Show students who’s the boss of the lecture hall.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. 2003 world tour. 18,500 tickets sold in one hour. I think I got through to the online ticket agency at the :58 minute mark because the best ticket I could find was behind the stage. It was a huge disappointment for sure, but it was still better than nothing. However, when I walked into the arena, I quickly noticed that the show was set up as an ‘open stage’ concept. That gave me some hope that I may still have a good view, even though I was seated somewhere behind the stage. As I walked down the stairs staring down at my seat number on the ticket, I soon realized that I was closer to the stage than I had thought I would be; actually very close. My seat was a mere five rows behind the stage. Better yet, not only was I on the same level as the stage, but I was directly seated behind Max Wienberg (Springsteen’s drummer). As a drummer, this would be considered to be ‘the best seat in the house’. So, what has all of this have to do with teaching in a lecture room? Anyone who has experienced a Springsteen concert will tell you that he has the unique ability to fully engage a packed arena with tens of thousands of people. From where I was sitting, I could see first-hand how the audience reacted when he ‘worked the room’. Springsteen quickly moved from stage left to stage right, jumped into the audience, and encouraged (and got) participation from everyone in the arena; from the front row all the way to the top of the bleachers. If he can do that, then surely we must be able to ‘work a room’ like that with only a fraction of the number of people?

Let’s look at 10 ways how you can be the ‘Boss’ of the lecture hall:

1. Remember that the room has width and depth. Don’t  just stand at the front. Walk up the sides, along the back and up and down the middle. You’ll get some exercise at the same time, which is a good thing!

2. Check the size of your writing on the board before class. I refer to this in another post, ‘The writing’s on the board’. Make sure it is legible and large enough so the students sitting at the back and sides of the lecture hall can see it.

3. Boost up your Powerpoint/Keynote presentation. Take advantage of the size of the screen and have great visuals/slides. Also, show video clips, mimicking the feeling that they are in a movie theatre!

4. Ask a student sitting near the light switches to be responsible for ‘hitting the lights’ when necessary. As always, give them credit for it. I usually give them a small item that I get for free from the Student’s Association (keychains, t-shirts, magnets, pens etc.).

5. If a student asks a question, always repeat it loudly to the class so everyone knows what they asked.

6. Ask students to ‘raise their hands’ when you want to take a class ‘poll’. Tip: split the room in half and ask one half first, then the other half. That way, both sides of the room see the responses.

7. Ask your students to move forward, filling in the front section seats as much as possible. That way, you don’t have to worry about wearing out your voice (and your legs).

8. Keep group work to 3 or 4 students per group. If 3, then the group is the student in the middle plus the 2 on either side of them. If 4, then ‘square them off’, having 2 turn around and team up with the 2 behind them. Just because you are in a lecture hall, doesn’t mean you are restricted to a lecture style all the time (and not recommended!).

9. Clickers for class polls. If you have access to them, try them out to see if it works for you. I know some profs have had success using them while others found that it took too much time and effort to set it up and use them. Ask your textbook publishing rep about them and how they can be used (I will be talking about the use of ‘clickers’ in another post).

10. Set a rule at the beginning of the semester that you want late-comers to sit in the ‘reserved section’ in the back row. It will minimize the disruption of a student walking down the steps and into the rows of seats.

What tips do you have that work well for you when you’re teaching in a large lecture hall?

A bit of trivia in case you are ever on ‘Jeopardy’ one day: Bruce Springsteen briefly attended Ocean County College in New Jersey, but dropped out.



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