Large classes pose unique challenges for instructors and students alike. Active, personalized learning is often best — but difficult in a large class. Structuring your course in specific ways can make a big difference in learning outcomes.

Communicate with Your Students

Introduce Yourself and Maintain Regular Contact

Even in a class of 100 or more, it’s possible to create a collegial atmosphere through regular communication between you and your students. Consider sending a weekly email or announcement with friendly reminders and updates, but also use it to share a bit about yourself. What do you love about the subject you’re teaching? What’s been in the news about your discipline lately? Share a picture of your dog or the last time you saw a hummingbird, and encourage your students to do the same. Give students a forum to share questions, ideas, and newsworthy information related to the course. Casual yet relevant communication helps students feel more connected to the course.

Give Prompt Feedback

To gauge what they know and how to adjust, students need regular feedback. This can be in-the-moment knowledge checks during class using clickers or other technology, weekly quizzes, or more qualitative feedback on written assignments. Whatever the format, feedback doesn’t have to be terribly time consuming. Students can even help — and learn in the process — by grading quizzes or commenting on student writing using your example as a model.

Communicate High Expectations

Students tend to strive for the instructor’s expectations. To help motivate and engage, set high expectations but also tell students you believe all of them can meet those expectations given the right amount of focus and effort. Communicate your expectations clearly, and explain what part you will play in helping students reach their goals. This helps students feel supported, which also affects their willingness to achieve at the level you expect.

Build Community

Encourage Contact Between Students and Faculty

Ask questions and encourage students to do the same. Think of students’ questions as a gauge for how fast and in what direction the lecture should head. Move around the room so students at the back experience being close to the instructor. Set up a system for students to communicate with you outside of class via office hours, online Q&A forum, or email.

Develop Reciprocity and Collaboration Among Students

Students often find new and helpful ways to explain content when they can collaborate. Consider starting the term with permanent groups of five to 10 students as small, friendly communities within the larger class. This will help them connect in and out of class, study together, participate in in-class activities easily, and keep each other accountable — which is difficult for the instructor with a class larger than 40 or 50. You might assign each group a leader to regularly report progress, questions, and ideas.

Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Students will come to your class with diverse experiences, expectations, and ways of learning. Rather than mold them to your way of teaching, create a flexible environment that helps students connect with the course material in their own way. This may mean giving them choices, asking them to help make decisions about the course, or giving them several ways to study or demonstrate understanding.

Focus Class Time on Student Learning

Engage in Active Learning

The more students do, the more they learn. You can help students apply course content in meaningful ways by using think, pair, share activities; short writing and discussion activities; and knowledge checks with clickers. Also, chances to go to the board or present information to the whole class will activate all students more.

Emphasize Time on Task

Time on task means the time students spend directly focusing on course content and practicing relevant skills. In a large class, any technique that helps keep students’ attention contributes to their time on task. That may mean using humor, taking breaks, using visual or auditory aids that serve as mnemonic devices, etc. Consider having students create visuals related to what they’re learning, which they could then share in class or online. Students are more likely to incorporate new information into what they already know if they are asked to create something that helps them make connections.