Center for Advancing Teaching Excellence: Teaching Large Classes

Challenges in Teaching Large Classes 

large class facing front of a packed classroom

Participation: engagement during class

Decades of research says lecturing is one of the least effective teaching methods. Focus on individual or group activities you can do in class, such as the following:

  • Entry/exit ticket
  • Think-pair-share
  • Polls
  • Minute paper
  • Chat
  • Collaborative documents such as Google Docs or Jamboards 

Check out this resource from University of Waterloo on Activities for Large Classes

Content Retention: engagement with course materials

  • "Muddiest point" minute paper
  • In-class exam reviews and essay preparation
    • Create class-wide study guide using a Google Doc or a Wiki page
  • Quescussions (U. Waterloo)
    • Record student questions to check for retention or gaps
  • One-sentence summaries
  • Hand out index cards for note-taking

Personalization: engagement with professor and other students 

  • Survey/questionnaire

    • Find commonalities in the class and use those in your examples
    • Use survey data to help form groups based on similarities or differences 
    • See video below from Dr. Jennifer McClearen and feel free to download and use her sample student questionnaire
  • Student introductions
    • Have student introduce themselves using asynchronous tools, such as a discussion board or Flipgrid
  • Office hours
    • Consider hosting group office hours or encourage students to bring a friend
    • Have themes (bring a photo of your pet, share your favorite recipe) to encourage attendance
  • Group projects
    • Group projects (and peer review) can help reduce your grading workload 
    • Decide if it would be best to group students randomly, based on similar interests, or based on different skills (e.g., each group should have a writer, a videographer, and an editor)
    • Provide some time in class for group work
    • See video to the right 
  • Pods
    • Break the class into informal groups of 10-20 people so they can get to know a subset of the class 

Student Questionnaires

Structured Group Projects 

The Art of the PowerPoint

students sitting in a classroom with a powerpoint presentation on a computer screen in the forefront

Keep your slides sleek and streamlined. It should not be so detailed that it can replace your presentation.

  • Limit text on slides
  • Use images appropriately
  • Leverage supplemental materials
  • Provide guidance on how to take notes
  • Use handouts during videos (e.g., worksheet)
  • Provide a 'skeleton' of your lecture, rather than full slides, to encourage engagement with the class video and other materials

The Teaching Team

  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for all member of the teaching team (instructor, TAs, AIs, ULAs)
  • Set clear expectations for the students in the class, including:
    • Preferred mode of communication
    • Availability, and times when not available (e.g., nights and weekends)
    • Expected turnaround time for responding to questions and posting grades
  • Schedule regular check-ins with the teaching team
  • Considering cultural differences that may affect how individuals interact within the teaching team and with students

Read more about 

The Teaching Team 

Grading Workload

  • Balance individual and group assignments
  • Provide clear rubrics for every assignment 
  • Incorporate peer evaluation into group assignments
    • Have group members evaluate each other based on a rubric
    • Peer evaluation helps students develop critical thinking and improve communication skills
    • Use the Canvas peer review tool for more efficient grading
  • Provide guidance on giving actionable feedback
    • Don’t just agree or “like” parts of the assignment
    • Students should identify areas that can be improved and concrete suggestions for how to improve

Contact Us

Email us with questions, to request a training, or to make an appointment.