15+ Hows to Teach a Large Group of Students

how to teach a large group of students

Last week I gave a workshop ‘teaching large group’. Think of a large classroom or an auditorium with 70 to 100 students.

It was a pleasant and instructive evening that was built around these three challenges :

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  1. Getting and keeping students involved.
  2. Teaching with learning effect.
  3. Managing everything, especially sound volume, time, space, energy, and expectations.

The larger the group you teach, the more likely ‘teaching’ will begin to resemble ‘lecturing’.

Yet there is an essential difference, “a lecture is a sprint, teaching is the marathon”. Too many sprints in succession will exhaust you and your students. Striking metaphor.

How to teach a large group of students?

In the ideal world, teaching large groups is the best of both. Then you combine the skills of a gifted speaker with the competencies of an excellent teacher.

Teaching is about getting people to learn. That means, among other things, engaging students.

Below you can read 20 tips for effective, activating didactics. Work forms, tools, and tricks that you can use in a tight budgeted classroom or auditorium.

And yes: practice makes perfect!

  • Make sure students prepare to come to class. Use the flipping the classroom principle carefully.
  • Quiz question: what does everyone always have with them? Himself. So go old school and work with a show of hands. Or more correctly: a fingertip. Great tool for multiple-choice questions. It is up to you to choose whether/who you pick: the student who answers correctly, incorrectly, or not. Sea battle is also possible: student in row F 13 answers to an open question.
  • Ask good questions. A good question is a question that works. With a large group, multiple-choice questions can be effective and efficient. With handy software (anyone?), these confidence-weighted questions are worth trying.
  • Have students actively repeat material, no matter how short. Retrieval practice has proven its worth in the meantime. Retrieve information from your students’ long-term memory, rather than rephrasing the seen content yourself. A matter of investing time first, and then gaining time. Specific? Reduce the interaction group (tip 2), work with questions, or have your students formulate a summary or exam questions (tip 4).
  • Regularly reduce the interaction group. People talk much more smoothly in pairs or in fours than in front of a full room. With clear, concise instructions you can make such a buzzing session or buzzing group efficient. Also, give time to think. Not only toddlers benefit from this.
  • Stand firm. Sound vague, obvious, or superfluous? Not with dozens of piercing eyes on you. Make contact with the ground, take a deep breath in and out, make sure you are in your strength physically and mentally. Inner grounding gives you the energy that you can then direct outward.
  • Cell phones in class? Please, if targeted. Have your students text an (interim) summary in pairs in the middle of your lesson, and a good exam question at the end.
  • Make your presentation according to the rules of the art. Structure your lecture with a powerful introduction, a clear core argument, and a summarizing conclusion. Improve step by step.
  • Use a cooperative way of working for which you need little (or no) space. For example, think-share-exchange or known-curious-kept.
  • Support students in taking notes. Draw attention to what is important and provide structure. Make sure you have a good cadence and keep the pace in your story. Challenge students to provide feedback on each other’s notes. Mind the map is a must.
  • Make contact, even if the setting doesn’t invite it. Build a bond, no matter how brief. Consciously watching who enters the auditorium, knowing names, making eye contact, telling something essential about yourself, walking around to be physically close. Every bit helps.
  • Work with exit tickets, one-minute papers, or variants to stimulate self-reflection.
  • Set your students’ eyes to the future. So feed up. Formulate the destination of your course unit in one sentence. Where do your students land when they pass your course? Ask your students to scale themselves from 0 to 10. 0 means: I enter without baggage (prior knowledge), 10 means: I master the goals of this course (= competencies acquired elsewhere).
  • Use Student Response Systems to activate prior knowledge, stimulate reflection or respond to misconceptions and knowledge gaps. Plickers can serve as an alternative to e-tools such as Mentimeter, Kahoot, Polleverywhere, Socrative,… for which your students have to pull out their devices themselves.
  • Provide a visual common thread. Someone called it a punch line photo. That is an image (one slide) to which you hang your entire story and keep coming back.
  • Do the triple jump. This wisdom is now more than 20 years old: If we talk six minutes less, students learn more.
  • Make the most of your local area. There is more than you think.
  • If walking mindfully is not an option, have students stand up for a while. Stand up straight if… (and then the possibilities are endless). You need good classroom management for that.
  • Think about these three questions in advance to manage (inter)actively working with a large group:
    1. How do I clearly state what I expect from students?
    2. How do I get students quiet after (inter)active work?
    3. How do I clearly indicate the available time?

Two more thoughts to teach a large group:

  1. Self-knowledge and humor help enormously to stay true to yourself, to put things into perspective (also towards students), and to try them out with professional pleasure.
  2. You can do a lot with a large group in a large space. As always, it comes down to what goals you want to achieve. Working cooperatively? Try the jigsaw method. Getting started co-creatively? Here you will find inspiration.

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