Teaching large classes: problems and suggested techniques

Teachers often complain, not without reason,  about teaching large classes.  These unlucky teachers not only suffer from the pedagogical shortcomings of large classes, but also from the stress these classes produce. This post will try to answer the following questions:

  1. What are large classes?
  2. What makes large classes difficult to teach?
  3. What techniques make it possible for students to learn in these classes?

Large classes

It is difficult to set a definition of what a large class is. In  some countries, a class with 30 students is not considered at all problematic. In other countries, however, such a class would be challenging for teachers. Some teachers have to face even more than 40 (in some Moroccan schools a class may include 50 students). On the other hands, results of some researchers (see these links: Class size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy, How important is class size?) showed that benefits in achievement generally occur when class size is reduced to less than 20 students. Above this figure problems of acquisition and classroom management arise.

Problems with large classes

While it is hard to draw definitive conclusions about student achievement based on class size alone, since other variables such as the quality of teachers, students degree of motivation and the role of the parents may come into play, large classes yield the following difficulties:

  • One of the main difficulties that a teacher may experience while teaching a large class is the tremendous effort that she or he  will have to make. With an outnumbered class there is always something to be done.
  • With a large class, it is difficult to get a satisfactory knowledge of  student’s needs. Intimacy with students and remembering names might be a problem.
  • As a consequence of the large number of students, the noise level is inevitably high which adds to the stress teachers may experience.
  • Organizing, planning  and presenting lessons, may constitute another challenge for teachers in such classes as students abilities might differ considerably.
  • There is another difficulty related to the learning process. In fact, engaging learners actively in the learning process may not be easy in a crowded class.
  • It is hard to imagine how a large class would benefit from school resources such as computers, books, references…
  • With a crowded classroom, teachers might find it difficulties to measure effectiveness.
  • A large classes gives reluctant students a place to hide.

Tips

It is undoubtedly very difficult for a teacher to deal with large classes. Anything done to remedy the problem would be fruitless unless students are really motivated to learn. Nevertheless, the following tips may be useful to alleviate the intensity of the situation.

  • First it would be  a great idea to train students to work in small groups of five to seven students. And when working in groups, it would be beneficial for students to sit around in a circle so that everyone could have  a chance to participate.
  • Groups should include fewer members to avoid any of the students coasting. It is important to find active roles for students to avoid them being lazy.
  • Pair work may be also a good alternative to practice conversations, exercises and other language activities.
  • Pairing weaker students with stronger ones might be an option unless you fear the weaker students feel intimidated.
  • Changing the classroom desk arrangement to take into consideration the large number of students is a good idea. Finding out the right arrangement is up to the teachers’ creativity and classroom size. Anyway, desk placements should make cooperative work easier.
  • To optimize your work with students with learning difficulties, give them seats in front of you, closer to you so that you can spot difficulties easily while teaching.
  • To reduce stress and noise level, set simple rules for class management.
    1. Establish simple rules of acceptable behavior for everybody to observe when working in groups, in pairs or individually.
    2. Train your students to deal with classroom chores:
    a. getting into and out of the classroom at the start and end of lesson or during recess time
    b. handing out books, papers, and other materials;
    c. putting away school materials at the end of the lesson.
  • Teachers in large classes may also want to delegate some of the work to more able students. These can play the role of  teachers’ assistants.
  • Another measure that might be effective for some teachers is to split the class into weak students and more able students. This would make it possible for the teacher to concentrate on the weaker students.  However, this should be done with a lot of caution so as not to affect weaker students self-esteem.
  • Why not use technology? Technology ensures that everyone has time to connect with the teacher. For instance, teachers may plan to do the following:
    1. A large class will be better off with a blog or a wiki where students and the teacher could meet at home.
    2. Using students emails would make it easier for teachers to connect with students off class.

It is true that teaching a large class is challenging as it is pedagogically unacceptable and psychologically irrelevant. These classes involve, most of the times, mixed abilities, language levels, motivation, needs, interests, and goals. Nevertheless, teaching and managing such classes is possible if steps such as those described above are taken.


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3 Responses

  1. Zaza says:

    Thanks a lot for this blog which is really interesting and very useful.Actually, we really suffer from this problem – large classes – in some parts of Morocco,if not in most parts of it . An example of this is the Delegation of Settat. As an English teacher who has spent twenty years teaching EFL,I really miss those days when we used to teach group-hours.Now it’s different of course. Today the teacher finds himself/herself trapped between two constraints . On the one hand, there is that system of large class sizes imposed by the authority.On the other hand, that lack of interest on the part of the majority of students makes things worse.Please tell me how can one teach a foreign language in a class of 50 students ? This is NONESENSE man !!!!
    Thank you again and keep up the good work ..

  2. Dias Laissa says:

    Thanks alot for the post, actually, i found it helpful! In my country large classes is common in almost all provinces and this seems not to have an immediate solution!

  1. June 21, 2013

    […] Teaching large classes […]

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