Teaching Toolkit

Large Group Teaching Strategies

Action

For groups of students in a large groups try:

  • Buzz Groups 
  • Pyramids 
  • One minute essays 
  • Cross overs 
  • Brain storm 
  • Three minutes each way 
  • Poster tours (following production of posters students
    tour around the displayed posters asking questions)

Managing large classes in a lecture theatre is demanding. Large classes and lecture halls impose physical and logistical constraints on what a lecturer can physically do. Moore and Gilmartin (2010) describe teaching large classes in the traditional lecture format as ‘the intersection of entertainment and crowd control’. But there are tried and trusted techniques to keep students engaged during the course of a one-hour lecture which include interactive lectures as well as active student engagement and peer mentoring approaches.

There is a growing interest in the concepts of teacher-focused versus student-focused approaches to teaching. The teacher-focused approach to teaching is concerned with the transmission of content to students where the teacher has the control and responsibility. The student-focused approach to teaching is more concerned with assisting student understanding and conceptual change. The focus is on what the students do and what learning outcomes follow from their activity (Cannon and Newble, 2002). While increasing student numbers and class sizes invariably mean teaching to large groups, this does not exclude the possibility of engaging students in active learning and encouraging a deeper approach to learning. Large group teaching, if carefully organised and implemented, can cause more active learning in students.

 

Interactive Lectures

Interactive lectures are lectures interspersed with brief in-class activities that require students to use information or concepts presented in the lecture. Students learn by doing, not by watching and listening. Felder (1997) lists in-class activities, out of class group exercises and other ideas for keeping students engaged in large classes.

For individual or pairs of students in a large lecture (Gubbs, 1992)

  • Silent reflection 
  • Write down answer to a question 
  • Swap answers with person beside 
  • Take a short test 
  • Write down a question 
  • Solve a problem 
  • Read some notes 
  • In pairs, discuss an issue

 

Felder defines active learning as anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than watching, listening and taking notes. 

FELDER, 1997

Ideas for Active Learning in Large Groups

With a large group setting, active learning can be encouraged in a) individual or pairs of students in a large lecture, or b) groups of students in a large group.

Peer Assisted Mentoring

One technique for managing large classes is to sub-divide the class into more manageable groups using peer-assisted mentoring, such as the use of students more advanced (e.g. post-graduate students) to mentor undergraduate students. In peer-assisted learning, there is an educational gain for both the mentoring students and the mentees while both groups of students are given modular credit for their respective roles in the educational arrangement. 

An example of peer-assisted mentoring in the School of Architecture, Landscape and Civil Engineering is described at the link below. The undergraduate module in question is Creativity in Design (CVEN10040) and the postgraduate module is Innovation Leadership (CVEN40390). The Creativity in Design module provides an active-learning engineering experience through which students develop their observation skills, problem solving skills and lateral thinking abilities.  Read about the Creativity in Design module in Five UCD Case Studies: 1st Year Assessment Design

References

  • Moore, N., & Gilmartin, M. (2010). Teaching for better learning: A blended learning pilot project with first-year geography undergraduates. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34(3), 327-344
  • Newble, D., & Cannon, R. (2002). A Handbook for Medical Teachers, 4th Ed
  • Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (1997). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved July, 20, 2009