Teaching Large Classes

Teaching a large class provides many opportunities yet poses many challenges.   In order to maximize the opportunities, while minimizing challenges, takes more planning in advance of the course and more energy in the classroom on the part of the instructor. Regardless of the size of the class, the key is to get the students engaged who will then remain motivated to learn.

Preparation prior to the course

Before the first day of class, visit and set up the classroom, including:

  • Technology: Try everything out and make sure you can operate it without difficulty;
  • Lighting: Try different settings
  • Microphone: Determine where it is (or is stored); determine what type of batteries it uses and obtain them in advance;
  • Whiteboard or chalkboard: Determine which the classroom has; be sure you have a supply of erasable markers or chalk.

As you prepare your syllabus, predetermine policies specific to your course. Be sure that any policy you create is enforceable. Some areas to consider:

  • Technology use and abuse;
  • Academic misconduct;
  • Covering content following inclement weather

You may find you need to lecture often in a large class but plan lectures carefully.  If lectures are done well, students will remain engaged.

  • Do not read from prepared notes or from text on the screen;
  • Use PowerPoint/Keynote screens that support what you say with multimedia rather than bulleted text;
  • Do not include all of the information on the slides;
  • Use a remote mouse to allow movement about the room;
  • Invite discussion and questions utilizing open-ended questions (“What questions do you have?”)

Planning even small activities to engage students in the classroom can break up the lecture and stimulate students. See CETL’s page on active learning for ideas. Studies suggest small-group activities promote student mastery of material and enhance critical thinking, while providing the instructor with immediate feedback on student comprehension. (Cooper and Robinson, 2001)

In classroom

Establishing environment and perceptions

  • Make it a priority to learn and use student names. Some instructors create a game to assist in learning of names. In a large class this can be done by creating cards with student names to allow for randomly calling on students to ensure broad participation.
  • Develop a rapport with students. Greet students as they enter class on the first day. On subsequent days, roam the room and interact with students as they arrive.
  • Establish expectations and enforce them. Inform students what they should not do in class (e.g., text, talk on the phone, sleep, carry on conversations).
  • Make students feel connected to you. Maintain eye contact with students. Avoid standing behind physical objects (table, podium).
  • Reducing fear of peer judgment. Fear of peer judgment reduces student willingness to participate in large classes. To reduce this, promote an environment of trust and mutual respect from the first day of class. Also, ensure all students have the opportunity to speak without a single student dominating discussions.

Grading issues

Finding the balance between accurately assessing if the students have learned the material and burying yourself in grading is a challenge for all courses but is intensified in large courses.

While multiple-choice questions are the easy option selected by many faculty, they can fail to assess higher order thinking unless they are written very well. Consider other options:

  • Formative assessments provide critical feedback to students and instructors without significant work. Discussion-based activities enable students to demonstrate comprehension and application of course material without the need for grading. The use of clickers or polling software can provide students and instructors with feedback on student understanding of content. Visit CETL’s assessment page to learn more. Contact CETL’s educational technology staff to learn more about iClickers and REEF polling. CETL also has IF-AT cards available to interested faculty.
  • Although summative assessment requires some time for grading, group work can reduce the number of items to grade, such as weekly homework, papers or projects. This has the added benefit of developing team and communication skills.

Managing office hours and email

  • Encourage students to utilize teaching assistants assigned to the course. Teaching assistants should also have office hours for the students.
  • Consider holding online office hours. If students have scheduling conflicts with your office hours, consider utilizing HuskyCT to hold online office hours.
  • Consider holding group office hours. For students who are seeking to discuss the same topic, determine if students are comfortable meeting as a group to increase efficiency.
  • Consider holding review sessions prior to exams. The week preceding an exam often sees a significant increase in student emails to the instructor. Providing a group review session can reduce this.
  • Establish email rules and protocols upfront. In the syllabus and on the first day of class, let students know how often you will respond to emails. Common practices are to let students know that you will reply within 24 or 48 hours or that you will respond once per day in the morning. Also, let students know how far before the exam you will stop answering questions pertaining to the exam (often 12 hours or 24 hours).

 Additional resources:

  • Angelo TA and Cross KP (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Carbone, Elisa Lynn (1998).  Teaching Large Classes: Tools and Strategies.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Cooper, James L. and Pamela Robinson.  “The Argument for Making Large Classes Seem Small.”  New Directions for Teaching and Learning 81 (2000): 5-16.
  • Crouch CH and Mazur E (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics 69: 970-977.
  • McKeachie, W. J. (2013). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips 14th Ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Renaud, Susan, Elizabeth Tannenbaum, and Phillip Stantial. “Student-Centered Teaching in Large Classes with Limited Resources.” English Teaching Forum Number 3 (2007).
  • Stanley, Christine A. and M. Erin Porter.  Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty.  Boston: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2002.

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