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Actively Engaging Students in Large Classes

The research indicates that most students will learn better when they actively engage with the material being taught. The staffs at Washington University provide some useful tips on designing lectures to include significant student interaction – especially with large classes.

Developing Rapport

Reduce anonymity: Making a connection with the students will makes them more willing to participate in a large class. 

Give students information about yourself and your interests. Arrive a few minutes early and stay a few minutes after class to chat with students or answer questions.
  • Have a “suggestion” box in the back of the classroom for student questions or comments.
  • Learn a sampling of student names and use them when calling on students.
Communicate with class representatives. Meet periodically with the class representative and ask for feedback. Post their names and email addresses so other students know how to contact them with concerns that they can discuss with you.

Creating Opportunities for Engagement

Whole class activities: In a large class, students are typically not as likely to initiate participation. You can invite student involvement by deliberately structuring opportunities into your class. 

Interactive lecturing: As you lecture, ask questions and make time for students to ask questions.

Class response to questions: Ask a question, provide alternative answers, and ask for a show of hands as to which answer students think is correct.

Activities reviewing course content

  • Have students spend the first part of class discussing and writing answers to questions on key class concepts.
  • Stop lecture midway and have groups of students compare notes. What did they find most important in the first half of the lecture, most striking, most confusing? What questions do they still have as a group?
  • Ask students to take a minute at the end of class to write the answer to a question like “Summarize the key ideas of the lecture today” or “What questions do you still have about the content we have covered this week?”

Activities that help prepare for lecture
  • Ask students to submit questions electronically that they would like you to address in class.
  • Give a quick pre-lecture “quiz” to assess student knowledge in an area or uncover common assumptions that the subsequent lecture will challenge.

Managing In-Class Interactions

Set clear expectations. When you ask students to engage in activities, make sure the task and your purposes for it are clear. Let students know how long to spend on it and what you will expect them to do after the activity is finished (Share what they discussed? Turn something in?)

Give clear ground rules about how you expect students to interact and work.

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