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Teaching Large Classes

Following are short summaries of successful large class teaching methods used by the faculty at Iowa State University.

  • Create working teams in class.
    Teams of six students are mixed randomly to play off each other’s strengths. They discuss lecture materials in class and learn to be responsible for each other because individual quiz scores reflect the average performance of team members.
  • Create a nonthreatening environment.
    Bill Boon, a landscape architect at ISU, plays music as students enter class and also includes a silly segment in each of his lectures to help remove barriers. “I think any subject can be made fun. I couldn’t do it with algebra because I’m not in love with algebra,” he said. “Our job as teachers is more to light candles than to fill vessels.”
  • Be accessible.
    Show up for class early and hang around after class so students can approach you individually. Some faculty provide their email addresses to students and encourage them to send inquiries that way. They noted, though, that email correspondence allows students to remain nearly anonymous.
  • Mix up the media used in the classroom.
    Variety is important to keep students engaged and also to respond to different kinds of learning styles (visual vs. straight lectures vs. hands-on opportunities, for example). Many use combinations of video clips, 35 mm slides, overhead sheets and demonstrations involving students in their classes.
  • Assign creative projects.
    Whether used as extra credit opportunities, key components in the course or an option to the final exam, some faculty believe student projects help personalize the class, particularly when the process required students to submit proposals or receive feedback periodically from the instructor.
  • Place “Help” boxes in the back of the classroom.
    Students anonymously as questions related to the course. One instructor prepared responses outside of class and answers questions at the beginning of each lecture (see also the Teaching Tip on “Collecting Immediate Feedback from Students”, below).
  • Ask “lecture challenge questions”.
    Presented to students near the end of class, the questions relate to a topic just covered, one soon to be covered, or something related generally to the class. One professor said student’s written answers provide her with a barometer of whether what the things she said is what they learned, students prejudices about an upcoming topic, or insight into how to approach a puzzling or difficult topic.
  • Develop a course home page on the Work Wide Web.
    A web page can reinforce or enhance the content of lecture classes. ISU professor Steve Richardson’s course page includes “Ask a geologist,” an electronic version of the “Help” box; vocabulary lists tutorials; sample test questions; and links to other websites.
  • Collect Immediate Feedback from Students: The Minute Paper.
    To collect immediate feedback from students at the end of a class or other session, many faculty members use this very simple procedure developed by Angelo and Cross (1993):

    • End your class 5-7 minutes early and ask students to respond to two questions:
      1. What major conclusions have you drawn from today’s class?
      2. What major questions remain in your mind?
    • The process of answering these questions will:
      a. help students to ask themselves extremely valuable questions (what have I learned; what do I need to learn now) and
      b. provide instructors with enormously valuable feedback.
    • Sometimes instructors discover that students are drawing conclusions quite different from the ones intended. Some instructors begin to begin the next session with responses to the patterns that emerge, or make adjustments in the way they teach or in explanations they made.
  • It is important that you provide feedback to your students.


Angelo, T. K., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (pp. 148-153).