Teaching Large Classes: Course Design and Teaching Checklists

Four Key Questions About Large Classes

(1) List your top three or four concerns about teaching large classes





(2) Identify the parts of those concerns over which you have some level of control or capacity to change





(3) Consider how you might answer the following questions to improve the large classroom experience for you and your students long before they show up on day one:

  • What can I automate or cut from my course to free up my time and energy for other more important things?
  • What does my school’s Learning Management System allow me to do? What are its limitations? Who are the experts at my school to whom I can turn for ideas and help?
  • What course details or instructional elements can I pre-record using screen capture software like Jing or Camtasia to use in blended learning settings with my class?
  • If I have to miss a class, how can I use these same tools to deliver an asynchronous lecture to my students?
  • How can I have my students use screen capture software to upload short video introductions to help me get to know them better as well as allow them to get to know each other better?
  • How can I use technology to eliminate the need for paper rolls?
  • How can I use technology to allow students to self-report on pre-class assignments, take short quizzes, and electronically turn in assignments?
  • How can I use technology to minimize the large stacks of paper handouts I need to give my students?
  • What tool can I use to provide a digital place for students to ask and answer questions they have about the course or the content (a FAQ sheet) thus decreasing the flow of emails and office visits to answer simple questions?
  • If I have access to teaching assistants (TAs), which tasks and responsibilities can I give them to free up more of my time?
  • How can I clearly communicate email management and expectations early in the course to simplify communication.
  • What advantages would come from sending out the course syllabus and expectations before the first day of class along with a short video introduction to your course so many can arrive already knowing your expectations?
  • Where will I be teaching?
    • How long does it take me to get there from my office?
    • Do I know how to run the classroom computer in that room?
    • Do I know where the lighting controls are and how they work?
    • Do I know where the screen controls are?
    • Do I have a wireless or wired classroom microphone?
      Do I know how to control the volume?
    • Do I know how to use the other A/V equipment in the room?
    • Will I need Wi-Fi in the room? If so, do I know the login information?
      Is the bandwidth high enough to handle what I want to do?
      Have I tested it?
    • Which adapters will I need for external computers or devices?
    • Will I be using a student response system?
      Do I know how it works in this room?

(4) Consider how you might answer the following questions to improve the experience once classes are in session:

  • What can I do to recapture the “dead time” before and after class when students are filing in and out of the room?
    • Are there reflective questions I can put on the board or screen to get them prepared for the day’s topic of discussion?
    • Would music help them transition into or out of your class?
    • Are there short video clips, comic strips, or looping A/V presentations that can be shown to help minimize stress and anxiety and lighten the mood in the room?
    • Are there student response questions I can post using tools such as iClickers or polleverywhere.com?
  • Are there tasks that I can have students do to free up my time for increased interaction or instruction (especially tasks like passing out papers, taking care of sound or lighting, retrieving forgotten items in your office, etc.)
  • How well do I know what my students are doing during my classes?
  • Do I only ever teach from the front of the room?
  • How do I know what they are finding interesting and what they are finding boring?
  • How often do I “mix things up” in my class to help minimize cognitive overload?
  • When I make a critical announcement, do I share that information multiple times in more than one medium?
  • Do I wait until the stragglers have made it to class to make in-class announcements?
  • Do I involve my students more when I recognize that they are disengaging with a lecture?
  • Regardless of the level of difficulty in my class, are the students enjoying their experience?
  • Do I use humor where it is appropriate and helpful?
  • Do I appropriately vary my voice inflection, physical movement, facial expressions, location in the classroom, and speed of delivery?
  • Am I engaging my students with well-placed and relevant stories and examples to help them better understand what they are learning?
  • Am I giving all of my students a chance to succeed in class—even the introverts?
  • Am I effectively employing writing exercises both in the classroom and as outside homework to engage my students at deeper levels with the content?
  • Can all of my students hear me when I speak? Can they hear each other when they ask questions or make comments? How can I help them be heard?
  • Do I have a good balance of “shotgun” and “rifle” questions? How can I minimize the “know-it-all” responses and spread the participation to other students?
  • Do my students feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions in my class? Are my questions too hard? Are they too easy?
  • Is there an appropriate balance between “teacher talk” and student exploration and discovery?
  • How many student names do I know? What difference does it make for them? How can I memorize more?
  • Do I have effective ways to deal with difficulties or problem behaviors in my class?
  • Am I able to analyze what went well and what didn’t after class and make adjustments for future classes and semesters?
  • Am I teaching lessons or am I teaching students?


Excerpted from “Helping Students Succeed in a Large Classroom.” Magna Publications, 2014.

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