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Education Tips: Managing Large Language Classes

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Many English language teachers around the world face a common problem: large class sizes. A large number of students in a classroom can lead to difficulties for both the instructor and the learners.

In today’s Education Tips, we discuss what teachers can do to help manage large classes. We will also look at ways to increase student participation.

How large is too large?

People have different ideas about what makes a class “too big.” Some studies consider a classroom with more than 30 or 35 students a large class. Other studies say that a class with more than 60 students is considered large.

Education professor Penny Ur says she considers a class to be “too large” if the teacher is unable to help the students make the progress they should be making.

The positives and negatives to large classes

Teaching a large class can bring both positive and negative experiences.

Some teachers report that students misbehave more often in big classes. The teachers may also find it hard to provide feedback on every student’s work.

It can also be hard for the students. Larger classes often include students with different ability levels. Stronger students, then, may feel bored. Weaker students may feel left behind.

But large classes can present positive opportunities, as well. Natalie Hess, an education researcher, says that large classes offer a chance for interactive activities. They also provide students with a chance to help other students in class as well as learn independently.

A teacher leading an English class in a Djiboutian univiersty.
A teacher leading an English class in a Djiboutian univiersty.

Tips for managing a large class

Here are some tips to help students manage a large class:

Establish rules

Researchers suggest creating a list of classroom rules – with feedback from the students themselves. If students are part of such a process, they are more likely to follow rules for class.

Darpak Sabankili is a high school English language teacher in Togo. He told VOA that he makes agreements with his students about the rules and what should happen when students break the rules. He then puts the list of rules on a wall in the classroom for everyone to see.

Organization and routine

Organization is extremely important with large groups of students, and keeping them focused.

Start each class with an agenda for the day. When students know the plan for each class, they may be less likely to misbehave.

It also helps to have a method for getting students’ attention if the class starts to get noisy. This may include a “quiet signal” (such as raising your hand) or a word or phrase that you say with your class.

Plan a variety of activities

Students may lose interest if class activities last for too long. This is especially true with large classes. Therefore, teachers should plan to have many different activities, with different levels of difficulty. This helps keep the class moving at a quick speed and helps prevent students from feeling bored.

Increasing student participation with pair and group work

In large classes, there is simply not enough time for a teacher to work with each and every student. In order to give students enough of a chance to practice English in class, teachers should consider organizing the class in pairs or groups.

Pair and group work can help make a large class feel smaller for students. Such work also gives them more opportunities to participate in class.

Form groups and assign roles

When forming groups for group work, it helps to give each student a role. These roles may include note-taker, timekeeper, leader, or presenter. Roles help students stay focused. They also give the students a sense of responsibility.

Teachers can give one assignment or project for the group to turn in -- for a group grade.

One useful group activity is called a “jigsaw.” This is where each member of a group works on a certain part of an assignment. After finishing the task, each student shares his or her work with the group.

For example, each member in a group reads a different part of an English story or article. After finishing their part, each student explains or summarizes for the group the section that he or she read.

Students in a large language class in Djibouti.
Students in a large language class in Djibouti.

With large classes, teachers must spend a lot of time correcting all the students’ assignments. One effective tool is to have students exchange papers and correct each other’s work while the teacher calls out the answers. Teachers can also have students discuss answers with each other before answering questions, or work on assignments in pairs.

Darpak says that he does a “Think-Pair-Share” activity with his classes. First, the teacher asks the class a question or gives out an assignment. The students first have time to think about the question themselves. Then, the students discuss their own ideas with a partner. Finally, the students share their answers with the class or with the teacher.

Training students for pair and group work

In many classrooms around the world, teachers often do most of the talking during class, while the students listen and take notes. Students may not be familiar with pair or group work. They may feel uncomfortable or not understand the purpose of such work.

If this is the case, students must be slowly trained to do interactive activities.

Teachers can begin by having students work in pairs for very simple class activities. As they become more comfortable with the work, teachers can slowly increase the difficulty of the activities that students work on together.

Teachers should take the time to discuss with their class the importance of pair and group work in large classes. Kwan Warapatsu, an English teacher in Thailand, says she spends time before activities discussing with her students why it is good for them to work together in class, and how it can help them improve their English.

If students better understand the importance of working together, they will be more willing to do it and likely have fewer behavioral problems during class.

Managing large language classes is not easy. But with a little extra preparation, teachers and students can have a successful, meaningful experience.

I’m Phil Dierking.

Phil Dierking wrote this story for VOA Learning English. ­­­­Ashley Thompson was the editor.

What suggestions do you have for managing large language classes? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

assignment - n. a job or duty that is given to someone​

chant - n. a word or phrase that is repeated in a rhythmic way usually loudly and by a group of people​

interactive - adj. requiring people to talk with each other or do things together​

manage - v. to have control of (something, such as a business, department, sports team, etc.)​

opportunity - n. a good chance for advancement or progress​

participation - n. to be involved with others in doing something​

routine - n. a regular way of doing things in a particular order​

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