Dealing with large classes

Encourage discussion with and between students to effectively interact and teach with large classes.

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 focus is on engaged teaching and active learning.

“Large classes are not a challenge. I'm not convinced by the standard list of problems—that we have a large number of students, that our students are lazy. I don't buy into those. Our biggest problem is the question of relevance.”—David Carter

Work on the relationship between teacher and students

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 (be kind, don't put them off).
  • 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). bring along objects to engage the VS and KS—crashing toy cars to demonstrate the law of personal injury for example, or mix it up with visuals, like video.
  • Raise reflective questions: do this at the end of class and come back to them at the next lecture.
  • Use your tutors: they are your answer to developing more personal, individualised approaches.

Tutor helping students during class.

“There are some gaps between lecturers and students, how can you bridge the gap? Why do not you use your tutors? They can provide a tailored, personal touch to each individual student.”—Simon Park


  • Get informal and formal feedback from students to get their views and opinions using tools on the Centre for Academic Development 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, as a good business practice.
  • Make it a requirement to know the names of those sitting next to you.
  • Encourage students to talk to someone else in the class. This can be part of course requirement, e.g. interviewing another student.
  • Think-pair-share exercises: get students working in pairs. Launch two minutes discussions 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. Students can make friends and then come together as a group, which makes it a group exercise. Apply theories/models with your neighbour and share the different applications.
  • Mini quiz: prepare about 5 questions covered in the lesson—take one minute for each question (true or false); mark each other's answers/person next to you or use clickers. Clickers are an interactive technology that enables instructors to pose questions to students and immediately collect and view the responses of the entire class.
  • Give prizes for students who get all the answers right. Making the quiz competitive increases the stakes and encourages interaction.
  • Multiple choice questions: give them coloured cards they have to hold up or use clickers. This gets students to participate in active learning and gives instant feedback.
  • Divide the class in half. Half the class discusses and gives personal examples and the other half professional examples; always two sides. Allow a two to three minutes discussion.
  • 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.
  • Work on overcoming the impersonal environment of big lecture theatres.
  • Get to know the students by name: say their names in the lecture. The minute you know their names they cease to be anonymous and want to perform.
  • Show them you are human: feel at home yourself and they will feel at home.
  • Set a task and wander around the class: show them you are approachable.

“Use music at the beginning of the lecture - with a slide that says: "Talk to your neighbour" while the music plays. I tell students that the music cheers me up and they need a happy lecturer. If the students don't like my choice, they can send me a music file and I play it if I like it. You need to know the length of the track and then can start on time.”—Peter November