When Should You Lecture?

The premise of Sociology in Action is that we should all be using more learner-centered activities in our classes rather than being the “sage on the stage.”  This is not to say that we should never lecture and I would venture to add that most all of us lecture a little almost every day, even those of us who most often use active learning.

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Let me give an example of when I lecture. My first day of class focuses on ice breaker exercises but I do interject a short lecture to begin student thinking about what sociology is.  I present students with the first “Consider This” (our name for a discussion question) question that asks: “How have the time period and the nation in which you live influenced your life?  How might your life be different if you lived during a different time period or another nation?” I provide a brief lecture on the sociological imagination, and for the next class, I assign Doing Sociology 1.2 (our name for a teaching activity) that asks students to do even more practice on understanding the sociological imagination.  I provide a brief lecture on Malala Yousafzai as an illustration. (Her picture is on page 4 of the text.)

You might lecture if you want your students to know something that would require them to read something you do not want to assign.  For example, I sometimes provide a short lecture summarizing the classic Body Ritual Among the Nacirema to introduce culture.  While they could understand the Nacirema article, I can summarize it in a much shorter period of time than they can read it.  Sometimes you might also want students to know something that is too complex for them to understand without your help.  For example, Granovetter’s classic on the strength of weak ties is simply too complex for most of our undergraduates but you can summarize the argument fairly succinctly.

You might also want students to know about a new article that has just come out or a recent bit of local news that you want to integrate into your class.  In general, it is not a best practice to lecture on material that they should be reading but sometimes you need to clarify material that you find is difficult for students to understand.  For example, I have often found that students find creating hypotheses challenging and, if I want them to carry out this task, I might do a mini-lecture before asking them to do so.

The key to a good lecture is that it be relatively short (15 minutes or less) and that it be interactive.  Students should be asked to complete a task based on your lecture.


Maxine P. Atkinson is professor of sociology at North Carolina State University and co-editor of Sociology in Action.

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