Teaching Large Classes

Teaching large classes can be challenging to say the least. Here are some suggestions that you might find helpful:

  1. Students often feel anonymous in large classes. Here are two suggestions that might help to alleviate this problem:
    • Arrive early and chat with the students who are present about the topic for the upcoming class. Make note of their names and refer to them by name when mentioning portions of your conversation that relate to the material. For example, “As Heather and Charles both mentioned before class….”
    • Show up for class early or stay around after class so students can approach you individually.

      Rationale:

      Using students’ names will help you to develop personal connections; this is particularly important in lessening feelings of anonymity.

      Students who might be hesitant to ask questions in class will often ask a question of the instructor in one-on-one situations.

  2. Making sure that students have an opportunity to be heard in a large class can be difficult. Here is one way to encourage student input:
    • Ask students to contribute their comments anonymously by writing them down and submitting them anonymously (on index cards you supply, or on a sheet of paper). Integrate the thoughts, suggestions, opinions, ideas, and critiques from the students into the class, or have a specific class where you address their concerns. It might be helpful to tell students how their comments affect the course and how you dealt with contradictory advice (e.g., ‘I read that some students suggested writing a paper and others did not, so I am making a paper optional and worth 20% of your exam mark, but students writing the paper can skip any 2 of the 10-point essay questions on the exam.’)   

      Rationale:

      Having input is important in making students feel they are part of the class. However; students who are hesitant to speak out in class often have no opportunity to do so. You might find that students have some interesting and helpful ideas on structuring the course.
       

  3. It is often a challenge to get immediate feedback from students in large classes. Here is something you might want to try:
    • End your class 5-7 minutes early and ask students to respond to two questions:
       
    1. What major conclusions have you drawn from today's class?
    2. What major questions remain in your mind?

Rationale:

The process of answering these questions will help students to ask themselves valuable questions (what have I learned; what do I need to learn now) that must be given active thought, rather then the more passive style of receiving information adopted by many students. Submitting the response to these two questions can provide instructors with valuable feedback on what was understood by the students – they might take home a message different than the one intended.