How Can You Capture Your Student's Attention with Interactive Lectures?

January 17, 2019

Which of these scenarios do you think best captures and holds the attention of your students?

  1. Imagine the following scenarios: You are teaching a course where your students are supposed to be listening as you are talking at them.
  2. You are teaching a course where your students are actively participating and applying what they are learning.

Professor D.U. Silverthorn, at the University of Texas, conducted an experiment in her classroom where she implemented interactive requirements using technology. She found that attendance increased to 95% when she utilized a variety of engaging interactive lecture methods during class.

What exactly is an Interactive Lecture?

Our students live in a world where nearly everything is available at their fingertips. By creating an environment that mimics their daily technological and social activities, we make the classroom far more familiar and interesting to them. Interactive lectures incorporate engagement triggers and well-timed breaks in the lecture, enabling students to practice what they understand while using the lecture materials.

Two examples of engagement triggers are “think-pair-shareand the “one-minute write.”

  • Think-pair-share asks students to think about a posed question or prompt for a few minutes and share their ideas with a partner.
  • One-minute write asks students to think about a question for a minute and write down their thoughts, which can be shared out loud or collected later.

The main objective of any interactive lecture is to engage students by offering them different ways to interact with the lecture content, their peers, and their instructor. This gives them an opportunity to immediately apply what they have learned while providing the instructor with instant feedback on their level of understanding.

This type of feedback assessment may be high stakes, low stakes, and no stakes:

  • High stakes: content must be correct for credit
  • Low stakes: content applies to participation/effort grade
  • No stakes: content is not collected, students receive feedback for their own knowledge

In traditional teaching and evaluation, students are tested and receive grades and feedback after some period of time. How many of your students have asked for (let’s be real - demanded) their grades shortly after a test/quiz/assignment? This time and distance between test-date and test-grade often lead students to blame the test or instructor for their performance.

The good news is that Dr. Silverthorn further discovered in her research that interactive approaches have a positive effect on students’ grades, increasing her classroom average from 72% to 93%. Interactive lectures encourage a sense of ownership among students, leading to students taking more pride in their work, and accepting more accountability for their grades.

Don't want to grade?

With an interactive lecture, the pressure is off.  Activities can still give the instructor desired feedback about the class without the need to give out grades. Interactive lecture activities provide incentive simply in their ability to give the students immediate feedback. This boosts the level of engagement as students want to know, immediately, if they are grasping the material or not.

So, how do you conduct an interactive lecture?

  1. Capture their attention through visuals like photos, videos, live props or documentaries
  2. Brainstorm “live” in class to ignite their thinking process
  3. Engage them in small groups to discuss ideas with their peers
  4. Implement experiments with simulations that help produce deeper thinking and more complex responses
  5. Allow more opportunity for writing or other reflective exercises
  6. Pair the material with the pacing. It may be a bit challenging, but try your best to schedule activities that provide interaction in a timely manner.


In addition to student interaction and engagement in the classroom, students benefit from “brain breaks”. These are short, active breaks that help students reach your desired level of engagement later in the classroom.

"You have permission and you need to stop what you're doing, and do something totally different, totally challenging. Something that's mindful, something that creates community, something that creates generosity.” - Bill Laidlaw, a special educator at MHS,

Montpelier High School created “MHS Unplugged” in order to help students do just that - unplug from daily assignments and de-stress for 15 minutes each day. Around 1:15 pm students engage in activities like knitting, meditation, theater improvisation, yoga, frisbee, soccer, and board games, just to name a few. These “brain breaks” may take different forms depending on your subject matter and age group (college students may walk to the nearby coffee machine while your 9th grader may need Total Physical Response (TPR) incorporated in the lesson). Regardless of age and class, “brain breaks” in Interactive Learning are proven to benefit all students. (This means that you should take a break too! Get a glass of water and a handful of almonds to keep yourself energized.)


When used smartly, these interactive lecture techniques help your students meet the desired learning goals, while boosting their morale, participation, and overall performance. And, implementing interactive lecture techniques can be just as engaging for you as it is for your students.

There are many methods available to you! Selecting the appropriate activity and optimizing your pedagogy to include engagement triggers have been proven to help capture and maintain student attention. Determining the right balance between the lecture and activities is key here. Don’t be afraid to explore! Experiment and refine your technique to get it right, you will!

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