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!
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.