Many in education are touting the demise of the lecture. They opine that, given all the new and exciting methods available, lecture is obsolete. They are wrong. 

What I would like to suggest is that lecture, as a form of teaching, is far from dead. It may take a little more work to get it right in a culture that appears to be going in the opposite direction, but it is certainly not dead.

Sunday school is a great place to train young minds to listen and to have a genuine learning experience from a teacher who talks to them. And, if I may speak to the other side of the lectern for a moment, if you want to learn something from teachers, at some point, you have to listen to them. Turning education into a game of charades in which teachers are confined to miming, pointing and praying that you somehow discover the truth while doing a group project is to limit their ability to teach you something and your ability to learn something. This is not to suggest that other methods are inferior (see most of my other posts on this blog), but to sure up the idea that teachers know things and should tell you what they know by saying it out loud in an engaging, well thought out and content rich lecture. 

Given that lectures are not dead and that they are a good part of the Sunday school teacher’s portfolio we should recognize that lecture takes skill, time and guts. There is nothing quite as confidence kicking as having sweated over some material, gotten up to speak only to find that what had sounded so good in one’s mind is actually incoherent, unclear and boring enough to put the front row into a coma.

So, here are a few tips to get started with:

#1 Start with content. Lecture is primarily about a body of knowledge being delivered from someone who is familiar with the topic to a group of people who need to know it. And what better content than the word of God! However, some lecturers begin to plan their content around their students, thinking first about their needs and interests. This is a mistake. It leads to lectures that don’t demand anything from the student. Teaching is about taking students where they haven’t been before. And to take them there a teacher has to go there before them.

Point: great lectures start with vigorous study of the word.

#2 Have confidence in the content. Lectures don’t work if lecturers aren’t confident about what they have to say. This implies that lecturers have to know their material and know how to say it well. It it easy to think that what one has to say is so interesting that it will just flow out on Sunday morning. But lecture ain’t improv


Point: Great lectures take repeated practice.

#3 Converse with students. An engaging lecture has space for the student to make points, ask questions, reflect and even argue. This can be done directly by asking students to participate or indirectly by anticipating their questions within the lecture. For a good example take a look at an ethics lecture at Harvard:

Point: Great lectures feel like everyone said something.

#4 Commute between the world of the text and the world of the student. At school I had an excellent teacher of Shakespere. I did not like Shakespeare, but Mr Hirst kept using examples with which I related to show me the meaning of the flowery language I found before me. I still don’t like reading Shakespeare, but I understand him.

Point: Great lecturers know their class as well as their content!

#5 Communicate character. The lecture is not only about information, but formation. “Droning on” is what people do when they are unimpressed with their own discourse. Love the content before you love the crowd. If you do this they won’t sleep.

Point: Great lectures communicate the character of the lecturer as well as the content of the lecture

#6 Be as clear as you possibly can. Only Shakespeare should try to be Shakespeare. There is no need to dress everything up in a robe of glimmering linguistic gold. Say it. And say it straight. That doesn’t exclude stories, illustration and the like. It only excludes what doesn’t help communicate the point. And with no clear point there is no clear lecture.

Point: Great lectures cut to the chase

#7 Be as creative as needed. The need for creativity rises with the lowering of motivation to listen. This little rule has helped speakers know how may stories to throw in, how long they should talk for and how many times they have to visit a blog like this to search for ideas. 

Point: Lecture is sometimes a bit arty

Ironically, many educators are warning of grade inflation, suggesting that graduates are not getting any smarter; in fact they may be graduating less well educated than their lecture-overloaded forbears.