Activities for the large lecture class

Now that the Fall semester has ended, I’ve started to reflect on what types of in-class activities worked well and which ones failed or simply need tweaking. In the end, I realize that activities that are successful might eventually work less well depending on the time of the semester. For this reason, I can’t stress enough how important it is to adapt to the classroom environment by either modifying an activity on the spot (if this is possible) or scrapping it altogether. If you are me, I tend to have 2-3 ready to go even if I’m only planning on using 1-2 just in case. Depending on the morale of the students, some activities worked better than others.

For instance, normally I try to break up a 90-minute class by lecturing for 10-20 minutes, then pausing for a brief activity. I used PollEverywhere often during the Fall semester, and typically it had great results. (An aside: Only 40 students could respond unless the university wanted to pony up $$$ to allow for all my students to participate). However, in the last 3 weeks of class, students seemed “over it.” Put another way, bored and tired of using this technique. While I never used it every class, I could tell that it had no longer become effective. So I stopped using it, and continued using some other strategies.

Games proved to be particularly effective for this class, but I only implemented them towards the end of the semester. Bingo and Jeopardy were the favorites. I’ll write a longer post about each at some point, but I can’t recommend games enough. I developed a semester-long Bingo game, as well as had them for individual lectures. There was nothing more exciting than having students stand up and shout “Bingo!” during lecture. I had fun seeing them try to win. The one downside with Bingo was that students started to look up information on their phones or computers, so I had to develop Bingo boards that were impossible to complete unless they were paying attention to lecture. I was not always successful, and continue to think of ways to prevent this. One way would be to encourage it during a scavenger hunt type of game during class. Food for thought….

Another technique I used was asking students to read short passages during class. If we were discussing the Iliad, I’d distribute 3 short passages that I wanted to discuss to 3 different students. At the appropriate moment, each student would stand and read the passage aloud (ideally with some dramatic flair). Students responded positively to this activity, no doubt because they tire of hearing me talk and this broke up lecture nicely.

More to come.


Cite this article as: Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank, "Activities for the large lecture class," in Adventures in Pedagogy, Digital Art History, + More, March 23, 2016,
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  1 comment for “Activities for the large lecture class

  1. Ngarino Ellis
    August 24, 2016 at 8:04 PM

    Really love your ideas about how to make the learning fun. I teach art history at a college here in New Zealand and am always willing to find new ways to creak up those 2 hours that we typically teach. One of my favourite came from my dad who was a professor of painting at the art school. For my Surrealism class I talked for about 30 mins then each of the students had to come up with a pseudonym and picture that represented it. Then they had to fold them into paper planes and throw them to each other. This was of course chaotic but tons of fun. I then collected them and showed them through our document camera to my hilarity in the class. I also posted them on our class website. I also do one with maps, where I distribute a map and ask students to fill it in of the countries I name. This is particularly effective in teaching about Pacific art – many students cannot fill it in, yet I ask them that if it was a map of Europe would they be able to, and to reflect on that. Again, very illuminating.

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