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Best Practices

The LTO Best Practices

Issue No. 74: Teaching Large Classes

Welcome to the seventy-fourth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Throughout the year, the Learning & Teaching Office spotlights a timely topic in education. This September, our topic is "Teaching Large Classes".

We have recently updated our Teaching Tips document [pdf] on this topic as well as updated related content on our Teaching Techniques Resources page.

Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.


Best Practices

The teaching tips in this document were compiled from contributions from Ryerson faculty members at workshops hosted by the Learning & Teaching Office.

Instructional Strategies for Large Classes

  • Provide an agenda for each class not only on the first slide, but also on subsequent slides to show where the current topic is in relation to the entire lecture. Give students a sense of how the current lecture fits into the bigger picture of the course or program. Backtrack to reinforce certain themes or concepts in subsequent lectures.
  • Try to avoid covering too much material in the lecture and then rushing the last ten minutes, frustrating students with quick explanations. It is important to structure the lecture in priority sequence with respect to material that needs elaboration or emphasis
  • To hold student attention, chunk the class in 15-20 minutes segments. For each chunk, vary your teaching strategy, e.g. from lecturing to group discussion, from group discussion to problem exercise, etc. Make sure every activity meets the course objectives.
  • Get out from behind the podium! Move around the classroom and make eye contact with students – the wireless microphone and slide remote are your best friends.
  • Use technology to expand the range of strategies. For example, showing videos, running interactive simulations, using clickers or other classroom response technology (PollEverywhere, Kahoot), or having students work with laptops on collaborative Google Docs.
  • Acknowledge the textbook, handouts, readings etc. within the lecture to make a clear connection and assure students that you are aware of what they should have prepared prior to attending the lecture. 

  • Discuss strategies to support learning outside of the classroom – e.g. how to get the most out of assigned readings, how to set up study groups, where to find course materials in D2L, how to effectively communicate on discussion boards, how to complete collaborative projects, or what supports are available from Student Learning Support.
  • Keep students engaged:
    • Use story-telling – share examples of problems solved, personal experiences with professional matters, how course content will be relevant to their future professional lives, famous case studies, etc.
    • Deliver difficult concepts in many formats – video, demonstration, textbook chapter, mini-lecture, activity.
    • Flip the classroom – have students watch a recorded lecture or complete a reading and use class time for discussion and problem-solving exercises
    • Divide students into small groups to work through a question or set of questions. Have them discuss the question and nominate one person to report back. You could also have them solve problems in their groups and submit a group solution.
    • Play competitive games in groups like Jeopardy or Family Feud as a way to review topics.
    • Have students post links or articles to a discussion board that are relevant to a class topic. Use these contributions as the basis of your next class discussion. 
    • Create a “burning question” list or a “parking lot” for ideas that are worth returning to but that would distract from lesson objectives. Address them at the end of class, the start of the next class, or at the end of the unit. 

Assessment Strategies for Large Classes

  • Create assignments that will not lend themselves to violation of academic integrity. Be careful with attaching grades to activities that you cannot monitor closely. To minimize pressures and temptations:
    • No marks attached to online quizzes, treat them for review only
    • If you want to run a quiz in a large class, an effective strategy to prevent students from “rubber-necking” is to allow students to solve the quiz in pairs
  • Allow students to submit drafts of their assignments and get the Turnitin report back as feedback on their use of dubious quotations, etc. The students have a chance to fix their assignments based on the report and resubmit them without any penalty. This is a way to use Turnitin informatively, rather than punitively. This will also reduce the number of 
academic misconduct cases.
  • Depending on the size of your class and whether or not you have TA support, asking for individual homework submissions may not be realistic. Instead, be creative about assessing group efforts instead. “Individualize” group marks as much as possible, such as through the use of self- and peer-assessment, group contracts and task breakdowns setting clear expectations for group members, and weekly reports on the work being done
  • Match assessments to objectives and strategies. If the course focuses on group work, case studies, or tackling problems with multiple solutions, an individual multiple-choice exam will not necessarily assess the learning that has occurred. Consider alternative forms of assessment other than tests and exams. If a final exam is required by accreditation body, consider having another large component of assessment to correspond to group work, presentations, peer teaching etc.



Upcoming Events

Here are some selected workshops from the LTO that may assist you in working with large classes. Please see our workshops page for a full list of upcoming programming

Welcome to Ryerson - Teaching 1st Year Students

Tuesday, September 12, 2017, 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM, POD 372

There are unique and common challenges when teaching first-year students, which are independent of faculty, discipline or class size. First-year students make the difficult transition from excelling in high school to meeting the higher expectations of an undergraduate university course. Instructors must actively listen to keep first-year students engaged and feel supported in this challenging transition. This workshop is designed to give you the information, tools and advice you need to prepare for your first-year students. We will discuss best practices, common challenges, and the services available for first-year students.

Teaching Large Lectures

Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM, POD 372

Teaching large classes can be an amazingly rewarding experience but it poses challenges inside and outside of the classroom. Large enrollments can create student disengagement and feelings of alienation, which erode the student’s sense of responsibility, and lead to behaviors reflecting and promoting a lack of engagement. The logistics of larger lecture can also provide a challenge: how does one manage the administration of what resembles a small city? This workshop demonstrates how successful learning experiences in large classes rest on effective planning and monitoring, inclusive teaching, appropriate assessment, and active engagement by professors and students.


Next Issue

"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at the Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

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