A Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes


There is no one way to teach a large class. We have to take into account our teaching style, the characteristics of our students, and the goals and objectives of our course. This handbook is a cafeteria of ideas of how faculty members all over the country have tried to solve many of the problems related to teaching large classes. Decide which one or ones are most likely to work for you, and try them.

Dr. Sallie M. Ives, Director
UNC Charlotte Faculty Center for Teaching



It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a poet laureate to know that teaching a large class is a very different set of challenges than we typically face in our other classes. If we were to pull together ten faculty members who teach large classes in very different disciplines, or a hundred across the country, they are likely to list many of the same types of challenges, which are likely to fall into the following categories:

  • Management of the paperwork: handing out, collecting, and recording tests and other assignments, make-up work;
  • Management of distractions: talking, late arrivals, early departures;
  • Perceived anonymity of the students: difficulty of learning names, of taking attendance, of getting students to come to class, of getting students to participate in class, of getting students to do assignments in a timely manner
  • Lack of flexibility in class activities: difficulty in varying activities, in doing group work, in enhancing critical thinking and writing skill.
  • Diverse background and preparation of the students.

On the other hand, students in large classes are also experiencing significant challenges to their learning, especially if they are new to the college experience. These include:

  • Not knowing what is relevant or important information
  • Hesitation in asking questions or in other ways indicating a lack of knowledge
  • Hesitation in appearing “smart” to their peers (the nerd curse).
  • Lack of experience with time management, studying, or other skills necessary for success in college.
  • Perceived anonymity which allows them to challenge authority and to push boundaries.

So what can we as faculty members do to meet these formidable challenges and still keep our sanity? The following information is a collection of strategies and procedures that have been developed and or adopted by faculty in meeting many of these challenges. You are the best person to decide which ones are likely to work for you. So try some and send us an email to tell us about your victories, your defeats, and/or those you want to try again. If you have some suggestions about other ways to meet the challenges, send them to the Faculty Center for Teaching and we’ll add them to our materials.

This handbook is organized around a set of questions related to the categories that are described in the introduction. They include:


  • Make the class informative, interesting, and relevant to students' lives. Add variety/entertainment to lectures (animations, slide shows, demos, video clips, music, guest speakers, etc.).
  • Put outlines up on your course Web page, so that students know what to expect and can use them as a guide for taking notes and not as a substitute for attending class.
  • Use lots of supplemental illustrations/examples that students cannot get any other place other than in class.
  • Give lots of exam-directed problems in class.
  • Count class participation toward the final grade.
  • Give students a topic to think about for the next class discussion or a puzzle to solve for fun or for credit.
  • Give regular pop or announced quizzes that count towards the final grade. They can be given at the beginning of class and to get feedback on assigned reading or at the end to test comprehension of material just covered.
  • Give more scheduled exams covering less material.
  • Give weekly in-class assignments that can be done in 20-30 minutes and that give students the chance to apply what they have learned. Students can work individually or in pairs. Give students credit for completing assignments, but don't grade them.
  • Collect homework assignments, and give students credit for handing it in. You do not have to do this every day to encourage attendance and you can reduce your workload by collecting a subset from different students each day.
  • Convince students that exam success depends on attendance. (One faculty member gathered data from previous classes to prove it and presented these data to his students.)
  • Establish a policy that grades will be lowered according to the number of sessions missed.


  • Have students sign in at the door.
  • Students are assigned numbered seats and sign a seating chart when it is passed.
  • Cut a seating chart into segments and circulate segments so that each student can print last name TA(s) can then mark empty seats on the chart during class.
  • TA marks absences on seating chart.
  • Some instructors take attendance at the end of the session rather than at the beginning, so as to discourage students from signing in or being signed in and then leaving.
  • Taking attendance at irregular intervals may suffice, especially if there is a clear policy for lowering grades when absences are excessive.
  • Pass out coded Scantron sheets on which students answer feedback questions that the instructor writes on the board. Students' responses to feedback questions give the instructor a good sense of their progress.
  • Collect written "exercises" periodically (and make them the basis of discussion).
  • Give a practice exam problem at end of lecture on scan sheets. This is both a way to take attendance and to test students' ability to apply key concepts.
  • Collect homework one week and return another; students must be present both times to get credit.
  • Post alphabetical lists of names on the walls of the classroom at various locations and have students sign in.


  • Know the names of at least some of your students:
    • Use a Polaroid camera to take pictures of groups of students in their class
    • Ask students to supply them with a copy of their ID pictures
    • Create a seating chart to enable rapid taking of attendance and identification of students
    • Return exams personally to associate names with faces and encourage students who are struggling.
    • Before class, learn the names of people sitting along the aisles and call on them during the class
    • Ask students to wear nametags so that can call on them by name.
    • When giving a test, I ask the students to hang a sheet of paper with their names in large letters in front of them and you can wander around the room learning names
    • When handing back the tests, go to the labs or discussion sections with the papers and hand each back individually with an appointment book to invite students with scores of D or less to make an appointment, and any others who look disappointed or concerned
  • Create a more personal environment by letting students “know” you in appropriate ways -
    • Your interests,
    • How you first encountered a concept.
    • How you used course-related materials in problem-solving
  • Try to find ways to be accessible to students on a personal level.
    • Arrive early and chat with students who are already there
    • Greet students as they come in.
    • Stay a few minutes after class to answer individual questions
    • Give students your email address and encourage them to send questions or comments in this way.
    • Pass out invitations to 10 students to join you for coffee after class to get acquainted.
    • Announce that you'll meet any students who are free for coffee after class (you won't be swamped).
    • Consider lecturing or leading discussion from different points of the classroom to give students the feeling of being in the midst of the action rather than simply being an observer. Standing behind a podium emphasizes the distance between you and the class. Moving into the aisles and around the room makes the class seem smaller and encourages student involvement.
  • When asking questions, you might start on a personal level, asking students to share their own experiences with a concept, then move to the more abstract
  • Provide many avenues for feedback from students to check for understanding:
    • Ask students at intervals to write down the “muddiest” part of your lecture, and then use some of the next class or handouts to clarify the material.
    • A class-specific newsgroup on the campus computer network can foster out-of-class discussion.
    • Pass out observation forms to 10 students at the beginning of class and ask them to meet with you and discuss their observations about what works and what doesn’t. This is especially helpful when you want feedback before student evaluations at the end of the course.


  • Start on the first day of class:
    • Arrive at your classroom early with plenty of time to set up the room the way you want it.
    • Have the texts you need and a lesson plan which may be more than you can cover in a period. It's always better to have too much than too little.
    • Write the name of the course, the building and room number, the time and your name, office location, office hours and phone number on the board. (Undergraduates get confused the first week.) Make certain that information is also on the syllabus that you provide on the first day.
    • Greet students with a smile and make some comments when it feels comfortable and natural. Your students are curious about you and what your class will be like.
    • Start class on time and introduce yourself and tell them something interesting about yourself like your research interests, what got you interested in this subject in the first place.
    • Let students know what your personal teaching style is and how you like to be treated. For example, let them know how to address you, whether you mind being interrupted with questions and how you like to conduct a discussion.
    • Introduce students to each other to make them feel more comfortable in your class. They will be more likely to talk about their ideas and opinions, to admit their confusion and ask for help, and to use other students as resources( missed notes, help with homework assignments, study groups).
    • Ask students to fill out index cards with their names, addresses and phone why they are taking, any information about themselves which might be helpful for you to know (sight or hearing problems, learning disabilities, a preference for interactive learning).
    • Hand out and go over a good syllabus that includes the following types of information:
    • Your name, phone number, fax number, email address, office address, office hours,
    • A description of the course. You may want to elaborate on the brief catalog description to include information about the University and departmental requirements the course meets, or the audiences at which the course is aimed.
    • An outline of the contents of the course,
    • A schedule of due dates for reading assignments , other assignments and tests.
    • Their responsibilities and your responsibilities, including policies that you have set for attendance, make-up work, behavior in class, group work, etc.
    • The grading system for the course. as well as how assignments and projects will be assessed.
    • Create a first day experience that sets the tone for the rest of the term and leaves your students looking forward to the next class.
  • Create an intimate climate:
    • Talk, don't lecture. Think about your lecture as though you were talking to one person at a time about your subject.
    • Remind them frequently of your office hours. Emphasize that you are available to chat with students at those times. Be available at those times. Or make greater use of email to communicate with your students.
    • Personalize the course content as much as possible. ("This reminds of a time when I was working for a firm that was designing a parking structure. . . ".)
    • When you cover an important concept, do not ask "Any questions?" Instead, say "O.K., someone up in the last two rows, ask me a question about this concept." This tells your class you want questions, and you will get them one way or another.
  • Create a comfortable climate without letting the students run over you:
    • Start out hard-nosed and ease off as the class goes on. It is nice to get gradually more casual, but it is nearly impossible to increase formality without hurting someone's feelings. Everything from how you introduce yourself to how you dress can help you manage the class.
    • Lay out your expectations for student behavior in writing. Let them know that if they are disruptive, that they can be physically removed from the class by Security Officers.
  • Give feedback to students, especially when correcting a wrong answer or statement:
    • Respond with a question: "Are you sure that happened before the Bolshevik revolution?"
    • Ask: "What leads you to that conclusion?"
    • Validate their thought process: "Oh, I see. Comparing this sample with that sample, you might think there's a relationship here."
    • State what piece of information they did not take into account, or what implication they did not consider: "Actually, these were taken several miles apart in different ecosystems, so that is not the case."
  • Help the class feel comfortable with asking you questions:
    • Welcome sincere questions from students.
    • Be certain that you understand them correctly
    • Answer their questions completely, and ask to see if you have done so.
  • Be sure your questions are good ones.
    • Ask specific questions that generate critical thinking and sometimes even controversy or disagreement. If a question has one correct obvious answer (e.g. "... and 2 + 2 is?"), no one is likely to bother answering it.
    • Consider splitting the class into smaller groups of 2 to 5 students and giving them a list of questions to answer in their groups. If the discussion seems to have gotten off track, try to bring it back to the original question or point
  • Be honest with students regarding your inexperience as a teacher
    • Tell your students what teaching experience you've had but do not focus on your inexperience or they will blame your inexperience for their own failure.
    • Make it clear to the class that you are committed to helping them learn and you know the material well.
  • Remember that even quiet people can be excellent teachers:
    • When planning and practicing your lectures and other teaching activities, do not focus on your nervousness. Focus instead on what you need to do to help your students learn.
    • You don't have to be hilarious or extroverted to be a good teacher, you just need to be committed to their learning, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.
    • If your classroom is large, consider using a microphone on a regular basis.
  • Take into account some of the differences between high school and college students in planning and implementing your course:
    • Students do not come to college with the requisite skills to be successful at this level. Their writing and critical thinking skills can be weak.
    • Students may not have developed good note taking skills. They can have trouble determining what in their texts, readings and lectures is important and so they will just try to remember everything. Provide them with direction about what is important with your handouts, homework assignments, in class activities, and review sessions.
    • A good percentage of entering freshmen are leaving home for the first time and have not necessarily learned how to manage independent living. Their time management strategies may be lacking. They are somewhat bombarded with new experiences and do not always make wise decisions about priorities.
    • Fall term freshmen are not used to coming to office hours when they need help. Assigning your students to come and visit you at the beginning of the term in your office can be very useful (if your class enrollment is not unwieldy). If you do this, make it worth their time.
  • Handle the class “disrupters” immediately: go to them outside of class, perhaps in lab, and ask them to help you out - tell them you are distracted, as are some of the students around them. Let them know that they are bothering people, but in a non-confrontational and non-embarrassing way, initially. If the problem persists, inform them that they can be removed from the class by Campus Security Officers.


Selected excerpts from:
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
The Pennsylvania State University
401 Grange Building, University Park, PA 16802


  1. How can I improve exam procedures in my class?
    • To help students prepare for mid-semester exams; Bob Melton (Aerospace Engineering) gives short (10-min.) math-based exercises that students work on in pairs in class. Solutions are discussed in the next class session and then posted to the course Web page. These solutions are evaluated using a simplified grading system so that they can be compared with later test scores. Because there is a close correlation, students are motivated to attend class regularly and participate in the exercises.
    • Ask students at the end of class to write one exam question based on that day's lecture. This variation on the minute paper not only gives the instructor instant feedback but may also result in some good questions that could be included on exams.
    • Ed Buss, Professor emeritus of Agriculture, recommended using numerous exams during the semester. Cindy Brewer (Geography), following his suggestion, increased the number of exams from one to three with a comprehensive final. She reports: "I think the course went quite smoothly with this change . . . students had less to review for each test and they had been tested once on everything that was on the final exam. Exams were worth enough to be taken seriously but were not worth so much that students got overly nervous about them."
    • Ray Palmer (Bio-behavioral Health) puts short quizzes on overheads printed in large type. This saves handing out 200+ sheets of paper for every quiz.
    • Another faculty member takes advantage of computer quizzes that can be given in labs.
  2. What alternatives are there to multiple-choice tests?
    • Many instructors include some writing component on their exams, from an occasional essay question that can be answered correctly in many different ways to partial credit, one-line explanations of multiple-choice answers.
    • One teacher estimates that 80 TA hours are needed to evaluate 360 essay exams. To streamline the process, essay exams should have clearly delineated questions, and all responses to one question should be evaluated by the same TA for fairness. Of course, if no TA support is available, essays are not a practical means of evaluating the largest classes.
    • Some instructors also have students work in groups. The same grade can be assigned to all members of the group, or the grades can be assigned to individuals on the basis of some combination of anonymous self-evaluation of individual contributions and instructor evaluation of the group product. Students who work together can also be tested individually and assigned an average of individual scores or (in one extreme case someone had heard of) the lowest score of the group.
    • One participant in our discussions uses TA help with reading and grading, but looks it all over afterwards to be sure that it is done right.
    • Someone else indicated that she allows students to choose between multiple-choice and essay versions, and that students tend to do better on essays but that, despite this, many of them choose essays only the first time around.
  3. How do I handle make-up exams/exam conflicts?
    • Establish course policies that will accommodate students with legitimate conflicts or emergencies and provide strong disincentives to those who simply want to delay taking an exam. For example, you may want to include a statement in your syllabus. "Make-up exams will be given [or "will be given without penalty"] only when documentation of hospitalization, death in the family, or other emergency is provided." (Most instructors accept an obituary or a funeral/memorial service program as documentation of a death in the family. When students know this policy from the start, they do not mind providing such documentation when needed. The key is clear communication with students before an emergency situation arises.)
    • One can give either a different exam after the regular exam or the same exam prior to the regular exam (same day, but earlier in the day).
    • Some instructors give no make-up exams but weight the final more heavily to make up the difference for those who have missed a big test.
    • In some departments, only one day in the semester is scheduled for all make-ups. Generally, instructors are less tolerant of students who miss make-ups, and very few offer students a third opportunity to take an exam.
    • Pat Buchanan (Statistics) allows them to drop one exam, but cautions that you need to have several exams to do so (she has 5).
    • One participant made a policy in her large class that all make-ups would be essay exams (different from the primarily multiple-choice test given in class). Cindy Brewer (Geography) thought this idea sounded good so she set that as a policy last fall. "I had approximately 115 students in my course and only four students altogether requested make-up exams for the three exams that I administered during the semester. That seemed like a remarkably low number of requests."
    • Someone else noted that scheduling make-up exams on football Saturday mornings also helps decrease the number of make-ups.
    • On a related topic, Reinhard Graetzer (Physics) wrote: "I'm curious whether other teachers of large courses have problems with conflict exams and how they handle this problem. We have to give evening exams because of the large numbers of enrolled students but then some are unable to attend for legitimate reasons (evening labs, sports trips, etc.)
  4. How can I minimize cheating?
    • One experienced teacher recommends that you always be alert to new ways of cheating. He recently discovered, for example that students were using pagers to send each other the correct answers.
    • Tanya Furman (Geosciences) says, "Give hard exams, and vary them every year. Only those who truly studied the material can succeed, and there is no benefit in getting help from someone not currently enrolled."
    • Terry Engelder (Geosciences) made the following suggestions: Students are particularly interested in questions from previous exams! Share such questions freely with the students. This neutralizes the advantage of those with access to fraternity files. Present a student with a detailed syllabus. Details should include a policy on baseball caps during exams, a statement concerning the University's policy on academic integrity and a class honor code. If you catch a student cheating, confront him/her immediately. Personal experience indicates that judicial affairs will be of little help with a conviction based on evidence gathered after the event.
  5. How can I be sure students taking my exams are enrolled in the class?
    • Some instructors report that they do not consider a check of any kind necessary.
    • Others consider a signature and ID # check to be sufficient.
    • The instructors who routinely do a photo ID check enjoy the one-on-one contact with students (however limited) that a check affords and/or have TA support to streamline the process. One instructor recruits students to help check IDs.
    • Many instructors like to check over scan forms to make sure they have been correctly filled out, and they do not find checking IDs at the same time to be burdensome. A few report that they check IDs carefully for the first exam, but then give them only a cursory glance thereafter.
    • Here are some helpful tips on the routine ID check from Linda Morrow (Nutrition): "It doesn't really take me more time to check IDs than to be sure the scan form (which is equally essential for a large class exam) is properly filled out with ID and test form coded. I announce to the class ahead of time that picture ID is required so they will bring it with them. As students are finished they bring their tests, scan forms, and ID to me at the table. I put the tests in one pile, the scan forms into another pile while I check to be sure the ID and test form bubbles are filled in, then I take the ID in my hand briefly as I glance at it to see that the name is the same, look the student in the eye and say "thank you George (or whatever)," smile, and hand the ID back. "If the line of students gets long in a class of over 200 students I have one of my proctors sit beside me to help with the checking. The proctors aren't as experienced with catching incompletely coded scan forms, but otherwise they are fine. If I actually do know the student, of course I don't need to see the ID. Sometimes I recognize a student who regularly sits up front, but don't know his/her name, so I don't need to see the ID, but I am pleased to have a way to learn the student's name. And if a student doesn't have ID I have that person sign a sheet I have for that purpose so I can check the signature when s/he does bring me picture ID at the next class meeting. "Bottom line: The appearance of checking ID discourages the consideration of substitute test-takers at very little additional time to me."
    • Some instructors have students sign a class roll or the exam itself in addition to doing an ID check.
    • Tony Verstrate (Management Science & Information Systems) is wary of student attempts to beat the system and has come up with several "Cheat Alert" tips that you may find helpful: "It is now known to many students that teachers in large sections do not have time to do more than just glance at the ID when collecting the answer forms. So there are some common tricks to allow others to take your exam for you. It happens frequently, I believe.
      • CHEAT TRICK 1: Get someone to take your exam for you. When they hand it in, they fill our THEIR name and write in THEIR ID number, but they CODE YOUR social security number. Who has time to check the codes? Of course, the code is the only identifier used by testing services when the scan forms are run through the machine, while the proctor only checks the name and (maybe) the written ID number but never the actual code. "SOLUTION -- Always check a few of the code positions against the student's actual ID card. The entire 9 code sequence does not have to be checked. I just check the first few "dots".
      • CHEAT TRICK 2: Claim that you have lost your ID card, and get a temporary card issued without a photo. Give this to the person taking your exam. If the instructor or proctor asks for photo proof of ID, claim you didn't bring one (a good alibi is "I lost ALL my ID cards at the same time"). This is one of the most common tricks. "SOLUTION--Someone told me that Penn State no longer issues photo-less temporary ID replacement cards, but I don't believe that. Anyway, once the student has the temporary card, they keep it as spare along with the original 'lost' one until they graduate. So, ALWAYS demand that a student provide a photo id AND a proof of Social Security number or else refuse to process the same score sheet until they can get proper proof of ID. "Even then there is a trick. They may assume that you won't remember their face, so the real student enrolled in the course will come back later with their identification and ask that the exam form be scored and recorded. One solution to this is to require that they sign the back of the exam form and then check the signature against the one on their ID card when they return with their ID.
    • Some instructors have come up with alternatives to a photo ID check, because they feel the check is either inadequate or too time-consuming. Peter Thrower (Materials Science & Engineering) says: "I attack the problem (unsuccessfully) as follows. First, I always try to get to class early and spend at least ten minutes sitting down in different location and talking with students beforehand. Most students sit in approximately the same place each time so that I end up getting to know which faces will appear where. Even if I don't get the name, the face somehow is familiar. If I see a strange face during an exam I can then do a spot check. The second thing I do is to [tell students] during the first class period: 'I am well aware that there will be some cheating. A student who cheats has to live with his/her conscience. I don't! However, if I discover cheating I will be merciless.' In the past I have had students dismissed from the University.
    • "For final and mid-semester exams I insist on assigned seating. By that time, one has one's suspects and can check on them, but it is not an easy task. The best way is to check IDs but I just don't get enough help to do it. One day we shall have an eye recognition system as is now being talked about for ATM transaction. Each student turning in an exam would have to look into the machine and their eyes would immediately be matched to those on the class list (or not as the case may be).
    • Similarly, Dean Snow (Anthropology) says: "When faced with the problem of making sure that students taking exams are those registered in the course, I have taken a couple of simple steps. I input all student names and ID numbers into a database. From this I generate a sign-in sheet that they are all asked to sign on the first day of class (or the first day they attend). Later the database is used to generate pressure sensitive labels with their names and numbers. These are put on the blank tests by my assistants. Students are given only their 'own' tests on exam day. And they turn these back in at the end of the hour exam with a signature on or next to the address label. If we suspect problems we check to be sure that the signatures match."
  6. How do I handle the logistics of returning exams?
    • Because of the time required to return exams one-by-one, some instructors lay them out on a table in alphabetical order, so that students can find their own. However, there are some concerns about students taking exams that are not theirs--especially those with high scores. John Lowe (Chemistry) has found that students are less likely to do this if grades are not on the front page, and he has designed a grade sheet that he places inside the exam so that students get ample feedback without seeing others' scores.
    • Tanya Furman (Geosciences) offers another solution: "When handing back written work (exams, problem sets) in my class of 300, I use labeled folders that I distribute around the room. I put a map on the overhead for the first few assignments, and after that the students know which portion of the room will have the folder with their work. I try to use 8-10 folders, grouping alphabetically by last name so the folders contain roughly the same number of papers."
    • Some give students copies of the answer key as they exit the examination room. This encourages them to compare notes immediately after the exam.
    • Correct answers can be posted to a course Web page. Web options for providing feedback are numerous.
    • Post an exam with correct answers behind glass or at proctor's table outside the exam room or in some other secured location.
    • The day following the exam, go over questions that were most frequently missed. Make yourself available during office hours to address individual student questions. On a course Web page, you can post a report on exam results that students can download and use as a study guide for future exams.
    • Another way to encourage student expression is to require that all grade challenges be in written form and be submitted within one week of taking the exam; this has the added benefit of reducing the number of grade disputes.
    • Select an honors student to serve as course ombudsman and have this person conduct post-exam review sessions. This is especially helpful if you don't have TA support.
    • Give participation points to students who make an effort to review exam results, however you choose to make them available. If you have a course Web page, you can keep records of who logs on to review exam results.
    • To streamline communication about exams and other course matters, let students know your preferences for a first contact. For example, you might prefer that students drop by during office hours, use your office voice mail, or use email -- in that order.
    • While electronic options can streamline the reporting of scores and feedback on exams, some instructors are looking for easy ways to return homework and other short writing assignments. Here are a few tips for those who want to return such materials:
      1. Hand back a portion of the assignment each day, so that you can begin to connect names to faces. If you have 150 students, for example, give back 50 per day over three days. This works especially well for assignments where the stakes are low and students aren't anxious to get fast results.
      2. Have students label homework so that you can fold, staple, and return through campus mail. (This gets complicated when students live off campus, but you can give options for those who are not willing to pay postage.)


Note: Research on attention span suggests that adult learners can keep focused on a lecture no more than 15 or 20 minutes when they are fresh. We should considering designing some sort of change-of-pace activity to break classes where student loss of attention is likely to break their retention anyway. The next section of this handbook suggests ways that we can do these types of activities painlessly.

  • Take a moment to remember the characteristics of some of the worst lectures that you had as a student and don’t do them. These might include:
    • Presenting in a monotone voice
    • Reading from the text or taking material straight from the assigned text only
    • 50 minutes of non-stop lecturing
    • Little or no eye contact with audience
    • Outdated or incorrect information presented
    • Disjointed and confusing lecture.
  • Before class begins, write key words/concepts/names/dates (whatever is appropriate) on the board or prepare a transparency in advance to facilitate note taking.
  • For complex subjects or topics unavailable to the students in textbooks or other sources, distribute an outline and go through it on a transparency while you lecture.
  • Provide handouts of diagrams which would be difficult for students to copy in their notes.
  • If you have a course web page, provide an outline of the lectures and have the students print out their own copies to bring to class. Leave blank areas where they can fill in material that you provide in your lectures.
  • Give students practice in remembering lecture material by asking questions from time to time or providing quizzes at the end of the lecture.
  • Try to provide hints or "cues" during the course of the lecture that students may use to remember important points.
  • Use examples and images when explaining concepts and principles.
  • Avoid non-stop lecturing: divide your lectures into short segments.
  • Try to be enthusiastic and expressive when lecturing.
  • Visual aids help a great deal. Try to mix up films, overheads, computer graphics, and even guest lecturers.
  • Encourage ACTIVE participation by students during the course of the lecture. Have them work problems, answer multiple choice questions which are inserted periodically (via overhead transparencies), etc.
  • Tell students when they have responded correctly. If you ignore student responses you will tend to extinguish them altogether.
  • Before beginning the lecture, tell the students how the session will be organized. A BRIEF outline on the board or overhead at the beginning of class is an excellent means of helping students gear their thoughts to the topic for the day.
  • Avoid continuous note-taking by allotting special times for taking notes, providing lecture handouts, and so forth.
  • At the end of the class, summarize the important points which were covered during the lecture and give the students some idea of what to look forward to for the next time.


  • Ask a question of the class requiring higher level thinking skills. Encourage students to think about a question and their answer for a couple of minutes. Students then pair with a classmate to discuss answers. Volunteer groups then share their conclusions with the class.
  • As a lecture interruption or in the closing minutes of a class session, ask students to take out a sheet of paper and for one minute, summarize main points of lecture or note any muddy points of the lecture. Collect these and use feedback to target problem areas.
  • Give small problems/questions related to lecture in the middle of class and ask the students to discuss the answer(s) with their neighbors and then discuss them as a class.
  • Use a question box to encourage students to write questions about anything that comes to mind during the class, or as they are studying and then to put them anonymously in the question box. Then start each class with 5 minutes of answers to the more common questions first, and the others later.
  • Post questions and answers on a board (cork board or its electronic version) for students to check outside of class.


Technology can be used in a variety of ways in a large. In this section, we will describe some alternative uses in a general way.

  1. To make formal presentations in class: either in the form of outlines, lists of key concepts, etc. (Using PowerPoint, for example)
  2. To download class lists in a format suitable for reading into a spreadsheet (like Excel)
  3. To set up a class newsgroup or an electronic mail list (through listserv), Students can ask questions and get help from other students.
  4. To create a course website that contains practice problems, answers to sample test questions or homework, a glossary of terms, etc.
  5. To create a searchable test bank of questions ( using FileMaker Pro, for example). This is especially useful when you have to give multiple versions of the same questions.
  6. To extend your office hours through email
  7. To give quizzes or tests.



Allen, Deborah E., Barbara J. Duch and Susan Groh, “The Power of Problem-Based Learning in Teaching Introductory Science Courses”, in Wilkerson, LuAnn; and Wim Gijselaers ( eds.). Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education: Theory and Practice. Jossey-Bass Publishers, New Directions for Teaching and Learning: Number 68, Winter 1996, pp.43-52.

Aronson, Richard J. 1987. “Six Keys to Effective Instruction in Large Classes: Advice from a Practitioner” in Teaching Large Classes Well, edited by Maryellen Gleason Weimer. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 32. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Black, Beverly, “Using the SGID Method for a Variety of Purposes”, in Kaplan, Matthew (ed.). To Improve the Academy 1998, Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development. A Publication of the Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, Volume 17,1998, pp. 245-262.

Carbone, Elisa and James Greenberg, “Teaching Large Classes: Unpacking the Problem and Responding Creatively”, in Kaplan, Matthew (ed.). To Improve the Academy 1998, Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development. A Publication of the Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, Volume 17,1998, pp.311-326.

Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools For Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1993.

Gleason, Maryellen 1986. “Better Communication in Large Courses.” College Teaching, 34(1): 20-24.

Lowman, Joseph 1987. “Giving Students Feedback” in Teaching Large Classes Well edited by Maryellen Gleason Weimer. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 32. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Millis, Barbara J. and Philip G. Cottrell, Jr. Cooperative Learning for Higher Education Faculty. American Council on Education Series on Higher Education. Phoenix: Oryx Press. 1998.

Woods, Donald R., “Problem-Based Learning for Large Classes in Chemical Engineering”, in Wilkerson, LuAnn; and Wim Gijselaers ( eds.). Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education: Theory and Practice. Jossey-Bass Publishers, New Directions for Teaching and Learning: Number 68, Winter 1996, pp. 91-100.

Wright, W. Alan and Associates. Teaching Improvement Practices. Successful Strategies for Higher Education. Anker Publishing Co.: Bolton, M.A.. 1995.

Wulff, Donald, McKeachie, W.J., et. al., 1994. Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theory for College and University Teachers. (9th edition). Lexington, M.A.: D.C. Heath and Company.


Problem-Based learning, especially in the Context of large Classes: http://chemeng.mcmaster.ca/pbl/pbl.htm

Illinois State University’s List of urls for strategies with large classes, including the use of writing in large classes: http://wolf.its.ilstu.edu/CAT/online/tips/largec.html

The University of Maryland’s special program and forum on teaching large classes. Includes a newsletter. http://www.inform.umd.edu/CTE/lcn/index.html