Dealing with large classes

photo credits: Education 2.0

Large classes are perceived as difficult to engage students. However, the basic level of engagement with students is the same across all class sizes. The key strategies must be engaged teaching and active learning. Try to focus on three main targets: creating a good relationship with your students, getting formal and informal feedback from them and encouraging real communication between your pupils.

Work on the relationship between teacher and students

  • Get to know your students by name: say their names in class. The minute you know their names, they are not anonymous and will want to perform.
  • Show them you are human: feel at home yourself and your students will feel at home.
  • Set a task and wander around the class: show that you are approachable.
  • Help students feel 'at home': appreciate that large classes can be lonely/alien places for students.
  • Agree the ground rules: establish that attending the class is not just listening passively, but also involves answering questions, discussing examples and working through exercises.
  • Try to understand how your students think: tap into their prior experiences. Think of something they can refer to, that is relevant and engaging. Explain the ideas/concepts/theories through personal examples and then show professional/work applications. Leverage off students' own experiences.
  • Encourage self-reflection: ensure students appreciate that self-reflective thinking and interaction in the class develops critical thinking.
  • Have a change of activities/pace: different blocks of activities, offering different modes/opportunities to reengage students. One is the VARK technique (visual, aural, read/write and kinaesthetic). 
  • Raise reflective questions: do this at the end of class and come back to them at the next lecture.

  • Get informal and formal feedback from students to get their views and opinions using your own tools or the ones available on the CAD website.
  • Minute paper: stop the class early and ask students to respond briefly to: What was the most important thing you learned during this class? And what important question remains unanswered? Get feedback from the students by collecting their written responses.
Encourage communication between the students

  • Social networking: allow time for fellow students to talk (ok, we all know they take this time by themselves ;) but, if they don't, try to promote it, for example with the next type of exercise).
  • Think-Pair-Share exercises: Gets students working in pairs. 1-2 minute discussion with another student on a particular focussed question. Stress it is good to sit with somebody, as learning is enhanced by the other person's experience.
  • Raise questions: let them think about it themselves and then with another person. Apply theories/models with your neighbour and share the different applications.
  • Mini quiz: prepare about 5 questions covered in the lesson - take 1minute for each question (true or false); mark each other's answers/person next to you.
  • Multiple choice questions: give them coloured cards they have to hold up. This gets students to participate in active learning and gives instant feedback.
  • Dividing the class in half: half the class discuss and give personal examples and the other half professional examples; always two sides - give 2-3 min.
  • Organise a debate by splitting the class in two: students can choose which side to argue for and move to that side of the class.
  • Set a task and wander around the class: show them you are approachable.
Source: Victoria Business School (abridged and adapted)
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