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Large Class Teaching

There's no doubt that teaching a large class is a challenge. The teaching skills one uses in a small class don't necessarily carry over to be effective in a large class. Teaching a large class (over 50 students) is much more of a large-scale performance than it is having the feeling of an intimate classsroom setting. Your voice and your visuals need to be "larger than life". Microphones are usually used for amplication and PowerPoint is typically used to project large-scale notes and visuals.

Large lectures tend to be much more uni-directional rather than interactive. Instructors prepare lessons and deliver them using almost theatrical techniques — larger gestures and facial expressions and movement from one side of the room to the other. Students typically take notes, memorize those notes and regurgitate them for the exams.

There are ways, however, to engage your students in large lectures so they get more involved with the material. Professor Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, uses a technique called Collaborative Learning where he stops his lecture every 10 minutes or so and asks his students a multiple choice question. After they answer, they have one minute to discuss their answer with a neighbor. He then brings the class back together and explains what the correct answer is. Mazur has had tremendous success with this technique and has found it gets students thinking rather than just being passive note-takers.

Wilbert McKeachie (2006) also believes that active learning can be used successfully in large classes. He recommends such things as assigning students to study groups outside of class, having students email the professor questions that they may have, and having students use clickers in class to respond to questions the instructor may pose. He strongly recommends that instructors use websites when teaching large classes to communicate with their students about the course syllabus and handouts, announcements about the course, reminders about due dates, and posting of grades.


McKeachie, Wilbert J., (2006) Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 12th edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. Chapter 19: Teaching Large Classes. pp. 254-265.


Words of Wisdom

  • What are some of the differences between teaching large classes and teaching small classes?
    • When teaching large classes, everything needs to be bigger. That includes your voice (you'll probably want to use a microphone), your gestures, your movements (use the aisles to get closer to your students) and your visuals.
    • When teaching large classes, you probably won't be able to learn your students' names. Try to establish a connection with them by asking rhetorical questions, or having them use clickers to answer your questions.
    • When teaching large classes, you'll probably need to give multiple choice exams that can be computer scored rather than short answer or essay exams.
    • When teaching large lectures, to get students to participate, stop your lecture occasionally, pose a question on what you've just covered, and have students discuss their answer with their neighbor for a minute. Then, pull the class back together and discuss the right and wrong answers.
  • The opportunity to cheat is greater in large classes. What should I know about giving exams in large classes?
    The following are some suggestions for giving mass exams:
    • Announce ahead of time that students may not bring backpacks, drinks, books, hats, cellphones or calculators to the test. They are to have nothing on their desks during the exam.
    • Check student IDs at the door to prevent "ringers" from taking the test for their friends.
    • If possible, seat students every other seat.
    • Have a seating chart. In case you observe a case of cheating, you'll be able to identify which student(s) it is.
    • Have different sections of the course sit together so T.A.s will know who's in their class.
    • Make different versions of the exam and put them on different colored paper.
    • Have plenty of proctors standing/walking around. It's usually a good idea to have one proctor for every 50 students.
    • Leave some empty chairs in the front of the room. If you see someone looking around at another person's paper, you can ask the student to please move to the seat in the front of the class.
    • Tell your students to turn their tests over when they're finished. Or, let them know that if there's a line to turn their test in, there should be no talking.
    • Make sure students get only one test and only one answer sheet. Make sure they each turn in one test and one answer sheet.