More than six ways of dealing with large classes

From time to time, I recommend blog posts that I think readers might enjoy or learn from. The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi)  has started a blog that puts a “think tank” twist on the sharing. Every two weeks they ask six teachers to write on the same topic. The first round of posts dealt with error correction, the second round of posts dealt with with homework, the third round dealt with getting students to use English outside of class, and this week’s posts are all about strategies for dealing with large classes. The writers all represent different teaching contexts in different parts of the world, which makes the answers quite interesting.

A bit of a disclaimer. I’m a program director for iTDi’s English For Teachers program, and I have two guest posts on the iTDi blog so far, so it’s fair to say that I’m a fan. However, I would share what iTDi was doing whether or not I was involved with the organization because I believe in their vision for professional development.

Back to the blog posts about large classes…

Here are a few of the highlights I got from a first reading:

Chiew Pang points out that size is relative. A teacher who usually teaches classes of 8-10 students might feel overwhelmed by a class of 30, while a teacher who normally has 60 students will find it a nice break from “large” classes. I like his ideas about creating work stations, and about getting students involved in creating guidelines for classroom management.

Chuck Sandy gets more use out of a fabric ball in his classes than I do! As I teach children and he teaches university, that’s saying something. I like how he uses non-verbal cues to manage his large classes, and then shows how teachers can slowly remove them until the classes really manage themselves. Classroom rituals matter, regardless of age level.

Nour Alkahlidy (aka Miss Noor) always brings an interesting perspective to language teaching with her background in computer instruction, and this week is no exception.  I especially like her ideas about using technology to help students in large classes engage and participate more effectively, take notes, and work productively in groups.

I could just picture Steven Herder rotating students in his language lab in order to make 48 desks work for 52 students. I like the way he used his seating chart to keep notes about student interests and lives, so that he could better connect on a personal level when talking with them, and turning size into an advantage by doing things you just can’t do well with a small class.

For Tamas Lorincz, size is irrelevant to class success. Teachers see challenges because we are still looking at how to teach every student rather than organizing our class as a workshop in which every student has a role, and something to offer. It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it?

So what do you think? Do you teach large classes? What are your strategies for dealing with them successfully? Of course, you can share your ideas here. BUT, even better, why don’t you pop over to the iTDi blog and read the the teachers have to say there. Then, pick a post that resonates for you (or that you disagree with) and share your comments there. I look forward to seeing your ideas on the subject!


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6 Responses

  1. Hi Barb,
    Thanks for a great post. I’ve written a pretty log response to Steven’s post here: but one Chiew reminded me of something. When I went to Bangladesh for the first time with Teachers Helping Teachers (THT) I learned that the average high school class has 80 students and one teacher at the seminar had 120 students. Teachers in Japan complain about large class sizes, but teachers in Bangladesh would love a class of 40. It’s a miracle that anyone in this situation manages to teach and learn a language, and class size is not the only factor. In Bangladesh, English courses are exam driven. Students must take a high stakes test to get by each level of education – no suisen or AO in Bangladesh (Suisen and AO are types of recommendations available to students in Japan who wish to skip the university entrance exam process). The motivation to do test practice questions is high, but there’s little motivation to do speaking tasks. If you are interested in learning more about teaching in Bangladesh here’s a article that was co-written by Dr. Arifa Rahman, one of the outstanding teachers in BELTA:

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks for the double reply, Michael! I thought Chiew’s perspective was interesting, too. It is relative to what we are used to, isn’t it?

      Thanks for the article, too. I’m always interested in learning about teaching in other parts of the world.

      Speaking of which…..I STILL think a guest post about your experiences with THT would be lovely 🙂

      • Now you want one about THT too? Wow that’s 3 guest articles: What my students have taught me, Voicethread, and THT. I’ll do my best 😉

        • Barbara says:

          I’d be happy to start with ONE from you–feel free to take your pick 🙂

          (You just have so many good things to share!)

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