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Tips on Engaging Students in a Large Class


Both teachers and administrators have different interpretations as to what is meant by “large class”. As there is no consensus on the definition to what constitutes a large class, we generally believe that large classes are those with a specific number of students that teachers need greater efforts to handle, which the effectiveness of learning and teaching is being questioned (Bahanshal, 2013). Large class size may be the result of many factors, including limited resources and unexpected high enrolment. No matter what the cause is, teaching large classes has been a common teaching practice in tertiary institutions.

Although many studies specifically stress the issues and problems raised by the increase in number of students and class size, it is more about instructional design rather than class size which determines the effectiveness of learning and teaching (McKeachie, 1990). By employing proper teaching strategies, teaching a large class may not be any less effective than a small class in the same context. The following strategies may help you to keep your students engaged in a large class.

Get students actively involved
The duration of a class could be three hours or longer, but students’ attention spans may be fairly short. Some studies show that it may be difficult for students to concentrate for over 15 minutes in a lecture (Briggs, 2014). Hence, teachers could engage students in active learning activities in lectures, which may include brainstorming, class discussion, role-play and student presentation. Besides asking questions to students, teachers could ask students to provide questions related to class content. Meanwhile, dividing the lecture into segments could allow a shift of focus and recapture students’ attention.

11391558_10153381120248033_1242948817769323171_nActively participating in a lecture, the students try to find out the height of the ceiling with a measuring tape in an interior design class.
(Photo courtesy of Timothy Cheng, 2015)

Use the Rule of Three
It has been said that concepts or ideas come in a number of three are more interesting, more appealing and more memorable. When delivering substantial amounts of information and concepts to students in a large class, teachers may structure the information and concepts into threes. For example, teachers could use lists of three when presenting ideas in PowerPoint slides and handouts. Moreover, teachers could wrap or summarise the class by presenting three key information of the class content.

Help students develop a sense of community
One of the dissatisfactions among students with large class learning is the feeling of anonymity in class. This may result in poor student engagement and low motivation. Hence, helping students establish relationships with other students in class early on is important. Once a warm and friendly learning environment is formed, students would feel comfortable to participate in class.

Make use of technology and incorporate visual aids
With the advancement of technology, classroom learning has gone beyond the classic chalk and talk. The use of multimedia and video capture system not only arouse students’ interests, but also sustain engagement and enrich learning experiences. In the setting of large class teaching, technology enables a flexible learning and teaching experience to both teachers and students, since course materials, reference materials, demonstration video clips and practice assessment could be made available online or on mobile apps for students to access anytime they prefer.

Moreover, Dale’s (1969) “Cone of Experience” suggested that most people retain information better when they both hear and see it. Employing visual aids does not necessary mean elaborating PowerPoint presentation on colourful slides and typeface only; it also refers to the use of diagrams, charts, storyboards, images and physical props. The incorporation of visual aids assists students in understanding the information and knowledge. It also makes the class more interesting.

12782340_10153874104141772_1977348000_nStudents are interested in the matching games about pharmaceutical products and registration.
(Photo courtesy of CLT, 2015)

Teaching a large class usually means teaching a class of students with a wide spectrum of learning curves and backgrounds. It could be challenging to teachers. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers should apply multiple teaching methods to engage students and foster a student-centred learning environment.



一般的課堂為三小時或以上,但學生的專注力卻比較短。研究指出,要學生專心致志地聽課超過十五分鐘可能比較困難 (Briggs, 2014)。因此,教師可為大班作適當調適以促進學生主動學習,如腦震盪、課堂討論、角色扮演和學生匯報。除了通過向學生提問來了解學生的學習情況,教師亦可以鼓勵學生對課堂內容提出問題。此外,把講課劃分幾部份可以轉移學習焦點,重奪學生的注意力。

(相片由Timothy Cheng提供,2015)




此外,Dale (1969) 的「經驗金字塔」提出,大多數人透過聽和看能更有效地保留信息。採用視覺工具不單指運用豐富多彩的投影片和字體,也包括圖表、故事分鏡、圖片和實物道具的使用。適當使用視覺工具能幫助學生理解資訊和知識,亦令課堂更有趣。



Bahanshal, D.A. (2013). The effect of large classes on English teaching and learning in Saudi secondary schools. English Language Teaching. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from

Briggs, S. (2014). The science of attention: How to capture and hold the attention of easily distracted students. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from

Dale, E. (1969). Audio-visual methods in teaching, 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

McKeachie, W.J. (1990). Research on college teaching: The historical background. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 189-200.

Extended Readings:
University of Michigan. (2016). Teaching strategies: Large classes and lectures. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from

Vocational Training Council (VTC). (2015). Building rapports with students on the first day. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from