Sometimes teachers can get discouraged when teaching large classes, as they might encounter problems not experienced in other contexts. Does it sound familiar? Our Director of Studies, Giulia Revelli, has drafted a list of tips that can help you get through common problems when facing a big group of students. As it turns out, what teachers define as issues can often be turned into advantages.
- If a big group of students make a lot of noise, turn this into something fun: get your students to sing, clap, read verses out loud, do shadow reading. This can work well when teaching vocabulary, pronunciation, doing role-plays acting out scripts, or checking the pronunciation. When students shadow read they read along with the recording being played: gradually turn down the volume until students are reading on their own, and then turn it up again to check if they are keeping the right pace.
- If the teacher can't monitor pairwork and groupwork easily, move around the classroom and supervise a different group of students for each activity. You can also nominate assistants from amongst the most capable students, who will monitor, help and give constructive feedback.
- If students feel they are just numbers and not individuals, take some time to cater aspects of your lesson to individuals. This can be done in different ways: handing out individual cards to students with their mistakes corrected at the end of the lesson, selecting topics that some students are particularly keen on, or asking students to share their personal experience with the rest of the class.
- If students tend to hide away, put them in teams and ensure everyone has a different role, so that they cannot avoid working. Move around the room and monitor, choosing a different group for each task.
- If the classes next door hear you and your students, ensure they hear how much fun you are having in your lesson!
- If students believe they cannot learn well in big groups, put them in teams and remind them that they can learn a lot from their partners.
- If it is difficult to use photocopies, just hand out one per group of students, and ask them to complete the task in their own notebooks. Alternatively, you can use PowerPoint presentations or Interactive White Boards if you happen to have them. Students can also be sent links of the webpages where the information was taken from, or attachments with a summary of the contents. Do not forget to use alternative approaches such as Total Physical Response, Task Based Learning or Dogme, which don't necessarily require the use of any handouts.
- If students do not hear you, put students in groups and place yourself in the middle of the room, using flashcards to help them during your explanation. Use “chain-Concept Check Questions” to check instructions: this means prompting one group with questions and letting them ask another group the same questions and so on. If you have the possibility, use a microphone or script the instructions.
- If students' attention span is short, ensure you have “fast finishers” activities ready to hand out so that the quickest students can carry on doing something until the others have all finished. You might also want to prepare a few more activities which are shorter: ensure there is plenty of recycling of the topic taught in each activity. This can easily be dealt with by changing the execution of the same activity (e.g. the students can first write a script for a role-play, then they can rehearse it. Later, they can rehearse it without looking at their papers, and then they can draw a picture of some of their lines. Finally they can move around the room and try to guess each other’s lines from the drawings).
- If marking written work is challenging, get your students to swap papers and correct mistakes. Collect groups of papers on alternative days (e.g. on Monday only the papers from group A, on Tuesday the ones from group B, etc.). When possible, prepare a slide with the correct version of the writing students need to produce. Hand out the transcript of a listening for students to check if they have written down the correct words or sentences.
- If it takes much longer to hand out worksheets, set up activities, get students’ attention, etc., put students in groups and assign different roles and tasks to each one at the beginning of each month. This can be done by letting students choose a coloured card in every group: tell students what each colour represents once they have selected one. This way, students will be responsible for moving desks, handing out papers, collecting worksheets, ensuring everyone listens in their group, etc.
- If the gap between the best and worst student widens, mix up more and less able students and get them to help each other – even the less capable students can contribute to the best ones becoming better, by simply timing their peers when they have to perform, or prompting them with questions.
For further reference on the topic, you may want to have a look at these articles:
- Large classes (mainly relevant for primary school teachers)
- Using practice posters to address EFL changes (how native speaker teachers deal with large classes in China)
- Practical tips for teaching large classes (suggestions from UNESCO)
Giulia Revelli is our Director of Studies here at ADC College. If you would like to hear more from her, have a look at our popular Teacher Development courses (eligible for EU funding) or subscribe to our newsletter for more updates about the programme.