Strategies for large classes – Chiew Pang

Managing the large classroom

First of all, how large is a large classroom? 30 students? 50? 3,269? It’s all somewhat relative, isn’t it? For someone who’s used to a 100-student classroom, having 30 students will have him gleaming with joy! So, the real difficulty may not be the number itself but rather the consequences of having such numbers.

One of the most nagging complaints you hear from teachers is the number of students in their classroom. But, what is the real problem? Not enough air? Not enough chairs? Unlikely. Too noisy? Too impersonal? Perhaps.

The most common practice in the large classroom is, undoubtedly, group work. Set a task and the groups get to work while the teacher moves around, monitoring. Any emergent language issues can be dealt with the whole classroom later. To avoid valuable class time in forming into groups, pre-arrange them. Set a fortnightly or monthly group list and ensure that everyone knows to which group they belong. Stick it up on the classroom wall.

There are various criteria you can follow for forming groups and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. You can form groups of similar levels so they can work at the same pace, or you can mix stronger and weaker students together so that the former can help the latter.

An extension of group work is to set up work stations where each station caters for specific skills and tasks. Students decide on the stations they wish to work on and when they complete the task, they move on to another on a different station.

If you are fortunate enough to have a computer lab, this is a great environment to use for large classes, too. I like setups, such as a horseshoe formation, where the teacher can see at a glance what the students are doing and can dart in and out to help and direct whoever needs it. I have created interactive quizzes, games, etc, on my personal blog, which I have used to great effect in the past. I’ve created activities where I can receive the results of the students’ attempts so I can check their progress. Have several links pre-prepared, or you can use a Google Doc and put the links there. Students do the tasks at their own pace, and repeat as many times as necessary.

Discipline is often an issue in big classes. Set up rules from the first day and abide by them. Better still, have the students themselves decide on the rules! They’re more likely to follow them. Elect a few “assistants” to help you with management. Know the school rules regarding disciplinary action. Know what you’re allowed or not allowed to do. Can you reflect good/bad behaviour in the grades, for example?

Noise is often an important issue in these classes. How do you get the students’ attention? Shouting isn’t the solution, nor is banging the table. Perhaps you’d need a microphone if your class is that big! Perhaps a whistle – I have been told that the sound of whistles affects teenagers more than adults. Have a sign – again, establish this in the first class – for example, raising of the arm (or the sign of the llama) means that the whole class has to repeat the sign themselves and become silent.  You wait for silence to be restored before putting your arm down and speaking again.

(I’d like to thank @michaelegriffin, @phil3wade, @Roselink, @kevchanwow and @cherrymp for their contribution to my crowd-sourcing document. – Chiew )

About Chiew

Chiew Pang currently works for Atribord Associates, a company specialising in training business & professional people to communicate more efficiently in a language that is not their own. He’s based in The Canary Islands. The Internet has opened up a world of infinite possibilities, and this motivates him tremendously, instigating his continual search for new ways of bringing fun into education. He believes one learns more when one’s having fun! Chiew's blog: A cLiL to cLiMB Chiew's Twitter: @ClilToClimb