Teaching Large Groups (Lectures)

Large group teachingLectures are a significant part of a university student’s learning experience and are an efficient means of delivery. However, is sitting in lectures a particular effective way for students to learn? There is not easy answer to this question and has been hotly debated across all continents for a substantial period of time. We could reframe the question to: How do you organise your lectures to promote student learning?

The following resources have been developed with three groups of colleagues in mind:

  1. Are you new to large-group teaching and would appreciate a little help on how best to get started?
  2. Have your student class sizes expanded recently and you want some ideas on how to work well with larger groups?
  3. Are you an experienced colleague looking for fresh approaches to try out in your large-group work with students?

The outstanding lecture

According to Morton (2003) an outstanding lecture contains the following attributes:

  • It is delivered in a way that is informative, interesting and engaging.
  • The content is well organised and easy to follow.
  • Students can understand the development of the argument, or the logic in the ordering of the information or ideas.
  • Students feel involved. This may be through some type of active participation, use of relevant examples to which they can relate and by being made to think about what is being said.
  • The ability to engage students through questioning, no matter what the class size, is an important way of getting students involved.
  • Students leave wondering where the time has gone.
  • Students leave knowing that they have learned something(s), and are often inspired to go off and find out more.

Do you believe your lectures have these attributes? If you asked your students, what would they say?

Student Engagement

How do you encourage students to actively participate in a lecture? Consider the following:

  • Pose questions for students to discuss in small groups, then take feedback from a few groups to hear what they think.
  • Get the students to tackle problems individually, and then compare their answers with one or two others sitting next to them. You do not always need to elicit feedback.
  • Ask the students to vote on a multiple choice question (MCQ). Use a show of hands to check the responses, or use an electronic voting system. Wherever possible, the incorrect answers you offer should be derived from common mistakes that students make, and if they are chosen you can use the opportunity to talk the mistakes through with them.
  • Show a DVD clip, but do ask the students to look for something specific that you can ask them about afterwards.
  • Use demonstrations that can involve the students directly.
  • Ask the students to do a mini-test, for example, to check student progress. This will need to be marked and could be based on an MCQ format.

Lecturing to a Varied Student Group

Many of you lecture to a student group that has a varied background knowledge base. How can you make the lecture a good learning experience for all students? Consider the following suggestions:

  • To find out as much as possible about the student cohorts who will be attending the lecture, in particular what they may already know about the subject so as to profile the range of knowledge and subject disciplines of the students.
  • Acknowledge to the students at the start that you know they are a varied group and that the content, organisation and supporting materials for the lecture will reflect this.
  • Use examples, or case studies, that are varied and reflect the subject disciplines of the group.
  • When undertaking class tasks, suggest to the students that they work in their closest disciplinary cohorts.
  • When appropriate, ask the students to work on different problems or consider different questions that are relevant to their knowledge base or subject discipline.
  • Make explicit reference to specific additional resources each cohort can access for support after the lecture.

Effective Use of Lecture Presentation Software

Lecture presentation software can be an effective tool to enliven your lecture. With the rise of the technology you can easily import visuals, audio, video, diagrams to generate interest and provide rich and varied information. However, you do not want to have a long sequence of slides with bullet points that read out during the lecture. To use presentation software effectively in your lectures, consider the following:

  • Keep the number of slides to a minimum.
  • Use slides to enhance and illustrate the presentation: if a slide does not really add anything, do not include it.
  • Avoid using complex background images which detract attention. Ensure a good colour contrast between text and background.
  • Do not use over-complex graphs.
  • Use a sans serif font such as Arial or Verdana.
  • Try to avoid lectures which use only slides with bullet points.
  • Consider use of animations to build graphic explanations of complex ideas if they enhance understanding.
  • Import and use digitised images, sound or video material within the presentation, as appropriate and compliant with copyright.
  • Use the active buttons feature or use the hyperlink function to allow non-linear progression through the material. This is particularly effective for question-and-answer slides, where clicking on the different answers to a posed question will take you to different slides, and then return you to the questions slide.

This resource was developed from Chapter 5, Morton, A. Lecturing to Large groups (pp. 59 – 66) in Fry,H., Ketteridge, S. & Marshall, S. (2007) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Enhancing Academic Practice 3rd edn. Routledge: New York and London


Using Handouts to Enhance Learning tip sheet
Lecturing to Large Groups tip sheet

Further Reading

  • Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University -What the Student Does 4th ed., Open University Press & McGraw-Hill Education, UK.
  • Morton, A. (2007) ‘ Lecturing to Large Groups’, in H. Fry, S. Ketteridge, & S. Marshall, S. (Eds.),  A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd ed. Routledge, London and New York, pp 58 -71
  • Race, P. (2007) The Lecturer’s Toolkit, A Practical Guide to Assessment, Learning and Teaching, 3rd ed. Routledge, London and New York.
  • Svinivki, M. & McKeachie, W. J., (2011) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theories for College and University Teachers, 13th ed. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, USA.

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