8 tips for developing more effective lesson plans for college teaching

by Julie Dodd

I feel like I’ve sat in on classes across the communications curriculum, as I’ve just finished reading a collection of lesson plans from the graduate students in Mass Communication Teaching.

I’ve been a part of group discussions, watched PowerPoint presentations, been assigned to a small group to compare print and digital versions of magazines, and looked for media examples to illustrate concepts discussed in class.

I’ve thought about the history of communication before iPads, televisions and newspapers. I’ve considered how best to tell a story. I’ve debated what media ethics should mean to reporters.

After reading the lesson plans, I have some advice for the grad students who developed those plans, and that advice could be useful to you as you create your own lesson plans.

1. Write the objectives for the class as student behavioral objectives.

Sometimes class objectives are stated in terms of what the teacher will do — present, cover or discuss. Sometimes the objects are stated in vague terms like understand, appreciate.

Stating the objectives as what are termed “student behavioral objectives” can help you be more specific in what you are expecting: The student will _________. For example: The student will be able to list five qualities that distinguish between developed nations and what are termed Third World nations and explain what is meant by Third World.

Be sure to not have too many student objectives for one class. Better to have fewer objectives and achieve them.

2. When you incorporate discussion as part of class, you need to include plans for the discussion in your lesson.

You can’t just say: Discussion on homework chapter for 15 minutes.

You need to include the questions you will ask and what the key issues are that need to be brought out during the discussion. If the class doesn’t raise those issues, you can check your list and then prompt for those issues.

3. Include examples to illustrate your main ideas.

Whether you are talking about good use of colors in an advertising campaign or how a company can present a different image in different countries, an example can really make a concept much clearer and help make the concept stick. Without an example, some ideas that seem very clear to you as the instructor are just abstractions to the students.

4. Provide adequate context for your examples.

In teaching mass communication classes, we have a wide range of examples to use. But sometimes our students may not “get” the value of the example if we don’t provide the context. A television show or a US political situation or an ad campaign may be a good example to use but may be lost on our students.

I remember having guest speakers in class who talked about the dramatic impact that USA Today had when it first was published. They didn’t explain why but just assumed that everyone in class knew that, too. USA Today launched in 1986 — years before the students in that class were born. They had never known the newspapers without color photos, infographics and big weather maps. They needed the context of that example.

5. Think about the pacing of your lesson.

Having a full class of lecturing is too much — even if you think you’re presenting really interesting information. Think of how you can build in questions, turn-to-a-classmate-and-discuss activities, a minute paper, or discussion into class. Sometimes teachers put those activities in the last 10 minutes of class. Often it’s better to incorporate that activity in the middle of class to provide a break and also to check on student understanding.

6. Make effective use of slides.

Avoid having your class presentation as teleprompters, as Nancy Duarte’s Slide-ology would call them. Use the slides to capture key points.If you have a block of text, ask yourself how you expect the students to process that — Will you stop talking and have them read it silently? Will you read it aloud to them? Will you have a student read it aloud?
Sometimes, you just need to condense the info or even say that powerful quote without having it on the slide.

Use the slides to present visuals that will combine with what you are saying to have a greater impact. Avoid slide after slide with no images. Avoid having random images that don’t really support the concept you are discussing. Avoid the art icons on some PowerPoint that provide a visual but not one that enhances your message.

7. Avoid using too much class time watching video.

You may have found a great YouTube example or have a recording of a news show or a movie clip that is good. But you don’t want to spend too much of your class time in viewing. Even if the materials is good, students can become passive as they watch.

  • Give them viewing directions: Here’s what I want you to be looking for…
  • Have the viewing assignment as homework rather than taking class time.
  • Instead of watching the full 30 minutes, show a 3-minute clip.
  • Always have a student learning objective tied to the viewing. You don’t want to use a video just as a way of providing variety or a way of breaking up class.

8. Develop a lesson plan style that works for you.

You don’t want to have a script, as that will encourage you tor read from your lesson plan. If you have memorized your script and then need to refer to your plan during class, you often spend time reading to find your place. Instead, have key points, questions to ask, examples to include. Lists. Phrases. Images. Reminders to yourself — Slow down. Smile.

Some people print out the handout of their slides to use. Some use notecards. Some have their lesson on their iPad. Any of those work.

In Mass Communication Teaching, we’ve talked about the time, teaching strategies, knowledge of the content, and understanding of students that goes into good course and lesson development. Remembering those eight tips can help make your lesson more effective — for your students and for you.

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