Every class in elementary and junior high school should be in a lecture format. The teacher must be an authority on the subject, he must grasp its basic purpose, he must carefully define the knowledge to be conveyed by reference to that purpose, and he must present that knowledge in a hierarchical, integrated, and engaging form.
When I teach a literature class, I go in to each class armed with an understanding of the value of studying literature, and the knowledge that this value is derived primarily from an appreciation of the novel's plot, an understanding of the basic nature of the characters, and a clear grasp of the novel's theme.
These broad goals then guide me in defining the goal of any particular class. If I am teaching Sinclair Lewis's novel Arrowsmith, for example, I might give one class about the idealistic characters and in what way they are doomed to suffering in the world, another about those who abandon their ideals and achieve practical "success," another about the basic moral/practical dichotomy this implies, and another contrasting this view with that of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.
In each class, I would set out to convey a definite point about the novel, and to methodically lead the students to a clear understanding of the principle through the events of the novel. I would not conduct the class as question-and-answer, back-and-forth, bull session.
This is a notable contrast to most literature classes today. English teachers often select novels that are disintegrated and purposeless, and therefore have no single, objective interpretation. And even if they teach a good work of literature, with a definite theme, they allow students to take charge of the class, treating every one of their arbitrarily held, sometimes unintelligible, and often contradictory interpretations as sacred.
Several years ago I visited an English class at a reputable college prep school in my area, in which the students were reading Macbeth. The class had a "seminar" format, with the chairs in a circle, and the teacher treated as just one of the student's peers. . . .