Tips for Teaching Large Classes Collated by @cazzwebbo

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Who else has just got their new timetable and found they have quite a few large classes this term? How big does a class have to be for it to feel large to you? 20 students? 25? 30? 40? 50?

I’m down to teach several GCSE English classes with 30 students in them, a total of 134 students per week unless a few end up in different classes or dropping out (I teach in an FE college, not mainstream ed). Last year I started out with 103 and this slipped down to 77 in the end. For teaching GCSE English this feels large for me due to all the marking of diagnostics, course work and mock exams that falls at the same time for each class, as well as any homework.

Until the timetabling situation is resolved, I’m wondering what other experienced teachers advise as their top tips for teaching larger classes, especially English GCSE.

I’ve collated some tips below from around the web (some of these blatantly apply to developing world countries for classes of 50+ students), and please feel free to add yours in comments underneath, too.

“There is no “best way” to teach large classes. You must develop the approach that works best for you based on your teaching style, the characteristics of your students, and the goals and objectives of your lessons and curriculum” (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Ideally, hold classes in a bright, clean, well-equipped room that accommodates every student comfortably and allows them to move around and work well either individually or in groups (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

To encourage active learning and student involvement, arrange seats so students can see each other as well as the teacher (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

“In large class settings, space is often a luxury. To maximize what learning space is available, consider removing unnecessary furniture to reduce the feeling of overcrowding and to facilitate movement” (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

“If you really don’t need a large teacher’s desk, ask for a small one” (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

“Store books, instructional materials (such as chalk, rulers, paper, paint, and scissors), and teaching tools (such as portable chalkboards, easels, chart paper, and work tables) so that they can be obtained and put away easily, and, in crowded classrooms, do not take up valuable space” (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Facilitate movement. Develop plans in advance for how students can best enter and exit the classroom; for instance, students who sit in the back of the classroom can enter first, followed by those seated in the middle, and lastly by those seated at the front. A reverse strategy can be used for exiting the classroom (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Plan in advance how you will change the classroom arrangement depending on what is being taught, such as moving from a whole class arrangement for test taking to small groups for other lessons (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Plan on how routine activities will be conducted, such as handing out written assignments and then handing them back to students after grading. Also plan so that your students’ individual needs can be met, such as when they need to sharpen their pencils or to get supplies for learning (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Display student work creatively. Space is needed to display student work. Rather than display boards or tables, which take up space, students’ work can be hung on a classroom wall or displayed just outside the classroom door for everyone to see. Strings can be used onto which each student’s work is attached with clips, or tape. Decorating the room with student work will also help add to the attractiveness of the room and make it more welcoming, even if there are a lot of students in it (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Involve your students. Students can be very helpful in managing the classroom’s physical space, and it helps them to develop a sense of responsibility. They can hang up student work, create bulletin boards, and put away instructional materials at the end of each lesson. Students can also be helpful in solving space problems. When a problem occurs, such as students bumping into each other or inadequate seating space, ask them to suggest solutions (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

At the beginning of the year, organize your classroom, and then ask your students if they are comfortable with it. Better yet, divide them into groups and ask each group to look around the room and its contents, and then to draw a picture of how they would like the room to be organized. Use ideas from their drawings to design your students’ “personal” classroom. Try the arrangement for one or two weeks, and then ask your students if they are comfortable with it. Change the classroom arrangement if they feel a new one would be more comfortable. Moreover, change it whenever you sense that your students are becoming bored with sitting in the classroom (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Make a large class feel small. Many teachers try to make a large class small by treating it as such. They move towards a student who has asked a question, which reduces physical and social distance, and they help class assistants distribute materials. Remember: students may not mind being in a large class as much as you do. Students once described
a teacher who made a large class seem much smaller because of his personal approach. He moved around a lot, walking up and down the room. You knew that he wanted his students to come to class and that he cared about his students. This teacher came to class early to talk to students. He helped students connect with others who could help them with their work. He recognized his students as people with interests and lives outside of his class (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Temporarily reduce class size. Some teachers intentionally reduce the size of their classes. They divide their classes in half (or even by one-third), with one-half coming to school in the morning, while the other half comes in the afternoon (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Make a seating chart. Ask students to sit in the same seats for the first few weeks and prepare a seating chart. Try to memorize four or five names at each class session (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Use name cards and tags. If photographs or pictures are not possible, have students make name cards that they place in front of them during class. If you are not using desks, your studentscan make name tags to wear during the first few weeks of school. Before class, and during it, learn the names of students sitting along the aisles and call on them in class by name. Progressively work your way to the centre of the room, calling each student by name (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Use introductions. Have a few students introduce themselves. Then stop the introductions and ask another student to name all of the students who have been introduced. Once the first few names have been recalled, move on to a few more, and so on, until everyone has been introduced. For very large classes, do this exercise over the first week and select a small group of students to make introductions each day (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Actively take attendance. Call the register using the students’ names several times during the beginning of the school year to connect faces and names as soon as possible. Even though there may be some names that you don’t seem to be able to learn, your students will greatly appreciate your effort (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Actively use students’ names. Have students give their names each time before they speak. This can be continued until everyone feels they know the people in the room. Use students’ names as often as possible (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

Involve students. Asking two or three students each day to be “class assistants” to help you with demonstrations, distributing materials, or other activities can also help you to learn their names. Talk to them while you are working on the activity so that you can learn about their backgrounds and interests (source: http://unesco.org.pk/education/icfe/resources/res15.pdf).

High Energy: although classes with many students may be noisy, try to see them as fun and exciting (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete – save and use in these in your next class (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Use a teacher’s notebook: Carry a small notebook and pen around with you. Take notes while you are circulating among students. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Create a participation grade if you are allowed: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part a final grade of some kind if possible. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too) (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don’t feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn’t go as you expect it to (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm). I think I’m going to get a whistle 😉

Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the photocopying room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don’t let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm). Not sure I’d be allowed to use the one about not letting them enter, but I’ll ask 😉

Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don’t like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves- sounds like a good starter activity (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. “A doing word”) Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What’s a verb?”) (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm).

Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm). Sounds like a variation on the speed dating activity I had students doing in my first classes this week… Which, incidentally, was a complete hit, every time!

Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins (source: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-large-classes.htm). another good starter.

5 thoughts on “Tips for Teaching Large Classes Collated by @cazzwebbo

  1. I tell them which 3-4 questions I am going to mark in detail from an exercise and expect them to mark the rest themselves.

    I always get them to work in pairs. it’s easier to speak to every pair about their work than it is to get round every individual.

    Noting who you speak to and about what is important so every pupil gets enough teacher time.

    Like

  2. As with any post with lots of suggestions, we’ve always got to select those that apply to our particular situation and realise that not every one will. Simple techniques like moving toward a student asking a question are things I do more or less instinctively, but that it has a profound effect in larger classes was enlightening for me.

    When it comes to many of the necessary evils of teaching, the “work smarter” cliché, annoying as it is, seems to have a grain of truth in it (as clichés tend to do). I’ve been able to use technologies like my LMS’s rubric mechanism and voice dictation to significantly reduce the time I spend grading whilst still giving meaningful feedback.

    As was rightly pointed out, many variables will determine what is a “large” class: subject matter, instruction level, facilities, even time of day. And we oughtn’t to forget that sometimes it comes down to the instructor; a class of 30 which seems reasonable to me seems overwhelming to a new instructor just out of post-grad work.

    There are no magic answers, but these are definitely a good place to start thinking about managing the realities of class size.

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  3. In emergency, I once taught two GCE ‘O’ classes (approx 50 students) as one class for their final year. The library was made available as the only room big enough. I taught perched on fitted reading top half way along the long side (Important positioning). My main strategy was to acknowledge with the students from the outset the situation called for universal cooperation & personal study skills efficiency. WE (not I) ensured classes were attentive, individual voices valued (it was literature as well as language) & deadlines sacrosanct. Only worked because they rose to the circumstance’s challenge.

    Like

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