Revamping the lecture for EFL classes: A case for mini-lectures

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Roger Nunn and Darren Lingley, Kochi University

It may seem strange to be proposing even a modified version of the traditional classroom lecture for the interactive English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. The term, lecture, immediately implies the mere transmission of information in our learner-centered age, in which knowledge is supposed to be transformed by students into something that is uniquely their own. However, as one component in a broad-based repertoire of classroom strategies, the lecture can be a flexible tool which gives a classroom 'voice' to teachers, a 'voice' that has sometimes been denied recently by advocates of exclusively facilitating roles.

The lecture is still widely used, and is identified as problematic for overseas students in foreign universities. Several scholars have shown that even full-blown lectures and interaction are not mutually exclusive domains. Coulthard and Montgomery (1981) noted that lecture discourse "is in fact interactively designed; the discourse is 'shaped' or 'structured' with interactive purposes in mind" (p. 33). Flowerdew (1994) has also suggested a strong link between the academic listening skills required by non-native learners to understand L2 lectures and the basic communicative competence skills necessary in a university setting.

For the EFL classroom we are proposing the use of mini-lectures, which are designed to be interactive in nature. We believe that, like many other classroom strategies, the mini-lecture has merits in its own right that need to be balanced against its obvious monologic disadvantages.

The lecture comprehension process is best facilitated by a two-pronged approach, bringing together both teaching and learning strategies, which serve to make a lecture more interactive. Teachers may utilise conscious use of voice and gestures to reinforce content, frequent repetition in order to reinforce both ideas and language, and clear presentation of discourse markers to help learners identify main points. Provision of an easy to use note-taking print helps students to take a more active role in the lecture. Furthermore, a post-lecture activity might involve peer learning in which two or three students compare their lecture notes. In cases where even a short lecture is beyond student ability, techniques such as the "dictogloss" procedure (Wajnryb, 1997) could be used to work up to more advanced note-taking tasks. This technique helps groups of students to reconstruct short dictated texts collectively without replicating the original text.

Ten Key Features of Mini-lectures

We have identified 10 desirable features of mini-lectures designed for the EFL classroom.

1. Mini-lectures provide for adjustable content 'input'.

Teachers need greater flexibility than the fixed input of a tape or a textbook, both in terms of the content, and the rate at which it is delivered. The idea is to balance the aim of presenting an authentic English-medium lecture with the reality that the audience will most certainly struggle not only to catch the language, but often fail to get the gist as well. The individual classroom teacher working in varied learning environments can best strike this balance, and provide adjustable content. Teachers can look to recent research in task authenticity (see Guariento & Morley, 2001, pp. 347-353) to determine how to moderate lecture input in terms of content, speed, and degree of engagement. The teacher can emphasize pertinent lexis and grammar for the lesson, or introduce a topic to exploit during the lesson, as an alternative to the traditional interactive presentation stage.

2. Mini-lectures oblige the teacher to focus on language control.

Making oneself understood for a period of 5-10 minutes to second language learners is a useful skill to acquire and hone. If the mini-lecture is fully integrated into the lesson, the teacher will soon become aware of what has or has not been understood. The short duration of a mini-lecture obliges the teacher to be more conscious of content, vocabulary, pace and even style to help students better understand the lecture. Such consciousness of delivery is supportive of the non-Native speaker's need for comprehensible input, and suggests the obvious interactive nature of lecturing. In addition, the growing popularity of content-taught classes within EFL, often presented as Intercultural Communication or Comparative Culture courses, obliges teachers to think more consciously about how this content is delivered. Lynch (1994) has noted the dearth of training programmes for lecturers of non-native students.

3. Mini-lectures provide a vehicle for a cultural or intercultural component in a lesson.

Every individual teacher is a unique resource of culture. A mini-lecture might act as a forum for teaching aspects of culture not satisfactorily dealt with during devolved communicative activities. Many language teachers have academic backgrounds in fields quite different from EFL and a chance to lecture briefly on a specialized topic could be rewarding for both teacher and students. In addition, as Flowerdew and Miller (1995) have shown, the mini-lecture itself could be a lesson in intercultural communication by representing differing cultural values regarding lecturing styles, helping students become more comfortable with a variety of registers and styles. Encouraging students to become more adept at engaging the lecturer is a valuable process for those coming from countries where the lecturer is rarely questioned, such as Japan.

4. Mini-lectures can be exploited as a basis for whole-class discussion.

A mini-lecture can be designed as a springboard for the activities that follow. For example, a teacher might give a 10-minute lecture on nonverbal communication and then have students practice this as part of a whole-class communicative activity. Or a brief lecture about gender bias in children's literature could lead to an experiential activity using English language picture books to find their own examples, followed by small group discussions of other specific gender issues. This further integrates the teacher-fronted lecture into learner-centered tasks.

5. Mini-lectures can focus on the development of specific skills.

Nesi (2001) points out that "taking notes at speed" (p. 216) is by far the most frequently cited problem by international students studying at British universities. Regular mini-lecture listening practice and note-taking support can reduce the overwhelming burden non-native students feel when confronted with spoken academic discourse. Software such as PowerPoint Presentation is not essential, but provides valuable visual support for the listener. Another useful skill to be developed is the ability to extract the main ideas from a lecture rather than focusing on its specific details.

6. Mini-lectures provide listening practice using the teacher's voice.

Listening materials often favour the disembodied taped voice. Recorded material is useful in that it provides a variety of international accents and ways of communicating. However, the teacher's own voice, one of his/her most valuable assets, can easily become an under-exploited resource. A mini-lecture can provide a viable human alternative and the teacher can adjust content and delivery to the class in a way the machine never can.

7. Mini-lectures provide teachers with a means of self-expression.

Students in EFL classes now tend to have many opportunities to express themselves, but does the teacher? The much-advocated facilitating role, if carried to extremes, depersonalizes teachers who rarely give their own opinions or talk about their interests. Teachers also need to communicate. We often have meaningful life experiences and cultural insights valuable and interesting for EFL students, yet not normally accessible in the devolved communicative activities we plan for them. In short, teachers have things to say and a mini-lecture effectively provides a forum.

8. Mini-lectures provide information in manageable units of time.

Book (1999) suggests that even among native speaker students only the first 10-15 minutes of a lecture hold learner interest effectively. It follows that non-native listeners would be all the more disadvantaged during longer lecturing periods. A mini-lecture acts as a bridge, helping students become accustomed to the longer lectures they may face in more challenging English-medium learning situations. The ten-minute limit could be extended to units of 15-20 minutes as the course progresses, gradually increasing the burden on students as their skills develop. If a mini-lecture is established as a regular activity, students learn to listen over a manageable 5-10 minute period, take notes on both content and vocabulary, and save questions until the mini-lecture is over.

9. Mini-lectures easily incorporate realia.

A lecture limited in time needs to be tightly organized in order to fulfil its objectives. Any visual support (pictures, graphics, photographs) will help lecturers reduce the number of words needed, and enhance student understanding of the lecture. Preparation of visual and audio support materials, and the imposition of a time limit, all serve to ensure that mini-lecturing remains a tightly controlled objective-driven exercise for both students and teacher. Those with access to PowerPoint can easily incorporate a wide variety of resources.

10. Note taking in mini-lectures may be presented as "real world" motivation.

Note taking is viewed by EFL students as an applicable skill needed for coping in real life study situations in foreign universities. Moreover, the increasing number of English-medium content courses offered at universities in countries where English is not used as the first language speaks to the necessity of improving note-taking skills even in local contexts. Incorporating mini-lectures regularly throughout the length of a whole course helps students to continuously self-monitor their progress. A collaborative note-taking print is useful, and in addition to having students use the print to consolidate lecture material with a partner, the teacher might also collect the prints to assess overall lecture comprehension. This ensures that the task remains an exercise in active listening. Micro-skills—use of abbreviation, symbols, and outlining—can also be addressed.

Presenting the Lectures

Here we shall consider two possible ways of presenting mini-lectures, one as a semi-independent entity for note taking, the other as the first stage in a series of lesson activities. In the examples, the rows in the left-hand column represent possible PowerPoint slides and key points for students' notes. It is assumed that teachers will not work from a written model, but part of a possible text is added by way of example in the right-hand column. Language typically used for structuring the discourse, such as Today, I would like to talk about Beatlemania, has not been included. Rhetorical questions and transitions between sections such as So how did Beatlemania finally end? have also been omitted here.

Mini-lectures as a Lead-in to Student Activity

The mini-lecture can easily lead into a student activity. The example below starts with an unfinished mini-lecture and leads into a comparative activity. For our classes it follows up the lecture on Beatlemania, by discussing the lyrics of Beatles songs from the beginning, middle and end of the Beatlemania years.

After this unfinished mini-lecture, the lyrics of Help (1965) and Strawberry Fields (1967) are presented for the first time. Students are asked to compare the lyrics with the early Beatles songs, focusing especially on the personal pronouns, or possessive adjectives, and their relationship to the theme. They might point out that the theme has changed, and with it the pronouns. For example, the you in Strawberry Fields (Let me take you down) is now a generic pronoun with no specific singular female referent, but the invitation, while more global, is in some ways more personal: Anyone is welcome, rather than anyone (sufficiently willing or attractive) will do.


This paper offers the mini-lecture as a flexible alternative activity in the EFL classroom. Tightly presented mini-lectures, in which the learner plays an active role, narrow the gap between teacher-fronted and learner–centered approaches. In addition to using the lecture to fulfill more specific EFL aims such as listening and vocabulary building, greater attention to the lecturing process as a more interactive communicative strategy prepares non-native students with a crucial skill necessary for educational success in the EFL classroom and beyond.


Book, C. (1999). Lecturing. In A. Vangelisti, J. Daly, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research and methods (pp. 333-346). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Coulthard, M., & Montgomery, M. (1981). The structure of monologue. In M. Coulthard & M. Montgomery (Eds.), Studies in discourse analysis (pp. 31-39). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Flowerdew, J. (1994). Research of relevance to second language lecture comprehension—an overview. In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 7-29). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Flowerdew, J., & Miller, L. (1995). On the notion of culture in L2 lectures. TESOL Quarterly 29 (2), 345-371.
Guariento, W., & Morley, J. (2001). Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom. ELT Journal 55 (4), 347-353.
Lynch, T. (1994). Training lecturers for international audiences. In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 269-289). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nesi, H. (2001). A corpus-based analysis of academic lectures across disciplines. In J. Cotterill & A. Ife (Eds.), Language across boundaries (pp. 201-218). London: British Association for Applied Linguistics/Continuum.
Wajnryb, R. (1997). Grammar dictation: The dictogloss procedure as a means to explore and shift learners' hypotheses about language. The Language Teacher 21 (9), p. 63.

Roger Nunn and Darren Lingley work in the Department of International Studies at Kochi University. Their duties include teaching courses in English language and Intercultural communication. They also coordinate and develop general education English language courses, stream first-year students, and organise professional development for a team of 12 part-time teachers.

Appendix 1. Collaborative Note-taking Print

Lecture title:

Main points of the lecture:

New vocabulary and expressions:



Lecture title:

Main points of the lecture:

New vocabulary and expressions:



Appendix 2. Mini-lecture Outline—Beatlemania

Notes on Beatlemania: 1963 – 1967

Slide 1: Very popular music

  • August 1963
  • She Loves You 500,000 advance sales
  • London Palladium 15,000,000 TV audience
  • Royal Variety Show 26,000,000 TV viewers
Beatlemania started in 1963 when the Beatles became more than just another pop group. Their songs sold out before they were released. In August, 1963 . . . etc.

Slide 2: More than music

  • Crowds become dangerous – Beatles almost killed by mobs after concert
  • ALL newspapers report on front page - Music hardly mentioned
After their concert at the London Palladium, the Beatles were almost killed by the crowds. All newspapers reported the story on the front page. The Beatles music was hardly mentioned. Beatlemania had arrived.

Slide 3: They have something to say

  • E.g. Joke about Royal Family
  • John Lennon
  • "Those in the cheap seats, just clap your hands." "The others, just rattle your jewellery."
The Beatles didn't just make popular music, they also had something to say. At the Royal Variety Show, attended by the Queen, John Lennon made a joke that was to become famous.

Slide 4: Fashion leaders

  • Hairstyle – Beatle wigs
  • Beatle suits help textile industry (corduroy)
Soon the Beatles were influencing many areas of life, from fashion to politics. It became common to see people with a "Beatle haircut" or even wearing a Beatle-style wig.

Slide 5: Political aspects

  • Politicians' fear and hate changes – Everyone wants to know the Beatles
  • Daily Worker—December 1963 "The Mersey Sound is the Voice of 80,000 crumbling houses and 30,000 people on the dole."
  • Prime Minister—Sir Alec Douglas Hume "Our best exports and a useful contribution to the balance of payments."
Politicians stopped criticizing them hoping to share in their popularity. Everyone, from the socialist Daily Worker to the conservative Prime Minister, wanted the Beatles on their side.

Slide 6: Exaggeration

  • Sunday Times, Britain's "top" newspaper: "The Greatest Composers Since Beethoven."
Even the most experienced observers of society were dazzled by the Beatles' success.

Slide 7: Scandal

  • John Lennon, "More popular than Jesus."
  • American Christians burn records
  • LSD experiments
Things started to go wrong when John Lennon offended American Christians and rumours of drug abuse affected their likeable image.

Slide 8: Touring stops

  • Back to Music, but it has changed
  • "Life goes on Within You and Without You" even for the Beatles.
The only way to stop Beatlemania was to stop touring. In any case, nobody could hear the music above the screaming. The Beatles now concentrated on making records. But the music had changed. It was time to move on even for the Beatles.

Appendix 3. Mini-lecture outline—You, Me and the Beatles

Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives in the Beatles lyrics
  • I, me—pronouns (my—possessive adj.)
  • You—pronoun (your—possessive adj.)
  • She, her—pronouns (her—possessive adj.)
Today I would like to talk about the lyrics in the early Beatles songs. I shall talk mainly about personal pronouns and the theme of the songs. Some examples of the simple words we shall look at are I, me, you, she, and her.
Examples from song titles
  • 1962 Love Me Do/ PS I Love You
  • 1963 Please Please Me/ Ask Me Why
  • 1963 From Me to You/Thank You Girl
  • 1963 She Loves You/ I'll Get You
  • 1963 I Want to Hold Your Hand/ This Boy
  • 1964 Can't Buy Me Love/You Can't Do That
The reason I would like to talk about personal pronouns is simply that there are so many of them in the early songs. Look at the titles of the Beatles' singles between 1962 and 1964. (Read them aloud stressing the pronouns, or possessive adjectives, possibly adding the "missing" pronouns in titles like Ask Me Why (YOU ask me why.)
Extracts from two songs
Love, Love me do
You know I love you
I'll always be true
So please . . .
Love Me Do.
Now let's listen to two short examples. (Play the extracts.) The simple love theme of the songs is expressed through the pronouns. (I, an attractive male [Beatle?], would like you, an attractive female [fan?], to love me.)
From Me to You
If there's anything that you want
If there's anything I can do
Just call on me and I'll send it along
With love from me to you.