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Lucas Anderson
Specialist in Education
Center for Innovation in
Teaching & Learning
(217) 300-4408
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Large Classes

Large classes present an instructor with a unique set of challenges, such as reducing anonymity, enhancing student engagement, and grading.

Making a large class small

It's easy for students to feel anonymous in a large class, and to disengage as a result. Even if the classroom is large, you should try to make it feel like a small class for your students.

  • Learn as many names as you can. When students respond to your questions, ask for their names and use them when commenting on the response ("May I ask your name? Yes, you're right Dan. But let me ask you to clarify something you said."). Have your students use each other's names ("With whom do you agree, Jamal? Mary or Tara?").
  • Work hard to be accessible to your students. Try to arrive early to class and stay for a while afterward. During this time, engage your students in conversation and give them the opportunity to ask questions they might not ask during class.
  • Be a person to your students. Share your hobbies with them. Have conversations with them that aren't related to the class material.
  • Enter the students' space. Walk around the classroom, in front of the lectern, and up the aisles.

Use active learning techniques

No class is too large for active learning techniques. One may be tempted simply to lecture, but the same techniques often used in small classes can be adapted for large classes.

  • Make your classes interactive. You may want to try to use i>clickers, which were developed right here at Illinois. For a more low-tech solution, ask your students multiple-choice questions and have them raise their hands to indicate their answer.
  • Use short, "low-stakes" writing exercises to help develop your students' writing skills. Even if the entire class turns in a one-page typed paper, they can be graded quickly as either being "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." You can reduce the grading load by having half the class write one week and the other half the week after.
  • Have the students work in pairs or small groups. The size of the class may preclude you from using some group techniques, but students can have discussions with their neighbors in classes of any size.

Grading Considerations

  • Don't use the class size as an excuse for slow grading turnaround. Take the class size into account when planning assessments. Balance the time required to write your test questions and the time required to grade them. For example: essay questions can be written quickly but take time to grade; quality multiple-choice questions take time to write but can be graded quickly.
  • Certain grading scales lend themselves to more efficient grading. For example, it can be easier to determine whether a short in-class paper deserves a mark of "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" compared to determining whether it deserves an A, B, C, etc. For assignments that have a low impact on students' grades, consider using one of these easier grading scales.

Practical issues

The larger the class, the more complicated its logistics. Some structure is required to keep order in a large class, but careful planning can help the class feel more flexible to your students.

  • Consider using online tools, such as a course management system for announcements and handouts. Students may miss an announcement you make at the end of class, due to the noise of the class packing up. By making announcements via email or a course website, they are more likely to get them. Similarly, by putting handouts online, students can get them if they miss class—just be sure to put handouts online far enough in advance so students can print them out before class.
  • Since large classes usually require rigid schedules, make sure your students are aware of the schedule.

Working with teaching assistants and graders

If you have teaching assistants or graders for your course, see our advice on working with teaching assistants.