Skip to Content - Skip to Navigation

Improving Learning in Large or Lecture Classes

It’s easy to cover content, but that doesn’t mean your students are learning.

Just because the students are a large audience doesn’t mean they can’t participate in their own learning!  A podium and a stage seems to inspire long stretches of talk, and the physical distance from students encourages personal and intellectual distance.  You do not need to make personal contact with every student in every class—imagining that you do will make you crazy and ultimately frustrate you into giving up.  However, your students can make personal contact with each other, some of them with you, and most of them with the material in each class. 

  • Avoid content tyranny.  Reduce what you cover to the essential concepts.  Offer more examples of the same concept instead of multiple concepts with fewer examples.  Cover less material in more depth.
  • Assess your students’ knowledge in the first week.  Find out whether you are starting at an appropriate level or will need to provide additional materials and alter your syllabus.
  • Make sure your lectures make connections with earlier materials.
  • Cover material that isn’t well explained in the course textbook.
  • Help students learn how to learn.  Give advice on skills they need, ways to learn the material.
  • Offer material not covered elsewhere.  Make the lecture meaningful and valuable.
  • Offer material of interest to students.  Find “real life” applications to students’ lives or interests, or have students do that (see below).
  • Offer examples and illustrations.
  • Put your most important information in the first 10-15 minutes and the last 10 minutes, when students are paying the most attention.
  • Offer visual examples as well, or have students act out concepts:  try to appeal to multiple learning styles. (Note: Power Point is NOT visual learning.)
  • Maintain eye contact as often as possible.

Increase student involvement (remember:  Involved Students Learn!)

  • Use some of the classroom assessment techniques listed below.
  • Ask students to break into small groups or turn to neighbors, or assign them to small groups and ask them to sit together throughout the semester—use these small groups for quick discussions of questions, for problem solving exercises, or for clarifying material.
  • Play some music related to the class or course.  Ask students questions about the music.  Ask them to bring in music or materials and explain how they are connected.
  • Have students act out material for the rest of the class.
  • Give pop quizzes.  Warn students of them in the syllabus, and count them very little or for bonus credit. 
  • Give students some time to look over notes and formulate questions.  Asking “Does anyone have any questions?” while they are still completing their notes is not effective.
  • Ask students to work in groups on their notes and compare them for accuracy and agreement. Then answer questions and concerns they have.
  • Put different students’ notes on the docu-cam.  Show the class how differently people learn.  Provide them with options for note taking.
  • Bring in surprise material, something important, interesting, and not in the book.
  • Have guest speakers on occasion.
  • Organize a panel.
  • Quiz or test often, so students have many opportunities to improve their grade.
  • Offer a field trip or out of class activity that is appropriate.  Make it voluntary or offer extra credit.
  • Offer bonus points for small groups of students—the one with the best answer to a question you pose (or another group poses!) gets points.
  • Ask for feedback regularly:  did you spend enough time on a concept?  What is the “muddiest point” of the day’s lecture?  Did you spend too much time on a project or concept?  Which chapters of a book were best organized?  What have they learned the most from?  Let them know what they told you and use it immediately for even better feedback next time.  Let them know their voices are heard.
  • Do not introduce several new ideas at the same time.  Research shows that unless students/learners have had a chance to apply a new idea in some way that links it to previous information or ideas, their understanding of that idea will be reshaped by any additional new information that is given to them.  What does this mean?  It means what might seem like “baby steps” to a teacher.  Introduce a concept, idea, or important point; ask students to do something appropriate with it; check their understanding, and only then move to the next. 
  • Center for Teaching Excellence
  • Dr. Stephanie Taylor-Davis, Director
    103 Stabley Library
    429 South Eleventh Street
    Indiana, PA 15705
  • Phone: 724-357-7800
  • Fax: 724-357-2281