Critical ThinkingEducationPedagogyPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Learner Centered In Large Classes

Normally, I teach a smaller sized class of anywhere from 27 -35 students. This summer I managed to get a larger lecture class on the order of 80 -100 students. No biggie right? I just have more papers to grade and more copies of homework and exams to get. Well not exactly.

My style of teaching leans toward what I believe is called Learner Centered. I like to do a lot of exploratory questions in groups and a lot of activities. I hate standing and lecturing for 4 hours non-stop and I do not think the students can handle that much lecture all at once. Now I am faced with a problem. How do I do my normal routine with such a large class?

Let me give you an example of what one class may consist of:

At the start of a class about quasars and after some pre-knowledge from previous class lectures I post a problem such as:

Here is a spectrum of a celestial object. Determine which elements are present and make a determination on the classification of this star.

The spectrum represented is that of a quasar which they do not know ahead of time and is a topic that has not been taught yet. Since, quasar spectrum have severely red shifted spectra then this sparks debates within the groups about what they see. This is a critical thinking exercise it is not meant for them to get it right but it does help to introduce quasars.

After some time I listen to a few groups and then we start talking about what the spectrum shows and we discuss quasars. About 30 minutes is spent lecturing on the topic. Then I give them two more spectra to look at (one a main sequence star and one a quasar.) Again, they debate in their groups and this time they should have more success identifying characteristics.


In another class we may do an activity that is on the order of a lab to introduce a topic. Such as here are a bunch of galaxy pictures create some type of classification scheme to arrange them in as a way to introduce the Hubble classification scheme. We chat about their results and I lecture for a bit.  Then I have them break off into groups and have them try to find problems with the classification scheme and how to resolve such problems.

These are examples. Obviously, you cannot see them in their entirety and they do work very nicely. The problem I face now is do group exercises such as these examples translate to classrooms on the order of 80 plus students? Do you have any suggestions for a successful classroom experience for both me and my students? Any comments on experiences with larger class sizes would be most appreciated.

As a small aside: Help! Please! I need some feedback!!! All of your comments are welcome and highly appreciated.

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

Featured Image: Auditorium, author unlisted.


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JoDee is an adjunct faculty instructor of astronomy and physics at various colleges around her hometown in the midwest. When she is not trying to get her cat, Pixel, off of her laptop she is observing variable stars and researching black holes.


  1. June 14, 2014 at 12:05 am —

    What kind of classroom do you get? Sometimes with rooms that are set up for lectures (many, packed seats all facing front, divide between students and front of room) it’s really hard to do anything else.

    • June 14, 2014 at 8:30 am —

      The good news is that the classroom is not set up like an auditorium. Instead they have really long tables with swivel chairs attached that if necessary can be turned to face the people seated behind them.

  2. June 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm —

    As an undergraduate student, I had a good experience with an introductory philosophy class of perhaps 200 students that did regular in-class group discussions / projects. The professor began the first class by dividing everyone up into groups of 5-6. After that, we were required to at least sit near each other. It made some people unhappy if they ended up in a group without their friends, but the manual division meant that everyone had to be a part of a group and no one was the odd one out without any group to speak of.

    With large classes, I’ve also had good experiences with various technologies that allow students to answer in-class multiple choice questions via phone or some kind of remote. It can be anonymous or recorded by person – recorded is nice if you want to use it as attendance credit. It benefits both the students, because it’s a low-risk way of seeing if you can get the right answer before you’re told, and the teacher, because you get instant feedback on whether or not the class understands the subject without having to grade a ton of papers or listen to each person’s answer.

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