Teaching Large Classes

Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students. While your […]

Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net

Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students. While your class may look more like a University lecture hall, your job is not to lecture. Just like teaching a small class, you must come up with engaging activities that keep all of your students interested and participating with the goal of improving their communication skills. While there are numerous challenges when it comes to teaching large classes, there are many coping skills and activities that you can use to make your job easier.

Advantages of Teaching Large Classes

  • High Energy: Classes with many students may be noisy, but they are also fun and exciting.
  • Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete that you can save and use in your next class.
  • Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students.
  • Fillers: Teachers have less need for fillers since core activities and lessons take longer to complete.

Challenges of Teaching Large Classes

  • Intimacy: Remembering student’s names can take a while. Teachers may feel that they do not get to know their students as well as they would like to.
  • Anxiety: Some teachers feel anxious being so outnumbered by the students. In addition, some students are afraid to ask questions or participate in a large class.
  • Student needs: Meeting individual needs can be difficult or impossible when class size is very large.
  • Marking: Grading assignments and tests can be very time consuming, and your pay will generally be the same for a smaller class.
  • Distractions: There are more distractions for teachers in large classes, such as latecomers and people chatting while you are teaching.
  • Preparation: Making photocopies for a large class can be very time consuming. Other teachers may be bothered by how much time you spend using the photocopier.
  • Noise level: Large classes can become out of hand when students are working in pairs or groups. At times you may feel more like a disciplinarian than a teacher.
  • Monitoring students: Teachers may find it difficult to keep students on task as they monitor pair and group work.
  • Space: There is limited space in a classroom for energetic activities such as role-playing.
  • Textbooks and resources: There may not be enough textbooks or computers available for all students.

Strategies for Coping with Large Classes

  • Use a teacher’s notebook: Attach a small notebook and pen to your belt loop. Take notes while you are monitoring pair or group learning. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete.
  • Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available.
  • Create a participation grade: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part of their final grade. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance.
  • Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too.).
  • Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don’t feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn’t go as you expect it to.
  • Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching.
  • Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone.
  • Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the teacher’s room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make.
  • Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don’t let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours.
  • Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don’t like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time.

Activities to use in Large Classes

  • Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions.
  • Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves.
  • Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team.
  • Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team.
  • Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. “Lynn”) Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What’s your middle name?”)
  • Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received.
  • Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins.
Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net
March 2008 | Filed under Teaching
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials for the ELT industry.