Structuring lecture series: from the bigger picture to the syllabus

Well-structured lectures enhance the motivation and study success of the students. Learning and course materials (syllabus, textbooks, handouts, collection of articles...) play a significant part in that. That is why the course evaluations of a course unit, among other things, analyse the structure of the lecture series. Read here what you can do to (better) structure your lecture series.  

How do you determine the overall structure of your series of lectures? 

Draw up a plan and work out a strategy in advance 

Determine in advance what message you want to convey right through the semester and make sure that the study burden is distributed evenly over the semester. Give the students a schedule of the entire semester. At first, you may not get it right, but once you have offered the course several times, you will get better at drawing up a schedule that is more or less accurate. 

Provide a clear structure of the lesson  

Show the students where the lecture fits in the bigger picture, establish the connection with the previous lecture, and indicate the content and objective of the new lecture. Refer regularly to the overall structure of the lectures to highlight the transitions and relationships between topics to your students. To brainstorm your students, you can also refer to the structure of the lecture in the form of questions. 

Complete a unit in one lecture 

When preparing, first focus on the content and key points. Then look for the narrative to best convey your teaching content. Make sure that what you cover in the lecture is a complete unit. 

Identify the key points 

Students need to learn what the key points of your lecture are. In the case of bachelor’s courses, indicate these explicitly. The purpose of the lecture is to explain the important matter, even if it is mentioned in the syllabus. Repeat the key points several times from different angles; explaining something once is often not enough for students. Where possible, also provide more than one example. 

Explain why something is important 

Place the concept you are dealing with in the right perspective to demonstrate why it is important. Explaining why insights are important not only draws the attention of the students, it also provides them with a framework within which they can place that concept. 

Give your lecture a framework 

Find a central concept on which you can ‘hook’ your lectures. Such a central concept can be, for example, a structure, a theme, a typology, a controversial event,... Regularly return to that concept so that you can teach from different angles. You can also illustrate the concept or framework graphically, which makes it easier for students to remember. 

Examples are: 

  • A lecturer in physiology: "For an outsider, our field seems to be a collection of facts; by using a framework, I try to limit the memory work of the students." 
  • Another lecturer in physiology draws each lecture a picture of the brain on the board. The details of the brain, structures and processes, change according to the specific topics covered in the lecture. 
  • A lecturer in sociology uses a typology as a conceptual framework for the lectures. The typology is shaped like a matrix to which new information is added in each lesson. He stresses the need to link basic facts to each other, to demonstrate conceptual connections to his students. 
  • A lecturer in history uses the concept of 'attitude towards natural resources' rather than chronology as an organisational principle. 
  • A lecturer in Spanish literature identifies two or three concepts (e.g., irony and tragedy) and applies them in lectures, discussions and exercises to make students better understand the learning material. 

Departure from a problem or a simple structure 

There is little point in explaining a technique or theory extensively without first addressing the problem it solves. So don't skip any steps: first, analyse the problem, then formulate possible solutions with the students, and ultimately demonstrate the technique that is the topic of the lecture. 

Examples include: 

  • In statistics, you can first show how the regression analysis has contributed to the solution of a problem. Only then can you explain the technique. 
  • Instead of having a detailed discussion about a skeleton, you can depart from the question "How can birds fly and still lay such big eggs? How has their skeleton adapted to that?" This way you make connections between structure and function and the students understand the usefulness of those structures more quickly. 

How do you structure your course material? 

Reread the texts you hand out to the students 

Once you’ve prepared your lecture, reread the texts in the course material. This way you know when to repeat, supplement or provide an interpretation other than the one in the textbook or syllabus. Knowing what is in the course material guides you when the students ask questions during your lecture or go deeper into specific parts of the text. 

Encourage students to take notes during the lecture 

Research has shown that students who take notes during a lecture process the content better than students who only listen. Therefore, make sure that your students feel the need to write down the key aspects of your lecture. For example, by giving explanations that are not in the syllabus, you draw the attention of the students. Here you will find more tips on how to encourage students to take notes

Make your syllabus available on time 

If possible, ensure that students have all the necessary study material at the beginning of the semester. Students also appreciate that you make the PowerPoint presentations available in advance. 

Do not go into the students’ expectation that a course only consists of the learning material for the exam. Students have to learn for themselves to distinguish between primary and secondary issues.     

Keep the syllabus up to date 

Update your syllabus every year. Ensure continuous renewal and the flow of research into education. The students must feel like they are learning something and that they are gaining new and useful insights. Alternate the texts you discuss every year so that you remain dynamic and flexible. This way, students repeating the year are also not confronted with the same material. 

Split the course into levels 

Build the course around three levels. A first level should contain the absolute basics that everyone has to master. Secondly, include parts aimed at students who pursue a good understanding. And at the third level, you can provide an optional component for students with a particular interest in the topic (e.g., specific development in recent research).  

Attention! Don’t leave the exciting parts for last. Students mainly need enthusiastic and motivating lectures at the start of a series of lessons. 

If possible, depart from a concrete situation 

In your course material, combine the theory with concrete, practical examples. 

How much can your course material cost? 

Keep the cost of your course material as low as possible and mention the price on your course sheet. In consultation with the student representatives in the student union, the Educational Council has formulated these guidelines regarding the cost of course material: 

  • Provide a realistic estimate of the cost of the learning material on the course sheet. Do not limit yourself to the books or the course material but also mention additional costs, such as mandatory excursions, lab material,... 
  • Distinguish between course material and reference material (see Education Tip  ‘How to Complete Your Course Sheets Correctly?' ). 
  • Facilitate the use of second-hand books by providing a list of limited revised editions on Ufora. 
  • Don't expect students to buy a book if they only need a small part of it. 
  • Agree with other lecturers to (re)use chapters of the same textbook. 
  • Take the price of a textbook into account when choosing the learning material. 
  • If you ask the student association to distribute the textbooks or syllabus, please determine if the package is still advantageous for the students. 
  • Use a printer-friendly design of the PowerPoint presentations so that printing doesn't consume too much ink. Do not use a dark background for the presentation. 

Last modified Jan. 30, 2024, 10:27 a.m.