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For centuries, lecturing has served as the core approach to knowledge transmission in higher education. While many scholars perceive trends away from the lecture, particularly in discussions of inclusive pedagogy, lecturing can still be quite valuable in many situations and for many students. Inclusive lecturing moves beyond a simple distribution of content knowledge for students to collect, toward creating an environment in which students absorb and process knowledge to achieve particular learning goals. To lecture inclusively, we emphasize four elements: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

  1. Consider who is represented in your lecture.
  2. Find opportunities to pause for activities (individual or together).
  3. Strive for transparency.
  4. Consider accessibility from multiple angles.

Consider representation

One of the fundamental characteristics of lectures is that the vast majority of the content is coming from the instructor. This puts the responsibility on you for choosing what is included in the class. Representation takes on multiple forms. The most common is thinking about which scholars have their work represented in a class. It is particularly valuable for students to see and hear about people who they might be able to identify as experts and significant contributors to the field of study. Representation also goes beyond people. Think about what examples and stories might be included as well. Stories and examples serve as key parts of human memory, but they are also often culturally dependent and rely on shared experiences of the world. This doesn’t mean you can’t tell stories, but rather to vary stories and think about where you can explain elements that may not be familiar, so everyone can fully benefit.


In her essay, “Saving the Life That is Your Own: The Importance of Models in an Artist’s Life,” Alice Walker shares her desire for and the benefits of her encounters with figures that looked like her: “Mindful that throughout my four years at a prestigious black then a prestigious white college I had heard not one word about early black women writers, one of my first tasks was simply to determine whether they had existed. After this, I could breathe easier, with more assurance about the profession I myself had chosen.” Walker did not start with this goal, but she describes it as a necessary step in her own work to tell the types of stories she wanted. And in locating these models and exemplars, Walker was able to tell the stories she desired, and then find the desire to teach and share these models with others.

Theoretical physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein discusses her own journey to find models in her book The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred. She explains how the short-lived TV show Undergroundoffered a different understanding of her ancestors — kidnapped indigenous Africans who became enslaved in America. Previously assuming that there were no scientists in her family history, this show revealed the reality that enslaved people were also thinkers, schemers, planners, and dreamers — the cognitive tasks that empower one to be a successful scientist. This aligned with the release of the film Hidden Figures, which revealed how black women were central to the success of the NASA program and how their contributions had been obscured. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Find opportunities to pause

No one can absorb new information without a break. We need to pause and process to make connections. Our ability to remember and make use of information later depends on our ability to synthesize and connect concepts with our existing knowledge, goals, and values.  Pauses to process and synthesize information are valuable for students at the start, in the middle, and at the end of lecture periods. Pauses can take a variety of structures. Individual pauses at any point can involve learners spending a minute to write down some thoughts —  whether those thoughts are forward looking (perhaps at the start of a lecture), responding to a very current question (with either a right answer that will be checked shortly or one with no correct or wrong answers), or looking back to summarize key ideas they have heard. These pauses can also involve engaging with others around them, through a think-pair-share structure, small group discussion, or more structured activities like a carousel. The ability to help students process information and check their understanding in real time helps identify gaps early enough that these they can be addressed. It is also important to accept that students may not grasp everything immediately and to welcome and value misunderstanding and/or confusion that might emerge during these pauses, so that students will feel encouraged to share in the future.


Beginning-Lecture Pause, Five Facts I Know: At the start of a lecture ask students to write five facts about a topic. You can choose whether this involves looking things up for a few minutes, talking with a neighbor, etc. While the aim is to activate existing knowledge, these facts can be used in a variety of ways. They can lead to a discussion with neighbors to compare at the start. Students can check off ideas and report on what they found by the end, etc. Students may also be asked to do this type of work before coming to class and bring their list of facts with them, to emphasize pre-reading or other preparation.

Mid-Lecture PauseShort Write: One of the simplest approaches to incorporating a pause into a lecture is short writing. This can be highly effective but could also be over-used from the perspective of students, so finding an appropriate balance is important. There are also a variety of ways to incorporate short writing into other activities or discussions. Often, giving students the opportunity to write before a discussion can be very helpful for students who may not feel comfortable speaking extemporaneously in front of a large audience.

End-of-Lecture PauseFive Connections: At the end of class, ask students to identify five ways the material presented in the class that day connects with contexts outside of the class. This can be by drawing on their existing knowledge/memory or may involve asking students to look up connections (e.g., on news websites). Students can share these connections through tools like Hotseat or a class discussion board. The prompt can be for open-ended connections or specific topics.

Strive for transparency

As discussed in Foundational Concepts of Inclusive Pedagogy, transparency is one of the most important elements in creating an inclusive learning environment. We often don’t think about transparency when it comes to lecturing, where it actually takes multiple forms.

  1. Make objectives or goals for the lecture clear and return to them. It is valuable to not only post objectives for the day at the start of a lecture session, but to highlight and return to them. In many cases, these can serve as an organizational structure for a lecture session so students can track progress and what is coming up next.
  2. Highlight and explain the structure of a lecture. This includes both an outline of contents (possibly organized by learning objectives), as well as types of activities students can expect to participate in. Also, if activities involve moving around the room, consider options for those who may not be able to do so with ease, and in ways that will not alienate those students.
  3. Articulate clearly how students should engage with lectures. Will they receive partial or full slides or notes before or after the lecture; how will these slides/notes be organized; if students will be tested on recall of key information, how will that be conveyed and highlighted? Consider sharing note-taking strategies that will align with your approach to lecture and ask previous students about their strategies for success.
  4. Explain culturally dependent phrases, idioms, and examples.

Consider accessibility from multiple angles by partnering with students

Making a lecture accessible can have multiple meanings that encourage us to consider our space, our content, our practices, and our presentation. This often means that we do not have a clear answer, but we should not consider it alone. By viewing students as collaborators in creating an effective learning environment, we can tailor to the needs of the everyone in the class. Find opportunities before the semester begins to offer students anonymous as well as non-anonymous ways to share how your lecturing can better support their learning. This does not necessarily mean following every suggestion. Many, you will indeed be able to adopt; others may open an opportunity for greater dialogue and transparency about an approach. You might also consider competing needs. For example, many instructors and students find it valuable to move around a classroom. However, if one or more students rely on lip-reading for comprehension, this need most likely outweighs a desire to move (you might also consider other options in consultation with students, like real-time captioning). By inviting students into a dialogue about making the class accessible, we are able to design the learning environment to their direct needs, rather than relying on abstract “what-if” scenarios.

Next Steps

As you think about ways to incorporate this content in a lecture, consider creating a lecture plan using the attached template.

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