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Teaching Large Classes

What is a Large Class?

Large classes are typically considered those held in large 'lecture' halls and often hold 75 or more students. This is a simplistic view as “..the concept of large class size is subjective, largely contextualized and situational based,” (Iipinge, S., 2013). Some of these classes have numerous support systems, including teaching assistants, specific technologies and simplistic assessment systems which lessen the impact from purely a numbers perspective. Baker and Westrup, (2000), consider “..a large class can be any number of students, if the teacher feels there are too many students for them all to make progress,” (p.2). Teaching face-to-face versus online and “..what is taught influences teachers’ judgments of the size of classes” Todd (2006, p.1). Subsequently, the possibility to effectively facilitate learning is the primary (but not only) determinant for whether or not someone is teaching a large class.

Challenges to Consider

  • Engaging students (class attendance)
  • Provision of pertinent feedback
  • Managing large numbers (scheduling, clinicals, practicums, etc.)
  • Meaningful assessment and valid grading
  • Ensuring students feel significant and acknowledged
  • Individualizing (student-centered learning)


Large classes are no different to smaller classes in that, to be effective, appropriate  course design and teaching/learning strategies  need to utilized. Research indicates that:

  • “What matters is not the size of the class but what goes on in the class,” (Gilbert, 1995, p.5).
  • Both instructor and student motivation and learning attitudes are negatively impacted by larger class sizes (Feldman, 1984; Spahn, 1999)
  • Kokkelenberg, Dillon and Christy (2008) found that  “…the effect of class size on grades is negative over a wide range of class sizes, courses, and departments, holding other demographic and student variables constant."
  • Little difference in learning has been found for courses focused on factual recall, but learning experiences focused on learning transfer, problem-solving, critical thinking, long-term retention and attitude change it appears small classes are preferred (Kwantlen Polytechnic University, 2004; Kennedy & Siegfried, 1997)
  • “The importance of interaction, participation and involvement for student learning are widely recognized in general and are, in fact, a part of effective large class instruction,” (Gilbert, 1995, p.4).


It is important for class meetings to be meaningful and worthwhile. Instructors need to create a course that students both want and need to attend to be successful. There are several strategies that can be employed to effectively meet the learning needs of all students in large classes.

  1. Select a Course Design that best fits the course and student learning needs
  2. Utilize a learning management system (Blackboard or CORE)
    • Enables 24/7 access to learning activities, resources, learning tools, progress reports (grades), etc.
    • Establish chat rooms based on groups, topics, problems, creative endeavors, etc.
  3. Creating learning groups (project or semester-long)
  4. Integrate technology
    • Interactive Tech Tools
    • Learning management system (Blackboard or CORE)
    • Students respond and share what they have learned to:
      • Videos, podcasts, infographs, images, models, surveys, etc.
    • Blend the course (mix of meaningful online and in-class experiences)
  5. Utilize Active Learning strategies that focus on higher order cognitive skills
    • Interactive activities 
      • Polls, surveys, rating scales and rankings 
      • Anonymous or with student names
    • Small group tasks 
      • Problem-solving, puzzles, problem-solving, creative endeavors, peer observations and evaluations, research projects, literature reviews, mini-teaching tasks, reviews 
    • Critical thinking challenges 
      • Reviews, critiques, categorizing characteristics, differentiating between situations/symptoms, predicting outcomes/results, concept mapping, evaluating peers, synthesizing 
    • Authentic learning experiences 
      • Role plays, diagnoses, examining others, writing reports, case-based analyses, validating diagnoses, debating, deconstructing outcomes

More on Teaching Large Courses


  • Baker, J. and Westrup, H. (2000). The English language teacher’s handbook. London: Continuum
  • Feldman, K. (1984). Class size and college students’ evaluations of teachers and courses, a closer look. Research in Higher Education, 21(1), 45-91
  • Gilbert, S. (1995). Quality education: Does class size matter?Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education, 14, Professional File, 1-6
  • Iipinge, S. (2013). Challenges of large class teaching at the university: Implications for continuous staff development activities. Journal for Educators, 1, 105-120
  • Kennedy, P. and Siegfried, J. (1997). Class size and achievement in introductory economics: Evidence from the TUCE III data. Economics of Education Review, 16(4), 385-394
  • Kokkelenberg, E., Dillon, M. and Christy, S. (2008). The effects of class size on student grades at a public university.Economics of Education Review, 27(2), 221-233
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University. (2004). Summary of research findings on impact of class size on student learning and satisfaction. Kwantlen Polytechnic University Institutional Analysis and Planning.
  • Spahn, K. (1999). Class size and faculty effectiveness and quality. Paper presented at the 39th Annual Institutional Research forum in Seattle, WA
  • Todd, R. (2006). Why investigate large classes? KMUTT Journal of Language Education, 9, 1-12
Jan 9, 2023