Methodology: teaching large classes
Often when teachers are faced with large classes they begin to worry about how they will teach. It’s tempting to simply let the classes become teacher fronted and turn into lectures. If the entire course is like this it’s a bit of a shame, as opportunities for students to practise and use the language are quite limited. In this respect, large classes are viewed as problematic and in a negative light. However, this does not need to be the case. Yes, large classes, especially those of 100+, are a challenge but there are many positive aspects to such classes. For us, one of the biggest plusses is the dynamic nature of such classes. With so many students there are lots of opportunities to get people to work together, compare, discuss and benefit from the variety of voices.
Of course, there are practical implications both in terms of arranging activities and issues with things such as photocopying. So, here are a few tips on how to deal with large classes including using reading texts. We go from the easiest to the more challenging.
With a large group, choral drilling can work quite well. In its most basic form, choral drilling involves you giving an oral model of a word or phrase and the whole class repeating it.
Choral drilling can be quite a lot of fun, and it can make some bits of language more memorable. Just ask Li Yang, the founder of Crazy English – a method of learning English in China. He has classes of over twenty thousand (20,000 that’s right!) and uses choral drilling as part of his method – getting his students to shout phrases out loud.
Use choral drilling to practise new words or phrases, especially phrases that will be useful in a future communicative activity. You can also do choral drilling for dialogues (first you say and they repeat, then you say one bit and they say the other, then they do it in two large groups) before asking students to practice it in pairs together. See the sections on drills and dialogues in the Teaching with Minimal Resources section for more ideas and material.
Note: if you feel uncomfortable always giving the model sentence then use a listening exercise from a CD or tape if you have one.
Think, pair, share
This is a technique we learned from large university lectures in North America. Put up on the board or project the words: THINK-PAIR-SHARE. Briefly explain the meaning:
- Think individually about your answer to the question.
- Pair with the person next to you.
- Share your thoughts, in English.
Then ask your first question and point to the word THINK. Ask them to think quietly about their answer. Then point to PAIR and let them turn to a partner. Then point to SHARE and gesture for them to share their answers – in English.
Use this technique for short pairwork speaking activities (search the Speaking Skills lessons section for material containing discussion questions) or for comprehension tasks based on texts (use the Topical News lessons section).
A wonderful technique that really lends itself well to large classes, especially when there is limited movement because of layout issues. Pick a short text (perhaps a paragraph from one of the Topical News lessons section). Ask your students to close their notebooks and put down their pens. Explain that you will read a text and you want them to listen carefully.
Read the text and then ask students to write down everything they can remember. Put students in pairs or small groups and ask them to share ideas and try and reconstruct the text. If you want you can read it out again, but make sure students aren’t writing while you are dictating. You could also write up a series of questions on the board (these could be the comprehension questions) and tell students that the answers to the questions will help them reconstruct the text.
Using an anecdote
Choose one of the anecdotes from the Teacher Anecdotes section and tell your students you are going to read out a short story that happened to someone. You might want to take the opportunity to turn this into a prediction activity. You could read out a few lines and then ask students to talk in pairs or small groups and predict what happened next. Then continue the story and watch a few of your students to see who got it right – you’ll easily be able to tell from their reaction.
You could also turn it into a vocabulary prediction activity. Read a part of the story and then stop. Ask students to write down the next word. Again, get them to compare with a partner before continuing with the story. Both of these ideas give students an extra reason to listen and will help them focus. Of course, as a follow-up you could ask students to work in small groups and share their own anecdotes around a certain topic.
With a class of 148 students, groupwork is going to be very difficult. However, we have seen groupwork used in large classes. One thing that helps is asking groups to assign a leader. So, in a class of 100 you might have twenty groups of 5 students. The group leaders can:
- report back on a speaking activity
- collect written work and hand it back to the teacher (or exchange with another group and do peer correction)
- be responsible for checking answers to an exercise (you prepare copies of the answers and give a copy to each group leader once they have finished doing the exercise)
If you and your students get into using groups, you may want to experiment with the following favourite techniques.
Another technique is to take a longer text and make 30 copies. You could use the material in the Reading Skills section. Cut the text into five sections (A-E). Put your students into groups of five and give each student within a group one section of the text. Each student reads their text and then summarises the content for the other students.
Follow-up activities can include deciding on the correct order of the five sections and the standard comprehension question that would normally be done for the whole text. Of course, both these activities require the students within a group to work together and help each other.
This activity is a favourite of many teachers but requires a little extra thought with large classes. After all, you can’t really have 74 students running backwards and forwards! However, if you divide your class into groups of five or six, one student can be the messenger and must read a text that is posted on the wall of the classroom. They then run between the text and the other four or five students in their group. These students listen to the ‘runner’ and write the text. Each time the ‘runner’ goes back to the text to read the next piece the ‘scribes’ can compare what they have written and help each other. This means in a class of 148 there are thirty runners. This activity works best where the texts are no longer than a paragraph.
For more activities that you can use/adapt for large classes, see the section on Teaching with Minimal Resources. Good luck with it.