Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Lecture Reviews by Students
Originator Clive Agnew
Department Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK
Tel. +44 (0)171 504 4271
Fax +44 (0)171 380 7565

This case study is based upon the papers by Mossa (1995) and Newnham (1997).


To use topic synthesis (i.e. lecture review), at the start of a lecture as a student-centred learning approach in order to develop both critical thinking and communication skills.


It is good practice for lecturers to summarise their previous talks at the start of a fresh lecture. This places the current lecture in context and can remind students of key issues and points that need to be cross-referenced with the topic(s) about to be covered. It has been suggested that this opening period can be used to stimulate student interest through discussion of either the students' own understanding of the material to be lectured upon or by reviewing some previous work or activity. This case study presents two strategies where this has been employed: one in the USA and the other in England. Newnham also notes that lecturers who employ the traditional didactic lecturing approach and feel uneasy about losing control may find the lecture review strategy more acceptable as it takes place at the start of the lecture and provides useful feedback.


The approach employed by Mossa (University of Florida) is presented first, followed by the method of Newnham (University of Plymouth).

Topic synthesis

Mossa was concerned that students would feel apprehensive about public speaking and time was taken to explain the objectives and what was expected. Guidelines are provided with advice for effective presentation. The presentations are organised around 10-minute talks at the start of each class by one or two students. The tasks for students are:

Although this was not assessed formally the presentation was included in the 15% mark for class participation. This assessment included errors of omission, inaccuracies and overall content and coherence.

Lecture synthesis

Students were formed into groups of 4 to 8. One student from each group prepared a written review of the previous lecture on a single sheet of paper that is presented to the rest of the group at the start of the next class for a period of 3 minutes. A further 3 minutes is devoted to group discussion. The sheet, annotated with new points, is then given to the lecturer. The sequence is then:


There are many similarities between the two case studies. Both had fairly small classes (20 to 30 students), formal assessment was not included and both limited the total time devoted to the feedback and discussion to a maximum of 10 minutes. There are differences in the logistics but not in the basic objectives. Newnham prefers students to discuss the work amongst themselves whereas Mossa opts for a more formal presentation by one or two students at the start of the lecture. Mossa stresses that students must not regurgitate but synthesise and evaluate, whilst this is not noted by Newnham. With Mossa the feedback by the lecturer takes place immediately after the student presentation whereas Newnham does this at the next class after the summary sheets have been completed.


There are a number of potential benefits for students including:

Problems did occur. In Mossa's case, some students talked for too long or tried to repeat the lecture rather than synthesise and evaluate. The approach by Mossa could be seen as a 'trial by fire': an audience of peers can be highly critical. The tasks require students to think critically, to take effective notes and to be able to present their ideas, but this could easily become a frightening and intimidating experience. A key issue is how are the students taught and helped to achieve these aims?

Newnham's approach encouraged discussion especially for students who were uncomfortable at presenting their views to a large audience. It would be problematic if applied to a large class both in terms if suitable accommodation and time if several groups of 4 to 8 are to meet, talk and then listen to a lecture. What works for large classes can work for smaller classes but not necessarily vice-versa.

When asked how this method could be improved, Mossa's students suggested that the 10 minute timing should be strictly enforced and that the summary be produced as a 1-page handout for circulation. Despite these reservations over public speaking the student evaluation of both of these exercises was highly favourable. In Mossa's case all students felt it helped their retention of material and 84% felt their comprehension had improved. All of Newnham's students felt the lecture review sheets were useful and 67% felt the process worked well and should be continued.


Mossa's approach was based upon a mixed ability class with a combination of graduate and undergraduate students which may have added to the nervousness of the less experienced. The class size was small (20 students). Mossa suggests that beyond a class of 40 students (Newnham suggests 70) problems may be encountered, especially for students uncomfortable with public speaking and, of course, if everyone were to speak then there would have to be a great many classes. Large classes do not however rule out this approach, they merely present some logistical challenges. Mossa also suggests that it worked well in the example presented in part because the class met infrequently (once a week) and in part because formal assessment of the presentation was not required as peer pressure was a sufficient incentive. Newnham stresses the importance of encouraging student participation through a presentation at the start of the course that explains the benefits accruing to students.

The presentation of two quite different approaches but with similar goals demonstrates the flexibility of lecture review. There are obstacles to be overcome but if students can be encouraged to participate then there would appear to be a number of advantages to be gained by all involved.


Mossa, J. (1995) Topic synthesis: a vehicle for improving oral communication skills, comprehension and retention in higher education, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 19(2), pp.151-158.

Newnham, R.M. (1997) Lecture reviews by student in groups, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(1), pp.57-64.


Communication skills
Critical thinking
Group discussion
Lecture review
Presentation skills

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Lecturing in Geography"

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