Lectures: How Do You Keep the Students' Attention?

In a lecture, as a lecturer, you explain the learning material in the form of a speech. As a result, a lecture is often one-way: you do the speaking, and there is little interaction with the students. Therefore, this teaching method is often applied to large groups. It is not a myth that attention reduces significantly after the first 10 minutes. Fortunately, there are a lot of strategies that you can apply to keep your students engaged as best you can. You can read about it in this education tip. 

Start with a bang

  • It is important to grab your students’ attention from the start. You can do this by, for example, showing an attribute, an interesting video clip or a cartoon, or by asking a critical question. 
  • It is a given that in the first 10 minutes of the lecture, students remember 70 per cent of what the lecturer tells. So do not waste the precious first 10 minutes on practical announcements but use that time to deliver substantive information. 

Change things up every 10-15 minutes

After 10 minutes, the attention of your students usually weakens considerably. That is why it is important to change the format or content of the lecture every 10-15 minutes. Possible changes are: 

  • turning off the PowerPoint 
  • asking an open-ended or multiple-choice question 
  • giving students a small assignment 
  • walking around while lecturing 
  • giving an example 
  • showing a funny cartoon 
  • asking a challenging question 

Read more about this in the educational tip: ‘Lectures: Activate Your Students

You can also make very subtle changes: vary the tone of your voice or the speed or intensity of the lesson. Or use gestures and write on the board. Changes in front of the lecture room can draw the attention of the student back to the lecturer. 

Take short breaks

  • Short breaks are not a lost time. Include them to allow the students to briefly discuss a question. This way you will create a better learning outcome than when you lecture non-stop for more than an hour. The time you 'lose' because of the short break is compensated by the greater learning gain.
  • Silence of 5 to 30 seconds every now and then is also beneficial as it gives the students time to process the presented learning material. Don't be afraid to prolong the silence; it is often shorter than you realise. 

Make eye contact

You can also increase the involvement of your students by making eye contact.  Look at students from different angles of the room. Don't stare but let your gaze rest for a short moment to make contact with the student and then move on. That way you not only hold their attention, but you also establish whether everyone can still follow. 

Shape your own lecturing style

In addition, it is important to develop your own lecturing style. Don't try to copy someone else's style, but lecture in a way that feels comfortable and natural for you. Make sure you support the learning material 100 per cent and present it with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious and has a positive influence on the motivation of your students.  

"Aandacht houden van studenten in grote groepen kan alleen als de lesgever ook echt gelooft in wat hij doceert en de aandacht ‘neemt’. Dat vereist een grote (zelfs fysieke) inspanning.” (ZAP-lid, faculteit Recht en Criminologie, studentengroep van ongeveer 150 studenten)

At the end of the lecture

  • Don't let the lesson fade out, but end impressively with, for example, a quote that sums up the content or a question the next lesson will start with. 
  • Stay in the lecture room after the lecture. Students often have questions immediately after the lecture or need the coincidence, so to speak, to dare ask their question. Also indicate that you can be reached outside the college hours. You can specify your availability by indicating that you hold a consultation session once a week or answer emails once a day or week. If you are unable to answer the students’ questions immediately, make an appointment. 
  • Finally, accept that students cannot be equally attentive throughout the lesson; sometimes they need to rest and be inactive.   


Get inspired by this video in which experienced lecturers share their tips and tricks about keeping the attention of their students

Log in with your UGent account on MS Stream to watch the video.

Want to know more? 

Read the sources on which this education tip is based: 

  • Svinicki, M., Mckeachie, W.J. (2010). McKeachie's teaching tips: strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers, Wadsworth: Cengage Learning. 
  • Bligh, D. (2000). What’s the use of lecturers? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Campbell, R. (1999). Mouths, machines, and minds. The Psychologist, 12, 446-449. 
  • ten Dam, G., van Hout H., Terlouw, C. & Willem, J. (2000). Onderwijskunde Hoger Onderwijs, Handboek voor docenten. Van Gorcumé. p.84-87 

Last modified April 4, 2024, 11:37 a.m.