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Promoting Student Engagement:
Personalizing the large class

Large classes have historically not been ideal settings for quality education.  Communication barriers are common in large classrooms settings making interpersonal interaction with students and faculty and also other students impersonal.  The following are ways to create a small class feel in spite of being in a large class setting that promotes anonymity.  You may also generate your own ideas from your own personal experiences in the classroom. 

Imitate a small class feel:

  • Walk around the lecture room; try to use all of the space of the classroom; utilize microphones that allow mobility
  • Move toward the student when answering a question even if it can only be part way
  • Help TAs distribute handouts and return exams and assignments
  • Encourage group work
  • Utilize active learning techniques [Also see: Active Learning]

Encourage questions:

  • Use positive responses when answering questions
  • Smile or nod to encourage question asking
  • Allow time for students to answer questions (5 to 10 seconds)
  • Set up a question-answer box in the classroom that students can submit questions to anonymously – then respond to questions during class
  • Have students submit written questions/comments (one-minute paper)
  • Give extra credit to students whose questions you respond to in class

Encourage participation:

  • Establish quadrants in the classroom in which groups of 20 students can engage in discussion
  • Pick a group of students that you will call on for each lecture and distribute this list to the students prior to class so they can prepare

Be accessible to students:

  • Stay around after class and be available to students before class; walk around the room and ask students how things are going; chat with students; engage in ‘storytelling’
  • Take office hours seriously; offer students to express questions or concerns by e-mail
  • Offer weekly workshop sessions that are not required
  • Offer brown bag lunch sessions

Attempt to learn student names (as many as you can):

  • Use a seating chart (net necessarily applicable if very large classroom)
  • Take pictures and place on a note card to facilitate learning names
  • Use name cards      
  • Take attendance     
  • Ask individual students to assist you with demonstrations or equipment to help learn their names

Monitor students’ progress:

  • Review attendance
  • Review performance on exams and homework
  • Request reports from TAs leading discussion sections
  • Meet with a student if notice abrupt change in performance
  • Refer a student to campus help sources
  • Arrange group sessions to review material and answer questions if large numbers of students are having difficulty
  • Praise students for positive changes
  • Conduct weekly/daily one-minute papers to have students describe what’s still not clear about lecture material
  • Try formative assessment techniques

Consider your self-presentation:

  • Include information about yourself in your lectures
  • Discuss your philosophy behind policies in the syllabus on the first day of class of how students learn best
  • Acknowledge that a concept is confusing, explain to the class how you clarified the concept to yourself
  • Display your interest in the subject area
  • Use humor to show that you can laugh at yourself to establish a connection with students

Other tips:

  • Give personalized feedback
  • Comment on a different group of exams or papers each time in the semester that are graded by TAs
  • Personally compliment students who receive an A on an exam
  • Relate lectures and discussions to student experiences
  • Integrate information gathered about students into the lectures
  • Know the backgrounds of your students
  • Pay attention to individual students


Adapted from:
University of Maryland
Center for Teaching Excellence

Center for Teaching Excellence
University of Maryland at College Park
Students Behaving Badly in Large Classes
Elisa Carbone

Better Communication in Large Courses
Maryellen Gleason. College Teaching 34(1):20-24.

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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