Tips for Lecturers Teaching a Subject for the first Time

Lecturing on a new topic can be daunting.  Regardless of your level of expertise, you may feel insecure about your ability to transmit your knowledge, or even to be accepted by your students.  Here are some tips to ease your mind and allow you to relax enough to do the best job possible:

1.  Determine the level of your audience.  Is there a prerequisite to your course?  If so, you may assume that your students have passed it and retain most of what they’ve learned in it, and plan your lessons based on that assumption.  It’s okay to review old material – in fact it’s a good idea – but they don’t need to start from scratch.  A brief recap of pertinent concepts or facts from the previous course, given in the form of a question/answer session or even just a verbal review before each new lesson may be more helpful than, for example, spending the first session or two rehashing last semester’s basics.

On the other hand, if there has been no prerequisite course, you may wish to throw a few fill-in-the-blank questions out to the audience and weight the number of hands raised against the number of puzzles frowns, just to see where everyone stands.

2.  Be prepared… to improvise.  Plan your lessons well, but don’t be glued to them.  You are there to inspire your students, but they may inspire you as well.  Listen to your students.  Leave enough latitude to set aside the lesson and pick up on an idea that can benefit the class.

3.  Remember that handing out information is the least of your tasks.  Students can get information from a book, from the Internet (so chock full of information that one can learn anything, whether it’s true or not) or from each other.  What they cannot get from those sources is your unique insight, and what your unique insight can best provide is a means for them to gain their OWN unique insight.  Information is one tool; how to find, verify, apply and even enjoy the information will ultimately be a more useful set of tools.  Interactivity is key; pouring facts over static young minds is like pouring water over a bunch of stones; you end up with wet stones that eventually will dry and be exactly as they were (and exactly as if you never touched their lives).  

4.  If you are teaching a class so large that interactivity is going to be a logistical impossibility, divide the class into teams and address each team rather than trying to call on every individual in every class.  Make sure teams rotate spokespersons so that one member doesn’t bear the entire burden (and do all the work) for a given team.  Homework, if any, does not have to be done as a group (although sometimes it can be) but in most cases the team should compare notes before class, or at the beginning of class, perhaps reaching a conclusion that one individual’s efforts would have been unable to reach.  This does not apply to such homework as filling in the blanks at the end of a textbook’s chapter, but it works beautifully if, for example, you have asked the class to investigate a concept individually.

5.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”  Better, though, is “I don’t know; let’s find out.”  Engage the students in the quest for an answer.

As you develop your own style, you will be able to add more than the above to your repertoire, and perhaps one day you will find yourself happily advising another lecturer who is about to teach a new topic.