the path of Lecture model 2; it’s more difficult to pull off, takes more time, and allows enough grey area that some teachers aren’t willing to cede.

I’m talking about the teaching move where a student responds to a question about something and instead of the teacher confirming, denying, or expanding on the response, a fellow student responds. The teacher sets the conversation in motion but the students become the primary questioners and conversationalists. We see this modeled well in literary circles, but not often in math class.

To encourage this dynamic, a teacher may prompt “Jane, what do you think about Jack’s idea?”, “What words in Jim’s statement resonated with you?”, or, as Kate adeptly incants, “Hey, so-and-so, would you explain your understanding of Bianca’s solution?” Some classrooms have gotten so good at this that the prompt is no longer needed. In Brette’s classroom it became a norm that students would routinely ask things like “can you prove that to me?” and “how are you certain about that?” Music to any lecturers ears.

Lecture Model 4: Teacher talks –> Prompts students to talk –> Students talk


Not unlike Lecture Model 3, in this case a teacher prompts additional thinking. The teacher may talk for about 30% of the lecture time. There is a lot of “turn and talk…”, and “tell your elbow-partner…”, and “in your groups, discuss…” and so on. At this point, a teacher becomes untethered to the front of the room and can join in the small conversations, prompting additional questions or deeper thinking.


Next time you’re lecturing, I encourage you to think about the animated .gifs and consider diagramming the conversation, replete with arrows and dots. Researchers do this regularly. Consider becoming a researcher in your own class by tracking the conversation. Invite a peer in to do it for you or video yourself and watch it back. If you’re going to lean on the lecture as a tried and true means of conveying critical content, at least make sure you spend some time diagnosing the lecture model itself.

13 thoughts on “Lectures, various types

  1. This is an awesome post. I intuitively though about different lecture types, but this helped me to define the differences more clearly.

    I think you are right to mention the lecture is four-letter word group. That short changes the different types. Sometimes lectures are poor sometimes they are the best way to communicate ideas.

    Thank you for helping me think about my teaching.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Tyler. And I’m sure I missed a few sub-categories of lecture, so feel free to “yes and…” this post!

  2. I too really like this taxonomy–it helps us think about ways to structure our instruction. As with most taxonomy’s, it is difficult to communicate that each type probably has its appropriate use.

    As I read, the learning theorist in me returns to the charge to define learning–as in what potential for (student & maybe teacher) learning does each lecture type afford? I think of “learning” in a Piagetian sense, a progressive reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience. There are two processes for learning in this theory, assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is how humans perceive and adapt to new information; it is a process of fitting new information into pre-existing cognitive schemas. Accommodation is the process of taking new information of one’s environment and altering pre-existing schemas in order to fit this new info. I go to this extent because it is my sense that the challenge of lecture being productive is to cause more accommodation and less assimilation.

    I suspect the first lecture type, although many of us do enjoy this (e.g. Ted talks), provokes little disruption to our current conceptual schemes–i.e. results primarily in assimilation. I think it requires a more complex and robust interaction structure for the mind to have to resolve multiple disequilibria, leading to more accommodation–again the learning I hope to create. Your third and especially fourth model seem to provoke this sort of learning, learning that changes the learner’s cognitive structures.

    Sorry to get lengthy. I am very interested in considering what environments can foster learning–but I have found a need to come to a working agreement on what it means to learn in order to have these conversations.

  3. Great post (and great images!). What really go me thinking was your suggestion to try to figure out what my own teaching actually looks like, as opposed to what I think might be happening. I think I’ll try to get someone to visit and to create an image like this based on what they see. I know I occasionally hit the #4 sweet spot, but my guess is often what I think is 4 is 3 or 2.

    My question: What do you think the students in the various scenarios would draw? I could imagine the main student in #2 would draw something very different than the student who doesn’t engage.


  4. Great post! The taxonomy seems super useful. Now I wonder what audible I can call to take a class that has turned into a 1 or a 2 and then it into a 3 or 4.

  5. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to tina.cardone1@gmail.com whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

    1. I didn’t respond. Bad job by me.

      Anyway Kev, I used Inkscape (inkscape.org) to make the images, then used GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) to export them to an animated .gif format. Though, there are probably more efficient newfangled apps that could do it.

Leave a Reply to Geoff Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s