American Classroom Formats

banner with images of lecture classroom, discussion class, laboratory class, on-on-one instruction, and student at a computer in an online class

In American universities there are several different types of classroom formats, such as: lecture, recitations, labs, one-on-one tutorials, flipped / hybrid, and online. Depending on which university you are teaching for and the subject matter, one type may be better suited or preferred over another. Most likely, your department will dictate which format you are to teach in; this is especially true for GTAs.


Face-to-face courses are in-person classes which typically meet on campus or at an annex of the main campus. They can be lecture, recitations, labs, tutorials, or even flipped/hybrid courses.


Lecture classes are the most common American classroom format and can be small (<50 students) or large (>500 students). They can meet in a classroom or in a large lecture hall. The instructor will be the one doing most of the talking and will share new knowledge, research, examples, and ask questions directed at the class or individual students. The students should be actively listening and taking notes, while asking questions if a concept isn’t clear. PowerPoint slides, whiteboards, and chalkboards are common lecturing tools. Instructors will often have a GTA assisting them, especially for large classes.

Recitations / Discussions

Recitations or discussions are often used as a supplement to lectures and are led by GTAs. They are generally smaller in size, <30, and a subset of larger lecture classes. Recitations are usually not required classes; the students may choose to attend or not attend. They serve as safe spaces for students to raise questions and concerns to the GTA, prepare for exams, and review topics learned in lecture. Recitations are common in mathematics, the sciences, and engineering.


A laboratory, or lab, is usually treated as a separate class but part of a course and the course grade. Generally taught by GTAs, labs provide hands-on experiences with the material in a smaller size than the lecture class. Labs are most common in engineering and the sciences.

One-on-one Tutorial

One-on-one tutorials often occur in fine arts courses or if a student athlete requires support; however, they are not nearly as common as the previous classroom formats. In some cases, students use office hours with instructors for one-on-one assistance. If you, as an instructor, do not want to allow your students to use your office hours as one-on-one-tutor time, let them know at the beginning of the course.

Flipped / Hybrid

In the flipped or hybrid classroom, students will read and watch lectures at home and will complete assignments and activities in the classroom. Often, the lecture portion is presented to students online through a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard, Canvas, D2L, Moodle, etc.


In the online classroom format, students interact with instructors and with each other via an LMS. At Wichita State, for example, the LMS is Blackboard. Interaction can occur through discussion boards, course messages, Zoom, videos, and instructor feedback on assignments. Assessments are often completed online; however, students may be required to take a proctored exam at a physical location. Most course materials will be provided through the LMS, but students may still be required to purchase textbooks.