The active involvement of students in lectures is important, even in higher education. Learning is not a passive activity. For large groups of students, however, ensuring active student participation is not simple. We present a few tips and tricks, grouped according to frequently asked questions from lecturers who teach large groups of students.

How can I increase the involvement and attention of students during lectures?

“It is not enough to just talk louder, write bigger and make grandiose gestures” … although sometimes those things help.  (Humber, the center for teaching and learning)

  • Walk through the classroom, and make eye contact with the students while teaching.
  • Vary the pace, volume and intonation of your voice.
  • Radiate energy and passion for your profession. This motivates students to remain attentive during the lecture.
  • Start a (new part of the) lesson with a problem statement or question, rather than a theoretical explanation. That way, you immediately grab students' attention and get them thinking.
  • Use small activating assignments that are suitable for large groups (see below).
  • Introduce the pause procedure (Teaching tip, 2015, in Dutch). This involves briefly interrupting the lecture every 15 to 20 minutes to give students time to update their notes, seek clarification from fellow students, etc. After two or three minutes, the lecture resumes.
  • Use humor (Teaching tip, 2022) to reduce the barrier between yourself as a lecturer and students, facilitating interaction.

How can I assess the insight and comprehension of students?

  • The question "Is everything clear?" is rarely answered by students. It is better to arrange a brief application assignment after a theoretical section, where you can actively check to what extent the subject matter is understood. This assignment could, for example, be a multiple-choice exercise in which students state their answers by raising their hands or through some other form of voting.
  • “Read the classroom”. Try to find out that students have not understood something based on certain behaviour, such as facial expressions or murmuring.

How can a large group of students be activated efficiently?

  • Use small activating teaching methods that are suitable for large groups, e.g. polling (Teaching tip, 2014), buzz sessions, letting students come up with exam questions (Teaching tip, 2018, in Dutch) or one minute papers (Teaching tip, 2015, in Dutch).
  • Be sure to activate students for the most important topics of the learning content. Activate relevant prior knowledge so that new information is more easily remembered, and survey the students’ understanding.
  • Other, rather small-scale, interventions can also get students thinking, e.g. use examples, show videos, give demonstrations or ask rhetorical questions.
  • Keep in mind that possibly not every student is used to being activated. So working on a culture of activation (Teaching tip, 2018) is important.
  • Be aware that students may experience some barriers with regard to being activated. In this Teaching tip (2018), we will discuss the three most common barriers and give some concrete tips to break these down.

How can I bring students back on track after using an activating teaching method?

  • At the start of the assignment, make clear agreements about how much time students have to complete the assignment and what the signal will be that the end of the assignment is approaching. Then also end the assignment shortly after this signal.
  • Use non-verbal signals to indicate that the assignment is ending. Use eye contact, move closer to students who are talking, use light (on and off in quick succession) or use sound to bring students back on track.
  • Project a provocative statement or cartoon to draw the students’ attention once again.
  • Begin your lesson only after it is quiet again, otherwise you may give students the impression that it is okay to keep talking during your explanation.

Want to know more?

ECHO Theme page Activating students

ExpertiseCentrum Hoger Onderwijs (2013). Vijftig Onderwijstips. Antwerpen-Apeldoorn: Garant. (Dutch book, available online to UAntwerp staff after logging in.)

  • tip 3: Een activerend en motiverend hoorcollege  
  • tip 5: Activeren van grote groepen studenten 

In the Educational glossary from ECHO, under the subtitle Activating education, you will find more interesting resources and a booklet with various activating teaching and learning methods (only accessible for UAntwerp staff after logging in).

On the Education Info Centre you can find good practices of activating education (only accessible for UAntwerp staff after logging in).

On the Education Info Centre you can find some extra tips and tricks concerning activating students (only accessible for UAntwerp staff after logging in).

Davis, B. (2009). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Exley, K., Dennick, R. (2009). Giving a lecture. From presenting to teaching. NY: Routledge.

Gibbs, G., & Jenkins, A. (Ed.) (1998). Teaching large classes in higher education: How to maintain quality with reduced resources. London: Kogan Page. 

Humber, the Center for Teaching and Learning. Teaching methods: Teaching large classes.  

IDEA Paper 53: Active learning strategies in face-to-face courses.

Standaert, R., & Troch, F. (1998). Leren en onderwijzen: Inleiding tot de algemene didactiek. Leuven: Acco. 

(Teaching tip February 2023: rewritten Teaching tip September 2014)

Lees deze tip in het Nederlands