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Educators often hear that the key to successful teaching is to prioritize relationships and engagement, but often overlooked are the logistics of how to do so in large classes. When teachers have more students per class, learning becomes harder to personalize and everything from planning to grading takes more time.
What constitutes a large class varies based on the institution, subject, and level of study. Whether you’re teaching in a cavernous lecture hall with 100+ students or in a high school classroom with 35, it’s essential to learn strategies tailored to your student load. In this article, we’ll explore ways to navigate large classes that keep students’ needs front of mind.
1. Get to Know Your Students
Getting to know your students is a surefire way to make your course relevant and inclusive. While building rapport can be challenging in large classes, it isn’t impossible.
To build authentic connections with students:
💻 Engage through Email: Send an email to students asking them about their interests and learning preferences. Use a template response, but personalize it for each student as needed. Let them know you’re available for questions or just to chat.
Here’s a template you can personalize as a welcome email for students. Click the link below and make a copy of the document.
⏲️ Arrive Early or Stay Late: Make an effort to arrive a few minutes before or stay a few minutes after class. This gives students a chance to meet with you while the content is fresh in their mind.
📜 Use a Sign-Up Sheet for Office Hours: Create a Google Sheet for office hours so students can reserve 10- or 15-minute time slots. This live document helps students in large classes know when you’re available for one-on-one discussions.
🪑 Keep Seating Consistent: Ask students to choose a seat and stay there for the rest of the term. When seating remains consistent, you’ll have an easier time connecting students’ names, faces, and seating location.
Have students create name cards and display them during class. Ask them to take a picture of themselves holding their name card and email it to you. That way, you can study students’ names and faces.
Investing time into your relationships with students makes the course more enjoyable for everyone involved. In addition to these strategies, use writing reflections or games to build a foundation of trust in the classroom.
2. Make Learning Accessible
Accessibility ensures all students can take part in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities. No matter the size of your class, you can make learning accessible using the Universal Design for Learning framework.
Access the UDL guidelines for suggestions that you can apply to any discipline or domain. Also consider these accessibility tips for large classes:
📃 Distribute a Syllabus: Provide a syllabus that outlines assignments, deadlines, expectations, and grading criteria. Use the REACH method to humanize your syllabus so students are more likely to read it. REACH stands for Relevance, Engagement, Accessibility, Clarity, and Humanity.
📽️ Use Visuals: Share slides with students that they can access on their own screens. Make sure the course content is representative of all students.
🕺 Move Around the Room: Move around the room while speaking to engage students physically and audibly. This helps those at the back of the room hear you clearly and stay on task.
✅ Set Daily Objectives: Start each class with clear learning objectives and check them off as you meet them. When wrapping up the class, summarize the main points you covered as well as any next steps.
One strategy for motivating students in large classes is to encourage participation from all areas of the room. Not only does this prevent disengagement, but it ensures all students feel valued and challenged in the course.
Go beyond explaining activities and model the thinking process behind them. Modeling thought processes aids students in grasping the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of each activity.
3. Encourage Active Participation
Many teachers aspire to be a “guide on the side” versus a “sage on the stage.” A guide on the side encourages student participation, while a sage on the stage defaults to lecture mode. Lecturing is a useful teaching method when delivering information, but to avoid losing your audience, mix it with these methods:
🎉 Show Enthusiasm: Display enthusiasm for your subject and make learning fun. This energy is contagious and can inspire students to speak up.
🗣️ Hold Peer Discussions: Pose a question and have students discuss it with a neighbor. Ask students to write down their thoughts and be ready to share with the class. You can also use AI tools to generate prompts and spark discussion.
📊 Incorporate Technology: Use technology tools like Slido to poll students and show results in real time. See more suggestions for digital tools at the end of this piece.
⏳ Take Breaks: If you’re teaching a long class, take breaks every hour to refresh students’ minds. Research shows that purposeful breaks improve productivity and focus.
It’s not always easy to know when students in large classes are listening. But when you include them through active learning, it becomes harder to multitask, surf the web, or snooze during class.
Instead of penalizing students for missing class, offer them a “Life Happened” card. This can keep students accountable for missed work and make them feel like valuable members of the learning community.
4. Redefine Assessment
Traditional grading takes time, which can be scarce in large classes. To make grading more efficient, try redefining assessment by decentering grades and prioritizing skill mastery. For a more holistic assessment approach, use these methods:
✅ Use Detailed Rubrics: Use rubrics with clear criteria for every assignment and go over them thoroughly before each deadline.
🧑💻 Offer In-Class Work Time: Allocate class time for students to work on assignments. This allows you to monitor their progress and offer guidance.
👫 Experiment with Peer Grading: Incorporate peer grading activities to promote student interaction and self-assessment.
🔁 Allow Assignment Redos: Allow students to redo assignments until they achieve skill mastery.
You can also experiment with AI tools to assist you when grading. AI-assisted grading can make it easier to observe patterns in student performance and provide students with constructive written feedback.
At term-end, have students assign themselves a grade based on their progress and performance. Ask students to justify the grade they’ve given themselves using course work as evidence. Some self-reflection questions for students include:
- Did I consistently meet the course requirements and deadlines?
- How well did I understand and engage with the course material?
- Did I take advantage of available resources for improvement?
5. Integrate Technology
Technology can enhance the classroom experience for students in large classes by making the material more accessible and easier to understand. Centralize resources using your LMS, and incorporate interactive elements like videos and images in your slides. Other digital tools to consider include:
📊 Slido for Live-Polling: Slido is an interactive polling and Q&A platform that students can join with a simple code.
💬 Padlet for Brainstorming or Sharing: Padlet is a virtual post board that you can share with your students in class or online. Use Padlet to pose live questions and have students respond in real time.
🎩 Top Hat for Collaborating Across Devices: Top Hat syncs with students’ phones and offers many interactive features, including automated attendance tracking, test review, and student performance data.
🔊 VoiceThread for Online Interaction: VoiceThread can add richness to your online learning community with diverse commenting options, including microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload.
🔎 Course Hero for Student Support: Course Hero utilizes generative AI, alongside a vast library of online documents, to support students as they study. Students can use Course Hero when preparing for an assessment or when looking for deeper explanations.
Technology can make course material interesting in large classes. Digital tools also provide helpful data to assess student progress. When integrating technology, make sure the tool you choose supports your objectives and improves, rather than detracts, from student learning.
Check with colleagues or administrators if your institution covers the cost of digital tools, which may be available for you to use in your classroom at no charge.
Embrace Large Classes and Engage Students Anyway
A common belief among educators is that small class sizes are inherently better for students. But research on the subject suggests it’s more nuanced than that.
One study of over 8,000 courses at Temple University concluded that, “many factors can cause the effect of class size to vary, including how instructors react to larger classes, how students react to larger classes, the subject area, and exactly how big those classes are.”
Teaching large classes has unique challenges, but when you embrace the expanded format, you can meet students’ needs and push them to succeed. While you may need to adjust your teaching approach, the effort invested will keep education fun and valuable.
About the Author
Morgan Westling is an Associate Content Specialist at Course Hero. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from The University of the South. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been writing for over 7 years. Find more of her work at www.morganwestling.com.