TEFL Program - Dealing effectively with large classes

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Dealing with Large Classes.


This unit is an introduction to dealing with large classes. Here we’ll look at our attitudes to large classes and briefly look at some of the challenges and rewards of large classes. In the rest of this module we’ll go into more detail about each of the issues raised including classroom management and language learning activities for large classes.


A. Attitudes to Large Classes


How big is a large class?


Depending on your context and previous experiences, you may say that 15 is a large class. Others may say 30 or 50 or even 500!


Write down 3 things which might cause problems in a large class:






Now, write down 3 positives about working in a large class:







What is different about teaching large classes? Write some ideas here:









Here is a list of some considerations for teaching large classes:


-          Plan Classroom Management (CRM)

-          Seating

-          Movement

-          Focus

-          Voice

-          Formality

-          Role of the teacher

-          Role of the students

-          Ambiguity Tolerance (how far will you allow the students to stretch the rules?)

-          Attitudes to noise




Planning Classroom Management (CRM)


Planning your CRM is just as important to successfully managing large classes as planning the language content of the class. If the class is not well managed then, the language content aims of the class may not be achieved. CRM includes:


-          Seating

-          Giving Instructions

-          Grouping students & changing those groups

-          Deciding on & varying the focus

-          Encouraging and ensuring appropriate participation (behavior management for children)

-          Rewarding desired outcomes appropriately

-          Having materials sufficiently prepared (including listening cues etc)



What activities will maximize the input and output you hope to achieve? How will you set these up?





Young students – especially children – need to move. So opportunities to stand up, walk around, change seats etc need to be considered. In some cultural settings this may seem inappropriate. If movement is not incorporated as part of the CRM plan, then students will find their own opportunities to move and these could be interpreted as misbehavior and not following the teacher’s instructions. So we need to consider the impact that we have on our students’ behavior.





Where is the focus of the lesson? This means to what are the students directing their attention. Is it board at the front of the class? If so, can all the students see it clearly (and is your use of the board clear? Handwriting etc).  Are students required to focus on coursebooks? If so, do they have enough copies? Remember that deliberately forcing the students to share will naturally provoke collaboration (and noise!) and so should be included into your CRM planning.  




A teacher’s voice is very important.


-          Be engaging - it is how you say something as much as what you say that will hold students’ attention.


-          Speaking to large groups of people is different than speaking to smaller groups. Allow yourself to be more expressive than usual. You won’t look as silly as you feel.


-          Speak confidently and clearly. Use sufficient volume so that everyone can hear but don’t shout.


-          Paradoxically, a quiet voice can often draw very focused attention especially with children who will strain to hear you in case they are missing out on something. This is a technique worth experimenting with if you start to feel frustrated that no-one is listening.


-          Use oral clues (or routines) to indicate that something is going to happen and then pause to give students time to focus on you. Expect and wait for their attention. For example, stand at the front and say “OK” and wait for attention. Or, use a countdown “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 OK,…” this countdown can also be commented e.g. “5 – finish the paragraph you are reading, 4 – return to your seats, 3 – put down your books, 2 – Silence please, 1- attention. OK…”



Formality: Roles


In a small class of 3 or 4 students, teachers can be relatively informal and sit with the students as they work, almost as another member of the class. In large groups, the students will have different expectations of the role of the teacher. They will most likely expect you to strongly lead the class, although this doesn’t mean that you do all the work. It means that you organize the work that the students do and the role of the student is to be lead.


Attitudes to noise

Language classes are noisy! There is no way to have a speaking class without noise. Some cultures are very happy with noise, others less so. Before telling students to speak quieter, it is worth considering your attitude to a noisy classroom.




Finally, how do you feel about teaching large classes?



B. Specific Problems of large classes?


In Section A we looked at some of the things to think about in large classes. Now, how do you think are the problems with teaching large classes? Write some ideas here:







In Learning Teaching (ref), Jim Scrivener offers this list of problems associated with teaching large classes:


  • students can't move easily
  • teacher can't move easily
  • limited eye contact from teacher to students
  • limited or no-eye contact from teacher to students
  • can't give attention equally to all students
  • interaction tends to be limited to those nearest the front
  • seats at back tend to attract people who want to do something other than learn English
  • people 'hide' away
  • there is often a very wide range of abilities
  • discipline can be a problem
  • lecturing seems to be the only workable lesson type
  • a lot of techniques seem impossible


To which I would add:


  • interruptions and late arrivals
  • more problems of continuity due to absences


Compare your list with Scrivener’s above. Are they all applicable in your context? Are any extra problems you’ve identified specific to your teaching context?



C. Techniques for working with large classes.


  1.  Routines (helps with Effective instructions, discipline, efficient variation of activities)


Routines are repeated activities with which students become familiar. For example, a YL class Routine maybe to nominate a student to write the date on the board.  Make sure your students have clear expectations about what is going to happen during their lesson. Students can learn to set up the class in different layouts if you teach them how to do this early on and so setting up the room in different ways can become a routine activity. Some other examples of routines:


1.1          Refresher. Start with a 5 minute refresher of the previous lesson. Students work in pairs to tell each other 3 things they learnt. Then ask a selection of students to tell the class what their partner said.


1.2          Round Up. Finish the class with a round up. Ask students to write down 3 things they have learned. This also provides a tangible outcome to the class.   


1.3          Menu. Set the expectations of the class by listing the “menu” of the class, clearly visible on the board. For example:


  1. Refresher
  2. Vocabulary: free time activities
  3. Reading: Having fun!
  4. Speaking: talking about last weekend
  5. Grammar: past simple
  6. Result: 3 learning results


In this way, the teacher can clearly talk the students through the navigation of the class. Overtly stating – if necessary – for example “we are now moving on to number 3: Reading”


By doing certain things in a predictable, routine way, you can make your class much more efficient. Think how long you spend teaching a child to play “Simon Says” the first time. Then the next time you simply say “Let’s play Simon Says” and all the children already know how to play.



2. Use Group & Pair Work


2.1  Use lots of group and pair work – most activities can be done collaboratively which promotes participation and maximizes student talking. Adding an element of competition can boost motivation as well.


2.2  Change the groups & pairs regularly to create new dynamics and different interaction patterns. You can use the ideas in the unit Using group and pair work to get great language results to do this.


2.3  Use ‘peer teaching’ Mix stronger and weaker students together in pairs/small groups. Get stronger students to model/explain answers for others.


2.4  Always make sure everyone is involved


2.5  Monitor. Do lots of walking around and monitoring to make sure everybody is on task and working – correct and help where necessary


2.6  Give clear instructions and model with a student to demonstrate if it would be helpful


2.7  Make sure you have enough materials for the group activity


2.8  Think about giving quiet students specific roles so they have to talk more – eg. they are an interviewer, or they have to report back to the class at the end of the activity


2.9  Ask students to check each other’s answers in pairs/groups


2.10      Don’t be afraid of lots of noise!


2.11      Think about activities which encourage OUTPUT e.g poster presentations



3. Giving Feedback: Correct Quickly and Effectively



3.1.Peer correction. Students check in pairs or small groups and correct each other. This also is another opportunity for speaking in English. You can then clear up any doubts.


3.2.Avoid correction such as “number 1? A, 2? C” etc as there is no corresponding language content.


3.3.Monitor groups and pairs to see how far through an exercise students are, use fast finishers to peer teach or correct. Have related extension activities for fast finishers.  


3.4.If the exercise is very simple, give plenary answers to the class and ask students to check theirs as you go – this can be done on the board, by talking, by using a handout


3.5.Give feedback on the content as well as language. This shows that the students have something valuable to say even if there are language mistakes. It also shows that you are listening to them and that they are able to communicate even if the language is slightly defective.




4. Manage Your Classroom Effectively


4.1.Set the expectations. Tell the students what they are going to learn this lesson. Use a technique like the menu above to help students navigate the class.


4.2.Activate the students’ knowledge of the topic. Use warmer games or discussion to get the students interested and bring their content knowledge to the surface (this is called “activating schematic knowledge”)


4.3.Recap often. Allow students time to think and for new input to sink in.  


4.4.Refer the target language to the learners’ real life experiences. This will make the language immediate and real for them rather than abstract and remote.


4.5.Plan how you will give instructions. A neat trick with low levels or young children is to number the steps of the instructions e.g. “1 - Open your books. 2 – Page 72. 3 – Exercise 2” you can then ask the class to repeat the steps with you prompting or you can call “1” wait for the students to open their books, then “2” and so on.



When teaching a language our aim is to maximize the language learning opportunities for the students in every class. This means maximizing the time the students are “on task”, working, practicing the language and getting feedback on their performance. This is because, unlike your first language (L1) or a “second language” (i.e. living in an environment where the target language is spoken), learning and acquiring a foreign language doesn’t happen automatically, so as teachers we must optimize the contact time we have to maximize the students’ learning.


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