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Teaching Large Classes

Teaching Large Classes

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Published by: koreangoldfish on Sep 24, 2008
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In a small class, you might be able to persuade many of your
students to participate in an activity, such as getting them asking and
answering questions, discussing issues, laughing at a humorous, but
relevant, anecdote, etc. But in a large class, you will probably have
difficulty persuading most students to talk in front of 60 or more of
their classmates; it feels too risky for them. A different approach is
thus needed. A technique you can count on is the in-class exercise.

As you lecture about a topic or explain the solution to a problem,
instead of just posing questions to the class as a whole and enduring
the ensuing time-wasting silence, occasionally assign a task and give the
students anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes to come up with a
response. Anything can be used as the basis for in-class exercises. For
example, pose a problem and ask students to:

Draw and label a map, diagram, or a flow chart.

Make an outline of how they might solve a problem, or what they
think is the correct answer, and why.

List how and why a concept is useful in daily life.

Brainstorm why a certain solution might be correct or incorrect
depending upon the situation.

Other examples of in-class exercises that you can try include the

following:28

Short in-class writing assignments, such as “minute papers” or
“minute pictures” for younger students, with selected students
reading their papers aloud or presenting their pictures to the
class to stimulate discussion.

Oral summaries of the previous lecture, readings, etc. that are
prepared and presented by students.

28 Bonwell, C. C. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. St Louis:
Center for Teaching and Learning, St. Louis College of Pharmacy, 1995.

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34Practical Tips for Teaching Large Classes

Asking students about what they understood to start class
discussion.

Surveys, questionnaires, formative (ungraded) quizzes to assess
understanding.

Reports on how the lecture’s topic can be used in real life.

Students write exam questions related to lecture materials.

Student analysis of a problem, poem, photograph, etc.

Solving of a problem by students, followed by evaluating each
other’s work.

Demonstrations illustrating a concept from the lecture.

In a large class setting, these spontaneous in-class exercises get
students acting and reflecting, the two main ways by which human beings
learn. They will ensure that every student will listen to you, especially if
you use them regularly, but sporadically, so students don’t know when you
will give them an exercise. They will also give you immediate feedback
about whether or not your students understand what you are presenting,
and, if done well, can substitute for “homework” and the need to grade
many papers overnight.

Remember: Whichever in-class exercise you use, you should call
on individuals to present their responses. If you never do this, stu-
dents will have little incentive to work on the exercises when you as-
sign them, and many won’t. But if they think they may be called on,
they won’t want to be embarrassed, and you’ll get 90+ percent of them
actively learning what you’re teaching.
29

29 Felder, R. Beating the Numbers Game: Effective Teaching in Large Classes. North
Carolina State University, 1997. www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/Papers/Largeclasses.
htm [accessed online on 10/7/2005]

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Practical Tips for Teaching Large Classes

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