Many who work in education today are being tasked with doing more with less. This can reach to the classroom and result in larger sections as more students are allowed to enroll in each. Large classes are also nothing new for many first- or second-year survey or pre-major courses.

No matter the reason for the larger class size, students may exhibit a tendency to hold back their responses — or their attention — in a large lecture hall. Thus, to combat a tendency towards passivity among students, it’s vital to have a strategy for keeping them actively engaged during each class session.

In their book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (2011), Svinicki and McKeachie offer a number of suggestions for maintaining student interest, involvement, and attention:

  • Invite faculty members or student teams to debate relevant topics during class. This interchange of ideas offers students an opportunity to practice their listening and critical-thinking skills in a lively setting.
  • Conduct an interview with another colleague or outside expert who can present a different perspective on the material you’re addressing.
  • Assign a student presentation. In addition to encouraging independent thinking and individual motivation, the activity can also enable students to learn from one another and gain valuable experience working as part of a team.
  • If time is too tight for each individual student to present, consider a “poster session.” Working in groups, students conduct research on a given topic, and then present their findings. Students stand by the posters in shifts, ready to answer questions about their work, while also taking time to circulate and review their peers’ posters. (pp 271-272)
  • Though you probably won’t substitute all your lectures for these activities, they can certainly serve to break up a sense of routine — and keep students on their toes

Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.