Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities


The large introductory lecture classes common on most campuses pose a particular challenge to instructors who want to encourage the active student involvement that is a vital part of the learning process. This much-needed volume shows how instructors can energize students in these courses through the innovative use of small-group teaching strategies and new curricular structures. They provide detailed descriptions of both informal turn-to-your-neighbor activities and more formal and intensive small group approaches that have succeeded in making students more active and engaged learners. They also examine efforts to give students in large classes a greater sense of belonging to a community of learners through such techniques as intensive supplemental workshops and clustering multipleclasses, and provide answers to frequently asked questions about using small-group learning in large group settings.This is the 81st issue of the quarterly journal "New Directions For Teaching and Learning".


James L. Cooper, Pamela obinson

In undergraduate settings, oneR constellation of strategies
for creating student engagement and increasing student
learning involves small-group inquiry and reflection

Maria Bravo is hurrying to Dr. Robert Webking's Introduction to Politics class this warm October morning. She is among 560 students taking this fall 1998 class at the University of Texas, El Paso. She arrives a few minutes early and is given a handheld computer after presenting her student identification card to the teaching assistant.

Webking often begins the class with a short, multiple-choice quiz on the assigned reading. On this day, however, he begins by lecturing on the day's topic: the concept of freedom as articulated by Plato. After about fifteen minutes, he shows a multiple-choice question on a large overhead screen asking students whether freedom should be absolute for all human beings or whether it should be dependent on several extenuating circumstances. The class is given a minute to reflect on the question, and Maria then enters her response on the computer. Two students sitting beside her use the computer to enter their responses. Students throughout the classroom are doing the same thing, and within a minute or two Webking has hundreds of responses. These answers are tallied by the computer and shown on the screen. As Webking expects based on prior semesters' experiences, most students indicate that freedom should be absolute for all human beings. He then displays a brief cartoon of an infant crawling toward a can of Drano that is in a cupboard under a sink. The class, 65 percent of whom had chosen the absolutefreedom response, chuckle ruefully and buzz among themselves. Webking invites the students to discuss briefly, in pairs or trios, the question just posed and to determine whether they would like to change their answers. After a minute or so, he continues lecturing for another fifteen minutes before posing another question to the students.

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