How to write a lecture: Principles for teaching

For a few years now I’ve been refining a single page ‘pedagogical principles’ document. When I write any presentation, especially lectures, these are the things that I try to keep in mind. I keep a copy on my office wall to remind me of what I need to do.

Pedagogical Principles

Purpose questions

1)      Can the audience do something new when they leave the lecture/course that they could not have done intuitively (at all or as effectively)?

2)      Can the audience express the lecture/course’s practical use to someone who has not taken the lecture/course or to someone who is resistant to the lecture/course?

Lecture essentials

1)      Introduction:

  1. A practical problem and the summarised argument.
  2. How the problem+argument fit into the course’s theme and overall argumentative stake in the field.

2)      Body:

  1. History/theory/skills as solution to the problem.
  2. Theoretical/position pieces should be matched with empirical or historical exemplars. These should be presented as a stake—a positioned answer to a positioned question.
  3. Present counterfactuals, especially to intuitive understandings.

3)      Conclusion:

  1. Summary of knowledge and skills for which audience is accountable.


These principles owe a lot to my teachers and mentors over the years, specifically (in no order):

  • Anita Pomerantz
  • Teri Harrison
  • Bob Sanders
  • Jeff Pittam
  • Joan Mulholland
  • Sue McKay