Have you ever planned an activity only to find out on the day of the lesson that you have a greater or smaller number of students than anticipated? In my former workplace, I taught many classes on the spot. The nature of the school schedule and curriculum required flexibility. I learned to prepare multiple approaches to one topic and create variations for all activities.
For example, in a conversation class for upper level students, I often used an activity called Second-hand News. I would photocopy a dozen or so news articles that were all one-paragraph in length. Each student received one of these blurbs and had five minutes to read it and commit the details of the event to memory. They then had to go around the room and tell at least three people about the event. In the final step of the activity I had everyone return to their seats. Referring to my master copy of articles, I’d ask someone to tell me if they heard about “XYZ” event. Volunteers reported what they heard, and the student in possession of the article could confirm or correct details. Comments on each news event were welcomed and encouraged. The activity allowed for small or large groups. If there was an uneven number, students could either work in groups of three or pair up with me. The activity changed radically if only one student was present (which was the case at times); I had the student read and retell a news event to me so that we could then discuss it together. How many blurbs that one student covered depended on the ease with which he or she read and how much each news event lent itself to discussion.
What does this one example show?
- It’s best to plan activities for a flexible number.
- Particularly when numbers are high, communication can be maximized by varying the format: pairs, small group, and whole class.
- Particularly when numbers are low, the teacher’s interaction and oral contributions can increase to stimulate communication by the students.