What Is Recitation in College?

Recitation is a critical part of a lot of college courses and is quite different from what goes on during lectures.

What Is Recitation in College?
Tamara Gak

Recitation in college is a method of teaching and learning that involves small group instruction. In a recitation, a small group of students meets with a teacher or teaching assistant to review and discuss material covered in a lecture or in assigned readings. Recitations are typically used in college-level courses that have a large number of students, as they provide an opportunity for students to receive more individualized instruction and to participate in discussions.

When you are scheduling your college classes, if you enroll in a course that includes a lecture and a recitation, you'll be provided with the hours and days of the week when the lecture will take place. Then, you will choose a recitation class to attend in addition to the lecture. Also, unlike with lectures where you can potentially go unnoticed and skip class, recitations are much smaller and your absence will very much go noticed. And you should definitely show up for your recitations because they can factor into how many credit hours you accumulate as well as quality points.

Table of Contents

Purpose of Recitation

The purpose of a recitation is to provide students with a deeper understanding of course material by engaging in active learning. This includes discussing concepts, reviewing and clarifying material covered in lectures, solving problems, and practicing skills. In a recitation, students are able to ask questions and receive immediate feedback, which can help them to better understand the material and clarify any misunderstandings.

Recitations are also an opportunity for students to practice critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. Through discussions with peers and instructors, students can learn to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. They can also learn to communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively, which are valuable skills that are highly valued by employers.

Structure of Recitation

Recitations typically take place once or twice a week, and last for about an hour. They are usually led by a teaching assistant or graduate student, who has been trained to facilitate small group discussions. The size of the recitation group can vary, but they are typically smaller than a lecture and can range from 10 to 30 students.

During a recitation, the instructor will review material covered in the lecture or assigned readings, provide additional explanations or examples, and ask questions to engage students in discussion. Students are encouraged to ask questions, provide examples, and share their ideas with the group. The instructor may also assign homework or problem sets for students to work on between recitations.

Typical Components of Recitation in College

Recitation in college typically involves a variety of materials, assignments, and other aspects that are designed to facilitate active learning and deepen student understanding of course material. Here are some examples of materials, assignments, and other aspects of recitation in college:


  • Lecture notes: Students may be expected to bring their lecture notes to recitation in order to review and clarify material covered in class.

  • Assigned readings: In some courses, students may be assigned readings that are discussed in recitation.

  • Handouts and worksheets: Instructors may provide handouts or worksheets that are used in recitation to guide discussion or to provide practice problems.

  • Multimedia resources: Instructors may use multimedia resources such as videos, podcasts, or online simulations to supplement classroom instruction and facilitate discussion.


  • Homework: Instructors may assign homework problems or exercises that are discussed in recitation.

  • Group projects: Instructors may assign group projects that are discussed and presented in recitation.

  • Reflection papers: Instructors may assign reflection papers that ask students to reflect on their learning in the course and to connect it to their personal or professional goals.

Other aspects

  • Group discussion: Recitations typically involve group discussion led by the instructor or teaching assistant. Students are encouraged to ask questions, share their ideas, and engage in dialogue with their peers.

  • Peer review: In some courses, recitation may involve peer review of written assignments or group projects. Students provide feedback to their peers and receive feedback from them in return.

  • Presentation skills: In some recitations, students may be required to give presentations or lead discussions, which helps to develop presentation and leadership skills.

  • Test preparation: Instructors may use recitation time to review for upcoming exams or to provide additional practice problems.

Overall, recitation in college is designed to enhance student learning through active participation and engagement with course material. Materials, assignments, and other aspects of recitation are tailored to the specific course and goals of the instructor. Students who actively participate in recitation and take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided are likely to deepen their understanding of course material and develop important skills that are valuable in their academic and professional lives.

Comparing Different Study Areas and Their Recitation Classes

While recitation classes in college share some general characteristics, there can be differences in the structure, materials, and assignments based on the specific subject matter. Here are some examples of differences between recitation classes for a history course, an English course, and an Economics course:

History Course

Recitations for history courses often involve in-depth discussions of readings and primary source documents related to the time period being studied. The instructor may provide context for the readings and ask students to analyze and interpret the primary source material. Recitations may also include lectures on specific topics related to the course material. In terms of assignments, students may be asked to write short essays analyzing primary source documents or to participate in group projects that involve researching and presenting on a specific historical event.

English Course

Recitations for English courses often focus on close reading and analysis of literary texts. The instructor may provide background information on the author, the historical context of the text, or literary devices used in the work. Discussions may center on themes, characters, or symbolism in the text. Students may be assigned to lead discussions or to write analytical papers on the text. In addition, recitations for English courses may involve peer review of student writing assignments, with students providing feedback on each other's papers.

Economics Course

Recitations for Economics courses may involve the use of quantitative data and problem sets. The instructor may provide lectures or discussions on specific concepts, such as supply and demand or market structures. Recitations may also involve group problem-solving exercises or the use of case studies to apply economic principles to real-world scenarios. In terms of assignments, students may be asked to analyze data sets or to work on problem sets related to course material. In addition, recitations for Economics courses may involve peer review of student work or group presentations analyzing specific economic concepts.

By and large, while there are some general characteristics that are common to recitation classes in college, the structure, materials, and assignments can vary depending on the specific subject matter. Understanding these differences can help students prepare for and make the most of their recitation classes.

Benefits of Recitation

Recitations provide several benefits for students, including:

  • More individualized instruction: With a smaller group size, there’s a smaller student-to-teacher ratio, thus students have more opportunities to ask questions and receive feedback from instructors.

  • Active learning: Recitations provide opportunities for students to actively engage in the learning process, rather than just passively listening to lectures.

  • Improved communication skills: Recitations provide opportunities for students to practice communication skills by discussing and presenting their ideas to their peers.

  • Deeper understanding of course material: Recitations provide opportunities for students to review and clarify material covered in lectures and readings, which can lead to a deeper understanding of the course material. 

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills: Recitations provide opportunities for students to practice problem-solving skills by working on homework or problem sets with their peers.

The Bottom Line on What Recitation Is in College

Recitations are an important component of college-level courses, as they provide students with opportunities for active learning, more individualized instruction, and enhanced communication and problem-solving skills. They can be a valuable tool for students to better understand course material and to develop important skills that are highly valued by employers. If you are a student, it is important to take advantage of recitations and to actively participate in discussions to get the most out of your college education.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.