Is There Any Way to Handle Large Classes?
In my visit to different campuses and schools for different academic purposes in Nepal, I frequently hear from the teachers of English that large class is the most serious problem for making their teaching successful. I myself, too, have been facing this problem for a long time.
If we see classroom situation of the world, we find crowded classroom in most of countries. We will find 40 to 100 students, sometimes even more, in a class! In such a situation, it is difficult for the teacher to make contact with the students at the back, and it is difficult for the students to ask for and receive individual attention. In large class, we cannot communicate with the students at personal level. It may seem impossible to organize dynamic and creative teaching and learning sessions. In big class, it is not easy to have students walking around or changing pairs. It can be quite intimidating for inexperienced teachers. Large class fosters indiscipline; group work becomes noisy; assessment becomes difficult; there will be low participation and interaction; difficulty in classroom organization; difficulty in determining the individual needs of each students; difficult to address learning styles of all students; excessive use of mother tongue; problem for finding suitable materials; difficulty in checking students’ class work and homework, etc. (Harmer, 2007). In fact, the large class is truly problematic for the teachers since there would be diverse body of students in terms of level of competency, preferences, age, attitude, motivational orientation, learning experiences and family background.
It is said that every problem has a solution. In order to solve the problems in large classes, we need to look for potential solution and positive sides of it. Teaching in large class is not only a challenge but also an opportunity for the teacher. In this connection, Khati (2010) argues that large class does not only pose problem, it also provides more chances to enhance mutual learning (forming cross-ability groups). The large multilevel classroom itself is an opportunity for interaction. Moreover, it increases the knowledge of others, and their values and personalities. In the same way, Timilsina (n. d.) says:
Large size class is not only a problem or burden of teachers but also an opportunity to explore new techniques and tools. Multicultural issues in education, world-class education, and sustainable education are other factors to link to the issue of large size class. Action researches, socio-cultural orientation, discussions with experts and workshops on this issue can help a teacher to face the challenges. Let us think globally and act locally (see Phyak, 2010 for details).
In large classes, teachers generally feel greater burdens and challenges than in small classes. It is certainly true that large classes have some specific challenges that the smaller ones do not have. However, there are also some benefits to teaching in large classes. Basically, there is rich variety of human resource. The large class is advantageous if it is properly handled. Through diverse body of students, teacher can get information on a number of things, if proper attention is given to them. Saraswathi (2004) has mentioned the following advantages of large class.
- A large class could become a relaxing experience for a teacher if the focus shifts from the teacher to the learners. For this learner learns by doing, not by remaining passive.
- In large class, when learners do tasks on their own, they learn much better than while passively listening to the teacher. While learners are engaged in group activities, the teacher can move from group to group and get to know them immediately.
- The bright learners could be exploited to check the work of the weaker ones. Primarily, the notion that ‘every writing task must test the learners’, should change. Learners should be encouraged to write so that they might learn and not necessarily demonstrate their proficiency every time.
Ways to handle large classes
While teaching in large class, teacher should not put heavy load on his or her own shoulder; rather s/he should transfer responsibilities to the students. This reduces burden of the teacher and fosters autonomy on the part of the students in their study. Various techniques have been advised by different scholars and experts for making teaching in large classes effective. According to Harmer (2007), the following elements can be introduced in a large classroom to make teaching effective.
Be organized: In large class, it is really much more difficult to individualize teaching or respond to individual concerns than it is with fewer students. It is commonly found that the larger the class size, the class becomes more unorganized or chaotic, for this, teachers have to be organized and should know what they are going to do before the lesson starts. That is to say, in order to handle the large class, teacher should be well prepared in advance.
Establish routines: In the same way, in order to carry out daily works more easily and smoothly in the large class, and make the students habituated to carry out daily works, teachers should establish straightforward routines. This will make jobs like taking the register, setting and collecting homework, getting into pairs and groups, etc. far easier. It is expected that establishing routines helps the teacher carry out work quickly and more efficiently if students are already familiar with the works they have to carry out.
Maximize individual work: Even in a large class, the more individual work a teacher can give to the students, the more s/he can mitigate the effects of always working with a large group as a whole. Teacher can ask the students to build a portfolio of their work. Similarly, teacher can get the students to write individually offering their own responses to what they read and hear.
Use a different pace for different activities: In large class, teacher should give the students more time to respond before moving ahead. Similarly, teachers should maintain different pace for different activities. The activities determine the pace of learning in large class. For example, if the teacher is going to conduct drill work in large class, a fast pace can be maintained, but, if the teacher is going to conduct the activities that demand thinking, the teacher should slow down. An activity may be very easy for some students but may be difficult for others. Thus, it is essential to provide different tasks to different students to help them grow at their own pace.
Use students: Teacher can use the students to carry out works such as collecting homework, taking register, helping weak students, distributing copies of hand out, checking that everyone in their group has understood the task and giving feedback. For this, the teacher can nominate group leaders to assist him/her in the class. The teacher can ask the leaders to monitor their classmate’s performance. Thus, the teacher can reduce his/her work load in the large class with the help of the group leaders. But, s/he must be careful enough to watch them to ensure they are helping their friends properly.
Use work sheets: The teacher should prepare and use worksheets to save his/her time and effort. After the students complete the specified task in the worksheets, teacher can provide feedback at the same time as all the students go on checking and correcting in their worksheets. Teacher can give feedback to facilitate all the students to learn more what is intended.
Use pair work and group work: In large class, pair work and group work are regarded extremely important since they maximize students’ participation. These works keep the students busy, and ultimately reduce the burden of the teacher. Even where chairs and desks cannot be moved, there are ways of conducting pair work and group work like first rows turn to face second rows, third rows to face fourth rows, etc.
Use chorus reaction: The teacher can get his/her students to have language practice in chorus, especially in junior grades. Since it becomes difficult to use a lot of individual repetition and controlled practice in a big group, it may be more appropriate to use students in chorus. The class can be divided into two halves – the front five rows and the back five rows, for example, or the left-hand and right-hand sides of the classroom. Each row/half can then speak a part of the dialogue, ask or answer a question or repeat sentences or words.
Take account of vision and acoustics: Big classes often run in big rooms. The students sitting at the back of the class are likely not to see what is written on the board or not to hear what the teacher tells them. Thus, the teacher must assure him/herself that the students can see and listen properly. If the size of the visuals is not large enough, they cannot see them properly, and if the voice is not loud enough, they cannot listen. In this situation, the teacher has to manage the visuals and sound system appropriately so as to see and listen to the back benchers.
Use the size of the group to your advantage: The teacher has to form the groups in such a size which s/he feels comfortable. Both large and small groups have both strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers find large groups more humorous, warmer, more dramatic, more exciting and enveloping than the smaller ones. On the other hand, teaching large groups is really challenging. Hence, while determining the size of the groups, the number of the students in the class and the teacher’s comfort should be taken into consideration.
Besides the above mentioned ideas, some other ideas can also be used to deal with large classes. It is opined that the movement of the teacher around the class also makes the class seems smaller, and encourages students’ involvement. Similarly, the use of limited mother tongue can be helpful at the time of instructing to the students so that they will not be puzzled to carry out the works assigned to them. According to Khati (2010) in a large heterogeneous class, there is no alternative of developing a collaborative working atmosphere, providing a variety of works and making all students involved in various activities appropriate for different levels. In large class, it is not possible to reach upto each individual for checking students’ class work. To solve this problem, the teacher can go through the answer of a student per bench and ask him/her to help his/her friends. For this, peer correction and self- correction techniques can be highly useful.
In order to handle the large class, Timilsina (nd), an English language teacher from Kavre, has mentioned his practice that he had carried out in the following way:
A few talented students generally dominate the large size classes. They can help the teacher to teach effectively. My way of mobilizing them helps me. I place them in different benches and assign them to help other weak students. Another way that I use is to administer proficiency test before I start the course. According to the score they obtain, they are placed in such a way that the weak students will get helping hands (see Phyak, 2010 for details).
Although a large class size is taken as a burden by most of the teachers, they can mitigate these problems with the tactful use of effective techniques. Teachers should understand the loal context and use the techniques as per the situation rather than completely be relying on the prescribed ideas. A number of techniques can be explored to solve the large class problem, and making large class more interesting and engrossing. Being a teacher, we should learn, share our ideas to other professionals related to handling of large class successfully. The best practices and techniques adopted by other teachers can be used in large class. We should always strive to explore contextually appropriate methods and techniques to solve the issues we face.
Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. London: Longman.
Khati, A. R. (2010). Exploring common expectations from students in large multilevel secondary level English classes. Journal of NELTA, 15 (1-2), 98 – 105.
Smith, R. (2013). Transformations in ELT: Contexts, agents and opportunities. In Shrestha, P. N. Dahal, K. D., Ojha, L. P. Rana, L. B. & Rawal, H. (eds.). NELTA Conference Proceedings 2013.
Saraswathi, V. (2004). English language teaching principles and practice. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.
Timilsina, M.P. (n.d.). My personal experience of being in crowded class and having crowded class. Data collected by Prem Phyak for the TELC network. Online on: http:/www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/al/research/projects/telc/3._prem_phyak_data_stories_0.pdf.
Ur, P. (2010). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(* Mr Paudel is Assistant Campus Chief at Dadeldhura Multiple Campus, Dadeldhura, Nepal and a Central Committee member of NELTA. He can be reached via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org)