What is signposting? It refers to all of those rhetorical phrases and devices which are used in spoken discourse primarily to help the listener understand the structure of what is being listened to. In other words, a signpost is a device used to indicate what direction you are travelling in a lecture. It lets your students know what is coming up, and positions them to accept what you are saying.
Why did I choose this particular theme for my blog? …because (to quote Barabara Gross Davis) we should “prepare our lectures for the ear, not the eye”. Very often we invest great effort into organizing our lectures into a clear structure, but we forget to communicate this structure plainly to our students. By including transitions and signposting language, we help our students follow the sequence of our lecture and hopefully, as a consequence, we help them better understand the content itself.
Lectures unfold over time, and students do not always know whether what they are listening to is a major substantive point, its elaboration, or a gloss or even digression. Listening for the duration of a 50-minute lecture requires attention at several levels, not only to the detail of the current point, but also to its place within a developing argument. The lecture should have a clear structure, with a beginning, middle, and end. It should relate back to previous material. To achieve this structure and relate the material backwards and forwards, signposting language is used.
Typical phrases used at the start of a lecture include “What I’d like to do today is…”, “OK everyone, today, we’re going to look at…” or “I’m going to divide the lecture into three parts…” These phrases help to set the scene and make sure that the students know what they are going to listen to.
In the main part of the lecture, the wording used will reflect the purpose it serves. If you wish to provide additional information, phrases such as “Another example of this phenomenon is……”, or “We can see this situation elsewhere” may be used. When signalling a shift in the argument, phrases such as “Let’s turn our attention now to …” or “What I’d like to do now is to move on to consider….” may be useful. Phrases that emphasise a point might include “The main point I’d like to emphasise here is…”, ”The key issue at stake here is…”, or “What I am essentially arguing is…”.
Common phrases used to draw the lecture to a close, may include the ubiquitous “Well, that more or less wraps things up for today” or if the topic is not complete, a phrase such as “Next week, I’d like to go on with this. I’ll be looking at….” may be used.
Try some of these sample marker phrases in your next lecture and see if eyes and ears start to perk up!
Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing to Teach the Large Lecture Course.” Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. 1993. http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/largelecture.html.