I am a PhD student and will be teaching my first class in the fall. I would like to have an engaging class. Meaning that I would rather not just stand at the front of the class and lecture the entire time. I have had some teaching experience with smaller class sizes (up to 20) but am not sure how to handle a larger class (enrolment of 80+).

For smaller classes, I have used: in class discussions, games, breaking out into small groups, student-led discussions/debates. I feel these would not work for a large class.

What are your tried and true methods and ideas for engaging a larger class?

My class is a 3rd year class, expected enrolment of 80, and I will have access to an iClicker.

Added notes based on comments:

  • The class I am teaching is Adult Development and Aging
  • Based in Canada
  • I will have one teaching assistant (TA), with about 70 hours
  • 1
    For me 80 now looks like a small class, as I'm teaching about 300 at a time! Commented May 13, 2018 at 16:59
  • 2
    Concep tests, e.g. with Socrative, but it depends a lot on the context: which discipline do you teach?, which country are you based on?, do you have any help, teaching assistants...?
    – Miguel
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 17:03
  • @BrianTompsett-汤莱恩 - yes! 300 is a lot, all our 1st year classes have those enrolments as well. Luckily I got a third year class for my first one. Commented May 13, 2018 at 17:36
  • @Miguel - I have added some extra info. Thanks for the comment. Commented May 13, 2018 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


Clicker questions are nice. I use them. They break up the monologue, which is good. The change in mode "wakes the classroom up". They don't "take" much time. They give you feedback on whether something was clear or not. But the amount of active participation from the students is limited; just press A, B, or C. For harder question a lot of students choose not to participate (which is also a sign).

An more intensive method I have used is to give students cards in different colors, and say all red students solve this question, all blue students that question, and all green students such question. After some time, they are asked to form groups of three, each a different color, and explain their answer to the rest. This is much more time intensive (it took about half the lecture), but the students are much more engaged. I was quite happy with the trade-off in that particular situation, but in many cases the cost of time would be just too big.


There are a lot of resources out there on "active learning," including strategies for large classes. Besides Googling, if your university has staff that help promote effective teaching (e.g. http://tep.uoregon.edu/), I recommend chatting with them -- it will likely save you a lot of time and effort.

Personally, I find clicker questions to be very effective when paired with small-group discussion. I ask a question; if the fraction of correct responses is between about 40 and 70%, which is quite often, I ask people to discuss in groups of 2-4, especially finding someone who answered differently from them. ("Try to convince someone else of your answer.") I wander around randomly talking to groups as they do this -- don't just stand passively, or you'll convey the impression that it's ok to be disengaged. Then I re-poll. This is both "active" and effective. (There are some nice studies on this.)

  • I’ve upvoted this answer because my first thought was to ask the OP to reconsider the assertion that "I feel these [in-class discussions, breaking out into small groups] would not work in a large class.” I think in-class small-group discussions are an excellent way to keep large classes engaged in that day’s topic.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 3:31

I am just an M.Sc. student but I have an idea for this case.

If you have the authority, make a share for class performance in overall scoring of the course. Throughout the semester, for each course randomly select 5-6 or whatever necessary to engage all. Since it is random, everyone should attend the classes and be prepared for them as well, as it will also have points.

It can be a little 5 min presentation, or simply an elaborate answer to a question it is up to you.

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