Teaching large classes. Some useful activities (Part – 2)

Teaching large classes. Some useful activities (Part – 2)

As I mentioned before, teaching large classes can be a little bit tricky. This article aims at giving you some hints about useful activities that can be used with large groups.

  1. Questions

They are the easiest way to interact with your students especially in large classes. By using questioning techniques then you also promote active learning and you can gauge their level. They are also especially useful to stimulate your students’ interest and recap Questions have to be prepared before your lesson so that you know exactly where you are leading the discussion. Decide when you are going to ask these questions. This will depend on the pace of your lessons. Some teachers prefer asking questions at the beginning to recap knowledge, others prefer checking knowledge at the end, some others use questioning techniques in the middle of their lesson to break the pace etc. It depends on your teaching style and it will also depend on the group you have. Make this questioning time clear on your lesson plan, keep it short and eventually try to target which students is going to answer. You can use a wide a variety of questions so try to change their form as much as possible and make sure you ask just one question at a time. Use some pausing techniques to give time to your students to think and also repeat their answers to help to show your students that you are on the same page.

Teaching-large-classes

  1. Brainstorming

I personally like brainstorming at the beginning of a new chapter or new topic. I have students to brainstorm about their knowledge and how they will be able to apply this knowledge to the new topic. You can have your students to brainstorm in pairs or in teams. You can also create some kind of contest to create some challenge around the teams. I also suggest you give some ideas on the board to start the brainstorming. Give your students some time prepare their lists and only then do you have a whole class feedback.

  1. Debate

Who doesn’t like to give his/her opinion? Class debates allow students to participate and interact spontaneously around a pre-defined topic. You may chose to have them prepare their answers in advance among their groups or you can opt for more spontaneous participation. The interesting feature in having some preparation for the debate is that you can give everybody a chance to take part in; even shy students will join as they will know what to say without fearing embarrassment. You as a teacher will just play the role of the moderator and you will ensure a fair distribution of speaking opportunities.

  1. Think-pair-share

Students should be given some time to reflect individually on a certain issue. Once they have thought about it, then they should discuss their findings with their partners to see if they share the same views. Some feedback can then be given to the whole group.

Teaching large classes (Part – 1)

Teaching large classes (Part – 1)

Most of us agree that teaching large groups of students can be tricky. We usually tend to prefer small groups that are easier to manage, more interactive and enjoyable, and above all less time consuming.In some countries like in South America or Asia it’s not uncommon to teach 40 or 50 students but teaching large groups does require a lot of preparation, organization and energy.

Many schools are now confronted to huge classes due to budget restrictions, lack of teachers or rooms available. The challenges are numerous when teaching large groups. As a teacher you can feel overwhelmed and anxious. Every stage of your teaching practice will be challenging and time consuming:  lesson preparation, making photocopies, monitoring the group, monitoring resources available, using the limited space, dealing with behavior management, marking etc. From a student’s point of view, things can be difficult too. Students can’t receive the same amount of attention from a teacher as in a small group, students will have less time to express themselves and ask questions. They can also be very anxious and intimidated and this can impede their learning. Not to mention troublemakers, latecomers etc who will break the pace the lesson.

Even if I personally think that a 15 student cohort is the ideal number to teach, let’s be realistic we rarely have less than 25 students. The good news is that there are some advantages in teaching large classes. First, large groups are usually full of communicative energy. They might be noisy and hyperactive but some of them can be actually quite fun. Another thing is the collaborative aspect of learning. The bigger your group the easier it is for you to break it into smaller working units. In terms of planning, you will almost always find yourself with more activities that you won’t have time to use which means in other words that these resources can be used for your next lesson. Another good point with big groups is the participation you will get; there will always be someone willing to answer some questions!

Full lecture in Theatre L, Newman Building, UCD

Still not convinced? Well, at least here are some techniques you will find useful for these groups: Before anything else arrange your room in such a way that you will have space for more energetic group activities, for monitoring and also space for group work. A good idea here is to get rid of any unnecessary material. As much as possible put the desks together to promote group work. If space is really an issue find another room or spare classroom in the building so that your students can express themselves in more energetic activities.

Then, make sure you have a clear seating plan with the pictures of your students and eventually some comments about their strengths and weaknesses. Remember however to be sensitive and not to write comments that could offend your students! Color coding can also be a good way to do it.

Try as much as possible to have your students work in groups. Smaller groups are more manageable so if you know your students well you should be able to put them into groups so that they can work efficiently and collaboratively. Instilling a sense of competition within your class is also a great idea as it will create a fun and competitive atmosphere. However be firm with behavior when it comes to games. If a team is too loud they can lose some points.

Establish also clear routines and signals right from day one. This should be done from the first day so that your students become accustomed to it. In terms of routines you must be clear and consistent with them in terms of behavior. They should know what is expected of them. A short reminder as a display is always useful to avoid any chaotic situations. If students don’t respect the rules for lateness, homework completion or attendance this is their responsibility, not yours. In large groups students will need to acquire social, behavior and independent skills more quickly as you won’t have time to deal with each of them on a personal basis.

Another is about marking. As much as possible reduce your lesson planning and marking time by designing easy tasks to correct. For example quizzes, multiple questions exams, group projects etc. This should save you a lot of time. You should not forget as well to encourage peer marking as much as possible. It will help your students develop more autonomy in their learning but it will also help you manage your time more efficiently.

You could also create an e-mail address or facebook account specifically designed for your classes. In other words if you have huge classes and you don-t have time to cope with your students’ questions at the end of your lesson, they could still write to you. I would however be cautious with this as it can also be time consuming in some cases.

Story telling

Story telling

Storytelling has been part of human traditions since we have been able to communicate with one another! Traditional oral storytelling was one of the first form of communication.

Why do we tell stories?

We all are storytellers. Whether we are telling jokes or telling our weekend to our friends or the story of our day or the news we read we always tell stories. Telling stories and listening to stories with a beginning, middle and end help our brains to assimilate information and to make sense of it. Therefore it’s quite obvious that storytelling has to be part of teaching. Stories define who we are, shape our experiences of life and teachers are the ones who will help us develop as human beings so every teacher is a storyteller.

How to tell stories?

As a teacher I have told stories in many places around the world to different students and at different levels. No matter the age, there is always a good story to tell. I love telling stories and my students like hearing my stories and we even have some acting with their own stories. As I wrote in a previous article teaching is about having fun and storytelling is part of it. However before telling stories here are some steps you may want to follow to become a successful storyteller in your classroom.

storytelling

  1. You should read as many tales, fables, myths, and legends as you can to get your inspiration.
  2. Watch some professional storytellers and take notes about what they do. Listen to their intonation, have a look on their body language and try to copy them while adopting your own style. The TV show the Storyteller is a good example of work you can use.
  3. Choose a story you are confident with. Pick up one that you really like and that you can remember well. If you sound interested by the story it’s more likely that your students will be too.
  4. Prepare it carefully. Take some notes about the story. Write down the main lines for you to remember and use the book as well when you’re telling the story.
  5. When you tell the story use an interesting intonation. Use your voice to create suspense, mystery to instill fear or laugh. Pause. Ask questions. Mime, use gesturesand accessories to make it more interesting.
  6. Engage your students in the story. Have them to play some parts of it, to contribute to the sounds effects as well.

Storytelling has many positive effects for the teaching-learning process. First of all there is this magical moment that makes storytelling a special event in the classroom. It’s a different moment when you can really share emotions, feelings and passion with your students. You’re no longer teaching from the front or guiding your students you’re just telling them a story. And still they are learning. Telling stories is an inspiring tool in itself but it can also lead to in depth thinking and also to some activities or games around the story. Another positive impact of telling stories is the enthusiasm it generates around reading. Especially if you have a class of young students you will notice that they will be more likely to get engaged in reading sessions if you endorse the role of the storyteller on a regular basis. Listening skills are also enhanced. And everybody is engaged. Girls are engaged because they like listening to stories and boys are engaged as well because they will like the acting part of it.

Becoming a storyteller is a wonderful though scary experience. But it’s really worth the try. The more you will try to tell students stories the easiest it will become. Telling stories doesn’t just stop inside the classroom; you could also find out that you have skills to run reading or storytelling clubs within your school or community! So now you just have to put yourself in the shoes of the storyteller.

How to create a safe learning environment

How to create a safe learning environment

As mentioned previously the good rapport between students and teachers is crucial but the rapport between students also has its importance to build a positive learning environment. Therefore it is important to jot down the basics for common ground rules right from the beginning. You need to establish yourself as the one who will be in charge but you also need to find a balance between imposing rules and having a wild classroom. One suggestion is to engage your students in the process. Your students will be more likely to follow the rules if they are fair and commonly agreed by their peers. Creating a classroom rules board has often proved to be quite efficient to prevent disruption.

From day one you need to stress the importance of the notion of respect in the classroom. Respect is the key to establish a good learning community and it is a two way process; you will respect your students, they will respect you and they will learn to respect each other. Respect will come through the use polite language, good behavior and learning attitude.

That can be a long process and you may have to remind your students of the necessity of respect during the year but the earlier you model what you are expecting from your students the easier it will be to create a learning community that thrive. You will soon find out that developing a respectful environment means developing an environment based on trust. If your students feel that you will be there for them and that you genuinely care about their achievements then you have done 99% of the work. The attitude you will model from an early point will help you to train your students to be hard-working and dedicated students ready to work for you but also for themselves.

SafeSchools

Creating a safe learning environment for each and every individual to thrive is not just based on having strict established rules. Creating an efficient teaching-learning classroom also means building a friendly learning place where teamwork can be enhanced. You need to make your room a place where students want to come in and join. You may decide for that purpose to change the traditional shape of the room. Instead of having rows

Creating an efficient teaching-learning classroom also means building a friendly learning place where teamwork can be enhanced.

of students why not try a U-shape, circle or group formation? This type of organization will allow you to develop more communication and collaborative work within your learning community. It’s also an excellent way to develop some competition spirit between teams that should allow your students to give their best. Varying the group formations is also a great way to mix up your students so that they develop new relationships. When you pair-up students with new partners they are not used to work with they generally start understanding their peers better which contributes to the improvement of the class rapport.

Being truly attentive to your students’ work and success is key to develop your ideal teaching-learning community. Try to display your students’ work as much as you can in the classroom. Celebrate their efforts on every opportunity. Verbally praise their work in front of their peers to stimulate the whole group. Encourage every little step, acknowledge their progress even if they are not reaching fully their target, use humor to convey a light atmosphere, value your students’ strength. All these tips should help you build the learning community you dream of.

How to build a classroom or remake it

How to build a classroom or remake it

Since I started my professional path in education, there is not a single year I didn’t remake my classroom. It may seem a tough project but if you are really looking to improve your learning-teaching environment then it is something you clearly have to think about.

It will probably take a few weeks if you are thinking about the big picture and if you are looking about redesigning the whole room. Well, a good idea would be then to plan ahead and install your project in a doable schedule.

As part of classbuilding, involving your students in the process is a great idea. Not only will you find some hands to help you but you will also contribute to a sense of community. The classroom becomes our classroom, not any classroom but the place we built together to thrive together.

You can start the remodeling classroom process before some holidays and invite your students and their parents to come over to your school to discuss the project. The first step will be to have a suggestion box or prepare a survey with easy questions about what your students like or don’t like about the classroom or alternatively you may want to simply do a brainstorming. As part of my own experience the main points are generally about the classroom feeling crowded and old-fashioned displays.

 

Once you get a clearer idea on what to improve have a look on different designing websites or magazines about classrooms and ask your students to choose which ones they really like and try to have them to explain why. Then for each group of parents-students have them to write a couple of words associated to the following words: displays, material, group work, teacher workspace, bookshelves, movement etc. This will help you to know in details what and how to improve your classroom.

4 classbuilding classroom remake

Remaking a classroom doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to get rid of every single item.

Now the decision has been made to remodel the room in a certain way. If your budget allows it you may want to ask for new desks, chairs and displays, but if not the DIY method also works. Think about recycling material you have. Redecorated pizza boxes can be great to keep card games!  Plastic containers from your shops can be used as storage as well. Use your creativity and that of your students to build your new environment. Remaking a classroom doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to get rid of every single item. You need to consider what is unnecessary and what you use on a daily basis.

 

You need to get some volunteers to help you with the task whether we are talking about moving material or painting or getting some funds. Your students again are the ones to get on board and also their friends, their parents, their parents’ colleagues etc. The more the merrier. You will find out that the more involved the community is in your project the better collaborative learning environment you will get.

How to create group work

How to create group work

When visiting another school or another colleague’s classroom I will always praise the group on finding a lesson running smoothly with every single student on task, knowing what to do, sharing ideas, being respectful towards one another. When learning is actually happening you will find out that these wonderful students’ skills didn’t appear by magic but that they were carefully, cautiously and cleverly taught by an efficient long-term thinking teacher. These types of classroom actually exist within the teacher’s willingness to create a safe learning community.

Without divine intervention, we can only count on ourselves to shape the kind of learning environment our students and us deserve.

The first step to develop a classroom where students are willing to share, to experiment and to learn requires a long-term vision. Before even thinking about creating new resources, you should sit down before the start of the year and define what you want for yourself and your students. Basically we all want the same: hard-working and motivated students, students ready for learning and for being challenged and for us teaching without stress in a peaceful environment.

Good. But nothing happens without time and strategy and you may even have to rethink your plan during the year.

Once you have your objectives you need to implement a strategy full of little steps to have your efficient paradise classroom.

We need first of all to develop a learning community through the building of group work. Group work if well prepared with clear teaching and learning objectives, efficient motivating resources and rules can create the classroom you dream of. We will spend the first few weeks working in different groups with same-level students and mixed-ability students. You may also decide that your students are mature enough to choose their partners to produce the best piece of work ever. A simple idea easy to put in place right at the beginning is to work with greetings and (dis)likes. Here you will introduce easy vocabulary and you will be able to develop the use of a polite form to address one another.

3 classbuilding group work

Before you get your perfect learning teams you need to implement rules or procedures to ensure the group work runs smoothly. You will teach your students day-by-day how to form efficient learning community with a role for each member of the group. One member will be in charge of gathering data, the other member will have to organize data and another one will speak up for the whole group. Easier said than done will you say. Time and perseverance should allow this. Students will progressively learn some efficient patterns of communication and social skills to work hand in hand.

I can still remember my first few weeks of teaching and trying to get group work. Not to mention it was absolute chaos. But then with determination you build on your own skills. Moving on from chaos to efficient group work with a limited assistance from you as a teacher takes time and energy but it is worth the hard work for your long-term vision. We need as teachers to be clear with our expectations and set commonly agreed rules while modeling the behavior we expect from our students. Every teacher is different and even if we share the same respectful manners we have different ways to implement them and it is crucial for our little learning community to know how to engage to have a safe and respectful learning atmosphere.

Once the respectful environment is set, our little learning community needs to be praised. No matter how well they did, we need to praise and show them the positive evolution of their work that is why we need to be genuinely interested in the tasks our student will produce. When we are working with groups, we need to remember that groups are formed of individuals and every contribution has its importance. Rewarding the whole group is a good thing but rewarding each and every individual is even better to stimulate them and to encourage them to do even better.

You can also get some ideas on group and games activities on the following websites:

10 team building games for the first day of class

Initiative Games

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