How to Teach Large Classes: Mission impossible?

I recently shared ideas on one the the TESOL e-lists I subscribe to. One teacher is working abroad and facing a large class of over 40 students of mixed levels. The primary skill that needs to be addressed is conversation. Although I already made a number of suggetions for the teacher to consider, the wheels in my head are still turning. Perhaps if I flesh out one or two more ideas, you might be inspired to offer your own. Then I can send a link to our fellow teacher in need.

I don’t have experience teaching large groups on a regular basis, but one of the strategies I’d apply in that situation is establishing a routine. For example, in a 2-hour session, I might start with a whole group warm-up, followed by small group activities that mix students of different levels. Another whole group period could focus on a new skill area, and then the next small group or pairwork period would allow students to work within their own levels. A final wrap-up would bring the class together and give a sense of community. If the routine were followed each day, classroom management would be easier.

I also think students in large classes could have some independent tasks, some of which might be selected by the students themselves. Giving students a limited number of choices empowers them without overwhelming them.

As for activities, I’ve already suggested everything from a spin on the LEA to group surveys to whole class story building (to produce a text that allows pronunciation practice and speaking practice via retelling). Here’s another idea I’ve been trying to flesh out: class presentations by groups of mixed levels. Could it be possible to have about 5-6 people in a group to present on a theme? Each member makes a small contribution that is appropriate for the student’s level. For example, a group can make a presentation on a great place(s) to visit in their city. Breakdown of tasks:

Student A (basic) – Introduces topic. “Our city has museums. We have an art museum. We have a science museum. We have other museums.”

Student B (basic) – Focuses on a subtoipc. “We want to talk about the art museum. We all go to the art museum. We like the art museum. We see a lot at the art museum.”

Student C (intermediate) – Gives practical information. “Do you know where the art museum is? I can give you directions from our school to the museum. First,…”

Student D (intermediate) – Gives more practical information. “I went to the art museum. I liked the paintings. It’s hard to see everything in one day. I think you should go and spend one morning just seeing the paintings. They’re on the first and second floors. My favorite one is…”

Student E (advanced) – Can relate a personal experience or express a personal view. “I’ve been to the museum a few times. The last time was about a month ago. I was impressed to see so many children at the museum. My first trip to the art museum was at the age of 20! I think all children should see art at an early age…”

With adequte preparation time, the group should be able to assist one another and agree on the order of speakers. The teacher should clearly state tasks according to the levels and set a firm time limit to allow all groups to present.

Possible themes for student to choose from: sports teams (in their city or country), good places to eat in town, best dishes to cook for a family, how to throw a party, saving money, good ways to study English, where to shop for clothes, public transportation.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. azizk says:

    Nice post 🙂

  2. One of my favorite activities for big classes is something I call “Speed Dating”. Basically, they stand facing each other in two lines and and ask questions. After some time, half of the students move down one spot. Then, they ask the same questions. It works especially well with big classes because you can have them use the same questions 15-20 times and really hammer things home.

    Of course you need some pre-speaking activity to prep them with the questions. For low levels I tend to feed them questions. For higher levels, I encourage them to develop their own questions.


    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Great idea! I think concentric circles work like this, too. The inner circle can stand in place, and the outer circle can rotate. What do you find to work best? Stick with the same question and change partners (hear something new each time, but get to practice delivering your answer over and over) or work with different questions related to a theme (more variation)?

      1. Hmm. I think both can work well–just depends on your objectives and how long you’ve been working on the theme. On a first day, I think set questions are the way to go. But if you’ve been talking about a theme for a while and they have a lot to draw on, I think it’s better for them to practice their own questions.

        As a compromise, sometimes I’ve included a question that’s easy to change like “What’s your favorite ____?” Then, they can ask about all sorts of favorite things. I usually have them go three minutes before switching, so it’s nice to have it be open ended for the fast ones.

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