How to Lecture Large Groups?
Are you, just like an increasing number of other lecturers, faced with the challenge of giving formal lectures to a large group of students? This educational tip shares tips and tricks about preparing and giving formal lecturers and teaches you how to create interaction with a larger group. This way, you can avoid creating lectures that solely consist of theory, and that cannot keep the attention of the students.
Before the Lecture
Create an added value
Use the available time wisely by making sure that each class (segment) has a clear purpose. These objectives should always be communicated to your students. Do not discuss the entire course, but give particular attention to those parts that are more difficult for your students to process independently. In your lecture, emphasize knowledge that is important for the exam, as this creates added value for the students who attend your lecture.
Prepare your lecture
A proper and carefully planned preparation is essential, as it increases the study success and, consequently, the motivation of your students. At the same time, this allows you to gauge how much time and space you have for improvisation, during which you can, for example, share research experiences.
Draft a clear structure
Facilitate your students’ attendance of your lecture by applying a clear structure, for which structured slides, signalling devices, intermediate summaries and visualizations in the form of a scheme or mind map can be helpful (read more about this in the Education Tip ‘Structuring your series of lectures: from to the bigger picture to the syllabus’ ). Situate each lecture in the broader context of the course, link it to the previous one and announce the objective of the following one at the end. Frequently refer back to links drawn between subjects and try to cover a more or less completed content segment.
Check your course material or slides
Check how the slides of your lecture are structured, so you know exactly where your various lecture segments are headed. Frequently moving back and forth through your presentation creates confusion. In a larger group, students are then more inclined to stop paying attention and thus can no longer keep track of the content.
“The better I master my course, the easier I find it to react to student input, the more at ease I feel and the less a more disorderly moment frustrates me." (Professor, LW, group of ± 125 students)
Vary in form and content
Make sure to establish enough variation in terms of both form and content. Vary between anecdotes, activities, cases, questions, examples and breaks. (Read more about this in the educational tip ‘Lectures: How Do You Keep the Students' Attention?’.)
“Adding questions and cases (besides the text of the syllabus) breaks the routine of the lectures and also helps to keep the attention." (Professor, DI, group of ± 150 students)
Use practical examples and recent research
Students will retain theory much better if you link it to ‘real-life’ examples, to (your own) recent research, to daily (student) life, to personal experiences of your own or others (e.g. patients, teachers, employees). Alternatively, you could plan an experiment; execute it yourself or let a couple of students perform it under your supervision.
Be on time
Arrive in your classroom or auditorium on time, so you can explore the surroundings, check the equipment and chat with students who arrive early. This increases your approachability.
The following video presents further examples:
During the Lecture
Forbid last-row seating
Invite your students to take a seat on one of the first rows and leave the last one empty. To that end, show a slide with the message “Welcome to the first X rows”. Additionally, hang a paper on row X+1 that clearly states that your students cannot sit there. Start your first lecture of the series this way so your students know the arrangement for all following classes.
Start on time
If you start on time and do not wait for latecomers, in due time you will no longer be interrupted during the intro to your lectures. Clearly communicate how long the break takes and ask your students to be back in their seats one minute before it ends.
Read more about this in the Education Tip 'Tricky Situations with Students: How to Deal with Them?'.
Establish eye contact
Subdivide the group into imaginary zones and always aim your eye contact towards the centre of such a zone. This way, each students feels as if you have established eye contact with them.
In larger groups, the effect of a joke is bigger than in small groups or half-filled auditoria. Humour also affects learning, as long as it meets the following requirements.
Ask specific questions
Elicit a reaction by asking specific questions. If students know that they will be frequently addressed, they will automatically listen more carefully. Q&A’s also break the routine of a lecture. Do keep in mind that:
- asking questions only works well in a safe learning environment. No student should be afraid to give a (wrong) response. Lower the threshold via Think-Pair-Share: a quick discussion with a neighbour causes two (or more) students to share ‘responsibility’ for the response.
- in bigger groups, questions should be repeated in the microphone before they can be answered. Alternatively, you could use a microphone ball that allows students to speak directly into the microphone. Your Faculty Education Services know if these balls are available.
- You should use one of the digital voting systems if you want everyone to give a response.
Do you want to bring more life into your formal lectures? Read: “Lectures: Activate Your Students’
Use the entire space
- Walk around in the auditorium. Do not stay in one place, but also avoid running a marathon, as your movement should not be distracting. Make sure that every student can see you.
- Use the space functionally. When you are discussing topic A, go to one side of the room. When switching to topic B, go to the other side of the room. This will help to clearly distinguish between the topics. In smaller rooms you can make this distinction by gesturing.
Train your presentation techniques
Take one of the two trainings on presentation techniques or check the video about how Ghent University lecturers manage to keep the attention of their students in “Do you want to know more?”.
After the Lecture
Be the last to leave the room
In a larger group, students are not always comfortable asking questions in front of the entire group. Make sure to stick around for a while after class so students have an opportunity to ask questions face-to-face. If you cannot respond immediately, schedule an appointment in which you can reply to their questions.
Reflect about your lecture
Do not wait until the following academic year to adapt your course material or classes. Write down what can be improved immediately after the lecture and follow up the to-do as soon as possible by, for example, dropping a slide, finding a better example or writing down some ideas to redevelop your series of lectures.
Want to Know More?
Watch the following videos in which experienced colleagues share their tips for teaching larger groups.