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Thursday, 15 December 2022

Professor Grumpy's tips on how to write a lecture quickly (not counting PowerPoint)


Don’t write a script that will take you 50 minutes to read out: this will be far too much information for the students to take in

1: Decide upon the four things you want your students to know about at the end of the lecture. Add Introduction and Conclusion

2. Make those your four main sections and assign ten minutes to each of them. Put those on the left indent of your page. (make a power-point of the section title)

3: Are there key sub-divisions of those areas? If so, divide up your 10 minute- sections accordingly. If not, no worries. Put sub-sections 1 tab indent in from the left hand margin

4: Divide up your 10 minute section (or small sub-section) into the key things that a (say) term 4 student needs to know about. Think of at most one per minute. Write down each basic point 2 tab indents in from the left margin.

5: Will they need illustrations? If so how many (max) will make the point effectively? Remember students will look at illustrations to take them in, so key that into your timing calculations

6: By now the first bits of your lecture should look something like this (use the Word formats for Heading, Heading 1, Heading 2 etc if this will make your notes easier to read and keep track of):


Main Section 1

               Sub-section of main section 1.1






               Sub-section of main section 1.2





Main Section 2

               Sub-section of main section 2.1


I call this a ‘dendritic’ lecture plan because it branches out like a tree

7. For each point jot down what it is that you want to say. If you have a quotation or a reference that you need to read, put that here (or alternatively on a new line indented by three tabs).

8. Write a conclusion (5 mins) that sums up the issues you wanted to put across, and sets up the next lecture – use the same scheme as above if you like.

9. Write an intro (5 mins) that sets the scene for the lecture, why the topic matters/is important for the course, tells the students what you’re going to talk about. PowerPoint with the 4 main sub-headings. Talk them through it.

10. I find that the intro (esp) and conclusion are sometimes the bits that I do want to write out in full, so that I can get the students’ attention, and be clearer and less ‘ummy-and-ahhy’, and have some memorable phrases that they can take away.

11. Once you have that you have 50-minute lecture.

12. Keep your eye on time when you give the lecture, and compare where you are with where you ought to be

13. If, when you give the lecture, you find you have spent too long on a section, you can make up the time by speeding up a bit in the next sections, this is easier done with these bare-bones notes than with a full text.

14. If on the other hand you find you’re going too quickly, recap. Sum up you sections, sub-sections, points even. Introduce your sub-sections and why they matter. No student ever complained about that. True story: once I had so much on that I had no time at all to prepare a lecture I’d never given before (or not in that form anyway) – do not get yourself into this situation – I only had time (like 5-10 minutes beforehand) to write down some key headers. So I spoke slowly and hammered each point home, re-capping, stringing things out. All the while I was thinking ‘my god, this is a disaster’. At the end the students all said, ‘that was such a good lecture tonight [this was when I was at Birkbeck] Guy – it was really clear and helpful.’ As I said, don’t get yourself into that situation (on the other hand, it did kill off the anxiety dreams about unprepared lectures...) but it makes my point about recapping and underlining points never being a bad thing.

15. You can get a lecture text much more quickly this way, one that allows more flexibility and more engagement and which spells out and gets over the main points that you want the students to get.

16. Now you can structure you PowerPoint around your plan. Time saved on text means you have time to make your PowerPoint better. Have a power-point for each sub-section at least, that maps the content (the points) of what you’re going to talk about. A power-point slide per point can help as an aide-memoire and perhaps put up other supplementary information.

17. Power-point: Remember that students stop and read all of the text on a PowerPoint slide even if you tell them not to, so don’t overload slides with text and if you have a long quotation on one, go through it with them.