​‘Wenn jeder schläft, und einer spricht, den Zustand nennt man Unterricht.’

The lecture is a widely known teaching method within the context of higher education. The lecture gives a presentation, and the students listen and take notes. Given the relatively passive nature of listening, however, the attention of students can easily ebb away. The following table presents an overview of several options for activating students, thereby motivating them to continue following lectures attentively. The categorisation of the activities assumes a three-way division in a lecture: introduction, main argument based on the main points and a conclusion.

Elements of the lecture


Main argument based on main points


  • Use an ‘ice breaker’
  • State the structure of the lecture
  • Announce the broad outlines 
  • State the learning objectives 
  • Demonstrate
  • Show a film/video
  • Relate to current events
  • Adhere to the structure of main points
  • Display the broad outlines
  • Provide examples
  • Demonstrate
  • Show a film/video
  • Relate to current events
  • Restate structure, broad outlines and/or learning objectives
  • Show a film/video

Teachers can activate students in many different ways, thereby attempting to hold their attention during the lecture:

  • Ice breakers
    A good opening is important to a lecture. It is not always motivating to start the lecture with an abstract sequence: ‘Today, we will be discussing the construction of a scientific article. What do we mean with “scientific” in this context? Science is...’ followed by a tidy, albeit theoretical definition. You could start with a vibrant example – ideally one in which the intent is not immediately obvious, but is gradually clarified.
  • Clear structure
    A well-structured lecture directs attention and facilitates listening. The argument should ideally be constructed according to a number of main points. The use of learning questions that are addressed and ‘answered’ during the lecture can encourage students to think.
  • Visualisation of the broad outlines
    You could try to capture the essential message of the lecture in a relatively simple scheme, which could subsequently be used in each session, in order to demonstrate how the topic of the lecture fits within the framework of the course material.
  • Explicit learning objectives
    At the beginning of the lecture, make it clear to students what they will (or should) know and be able to do at the end. You could refer back to these learning objectives during the conclusion of the lecture.
  • Examples
    During the lecture, use examples that illustrate the learning content or that make abstract principles more concrete.
  • Demonstrations
    The ‘thinking-out-loud’ method could be used during a lecture, for example to demonstrate the thinking process when solving a problem.
  • Film or video clips
    Film or video clips can be used to illustrate the course material.
  • References to current events
    Refer to current events whenever possible. For example, you could refer to a newspaper article. This has a motivating effect and encourages students to engage in active thinking about the learning content.


Want to know more?

Idea paper 53: Active learning strategies in face-to-face courses.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, ca: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

European University Association (2019). Promoting active learning in universities Thematic Peer Group Report (Learning & Teaching Paper #5). Retrieved from EUA website: https://eua.eu/101-projects/540-learning-teaching-thematic-peer-groups.html

Exley, K., Dennick, R. (2009). Giving a lecture. From presenting to teaching. NY: Routledge.

Horgan, J. (2003). Lecturing for learning. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds.), A handbook for learning and teaching in higher education (2nd ed., pp. 75-90). London: Kogan Page.


For staff members of the University of Antwerp         

On the infocenter education you can find some good practices of activating educational practices at the University of Antwerp.

On the infocenter education you can also find some tips and tricks concerning activating students.

The (dutch) book 50 onderwijstips is fully available online (after logging in to Pintra). Tips 1 till  1O deal with activating education.