A well-thought-out structure aims to ensure greater retention of the material by the audience. It must be clear and logical, and ensure systematic development of your main points. It should provide a logical progression of material: general principle to specifics (or vice versa); build up from the parts to the whole (or vice versa); describe a problem and illustrate or outline a solution.
Signal stages of your structure by using the following:
- Signposts: statements that indicate the structure and direction of an explanation (e.g. ‘I want to deal briefly with... First, I will outline... Next, we shall look into these points in greater detail...’)
- Frames: statements that signal the beginning and the end of a section (e.g. ‘So that ends my discussion of... And now, let us look at...’). Framing statements are particularly important in complex explanations that may involve topics and sub-topics
- Foci: direct attention to key points by emphasis, repetition and through the use of statements that highlight key points (e.g. ‘So the main point is...’, ‘The key issue here is...’, ‘This brings us to the crucial factor...’)
- Links: words, phrases or statements that link one part of an explanation to another (e.g. ‘But while this may be the solution, it may lead to several complications and objections not directly related to it’)
- Summaries: these serve to remind students of the essential points and to link topics and themes that may have been separately discussed. Summarising provides an opportunity to compare and contrast, point to similarities and differences, advantages and disadvantages, etc.
(Adapted from Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: a handbook for NUS Teachers)
The ‘Rule of Threes’
There is a general rule that in presenting or lecturing, as in speech-making and classical oratory, people like things to be presented in threes.
From the initial (and essential) trio of beginning, middle and end, to breaking the middle into three distinct parts, right to the end consisting of summary, check understanding and close, things seem to work best when they occur in threes.
Consider a recent teaching session you have run.
• Have you used any of these techniques and how did they work?
• What do you think is the impact on learning for the audience?
In the same vein, learner concentration tails off to a low point in a period of about 15 to 20 minutes, and it returns to its early high level after a short break or change of activity. Most lectures last around an hour, so this provides three natural divisions to plan for. However, depending on the size of groups, topic and activities, you can subdivide your three natural divisions to include different activities or a change of pace.
Use a mixture of words, visuals and sound to maintain interest, though be careful not to overuse certain modes otherwise it can seem gimmicky. For example, in the case of the child with polio we described above, as well as text you could include some archive pictures of children in iron lungs or in callipers to illustrate the historical context, graphs or maps of epidemiology over time or comparing countries, invite a real person or include a short video clip of an older person living with the effects of polio. This would break up the lecture and give a natural structure to the session.