Teaching for varying class sizes

Teaching for varying class sizes

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When you're teaching, it's important to find a way to engage with all of your students, to keep their interest and to make sure that they understand the information that you're conveying to them. However, the size of a class can make a huge difference to what teaching methods are most appropriate and effective.

If you're teaching in a university, working with either undergrads or masters students, then you class size could vary from anywhere between just a few students in a discursive atmosphere, to hundreds of students in a large lecture hall. So what are some strategies for adapting to the varying requirements of class sizes? Today we're sharing some tips to help you create the best teaching experience you can deliver to your students.

Encouraging student participation

In order to hold your students' attention, and to make sure that they are processing and understanding the material that you are teaching, it's important to include elements of participation in your classes. In a group of five to twenty students, you can encourage your students to ask questions, raise criticisms, and conduct discussions between themselves. In a small group, students will be more willing to share their ideas and uncertainties. You can help to promote a discursive atmosphere by allowing diversions when students ask a question or raise a related point, and by allowing students to comment on each other's questions.

In a larger class, however, especially in a lecture-style class of more than fifty students, many students will feel too shy or self-conscious to raise their hands and participate. So you need to encourage participation in a way which will make students feel comfortable sharing their ideas. One approach is to break the class down into smaller groups – so, for example, you lecture for the first half of the time, then ask the students to split into groups of five to ten, and give them exercises to complete or topics to discuss together. If you want to ensure that the students are using their time productively, you can ask one person from each group to briefly summarise their discussion for the rest of the class at the end.

You can also consider holding debates in large class, where you split the class into two and ask each half to argue for one side of an issue. By making this a matter of adopting a position rather than having to share their own personal opinion, you can encourage some shier students to get involved, and the splitting into two sides will help to create an atmosphere where students encourage and engage with each other.


You will also need to consider what type of assessment is appropriate for your class size. Often, especially in the humanities, the best method for assessing how much students have understood a topic is to have them write an essay on it – either in a timed examination situation, or as take-home coursework to be completed over the semester. An essay will give you a lot of information about how well the student has grasped the material. However, essay marking is a very demanding task, requiring serious time and attention. For a small class of up to twenty, it can be feasible for you to do this marking yourself. But for a larger class of more than twenty, you will either need support from other lecturers or graduate students for your marking, or you will need a different assessment style.

For larger classes, multiple choice tests are among the easiest and fastest form of assessment to mark. However, these tests must be designed with care, to ensure they are not too easy or too obscure. They tend towards testing factual knowledge rather than understanding, which is not suitable for all subjects. You could instead consider setting a group assignment to assess a larger class. Although group projects are often not popular among students, they do teach important teamwork and management skills, and they allow students to perform different roles according to their strengths – in research, data analysis, writing, and presentation, for example. If you assess group work through oral presentation and assign a different topic to each group, then it can be helpful and informative for the whole class to hear the presentations of their peers.

You can find more tips on teaching for professors and lecturers as well as teaching assistants on our website.


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