Teaching is sometimes a daunting job, especially when one teacher has to face a class of more than 30 students. Classroom caps or limiting the number of students per class is not always possible in certain schools, cities or countries; thus, many ESL teachers face the added challenge of too many students per class.
Ideally, teaching a second language requires not only an effective teacher but also a conducive environment and many opportunities for the students to practice what they are learning. Unfortunately, no matter how effective the teacher is, if the other variables in this equation are not present, the students’ success can be affected.
Researchers from the Beijing Normal University in China identified five areas of key concern for teachers working with large ESL classes:
- Discipline issues (especially with younger students)
- Meeting individual student needs and interests
- Efficient organization of activities
- Providing equal opportunities for students to practice and participate in class
- Dealing with marking and feedback
Other problems that concern ESL teachers in large classes are affective (getting to know students and meet their needs), pedagogical (how to organize effective learning activities), and managerial (how to provide effective evaluation and discipline).
Advantages Of Teaching Large ESL Classes
Although it might not seem like it at first, large classes can have some advantages:
- While it can get noisy, the energy in a large class can be motivating for students, and you will rarely feel that time is moving slowly
- Large classes offer the opportunity to implement creative, student-centered cooperative project work
- And also more students mean more opinions and more opportunities for students to engage with different ideas
The best way to handle large classes is to make the most of the environment and provide the students with as many practice opportunities as you can.
If you are teaching in an English-speaking country, the environment is and will almost always be your ally. Use it! Everything around students learning English in an English-speaking country will be an opportunity to expand their learning outside the classroom.
In order to do this, you must encourage the students to pay attention to their environment.
- Ask them to read the signs when they travel to and from school. You can even ask them to take pictures with their smartphones and bring them into class. Provided all students have the means to do this, it could even become a homework assignment.
- Ask them to read newspapers, magazines, flyers and everything they can come in contact with. For example, you could give them a checklist on a bingo card they can check off as they do this every week.
- Teach students how to use the public library in the city where they live. Encourage them to go there to do homework if they can.
- Ask students to become aware of the language they read on websites that are naturally in English.
- Encourage students to listen to the radio. Depending on their level they can listen for different kinds of tasks.
- Invite students to watch TV in their free time.
- Encourage students to go to the movies. Watching their favourite movies without captions or subtitles is a great way for students to improve their listening skills.
If you are teaching in a non-English-speaking country, you must try to bring as much English as possible into the classroom.
- Put up posters and flyers. They do not need to be fancy, they just need to be in the target language. When students look around, seeing the target language being used will give them a constant opportunity to practice. Change them often to spark interest and provide more opportunities for practicing.
- Display students’ work in the target language. Seeing their peers work is also a great source of practice for students.
- Incorporate as much authentic material as you can!
- Ask students to “hunt” for English in the environment even though it is not originally in English. Very often signs and even advertising may have some English language intertwined with the native language. If you ask students to be aware of this they will catch it.
Learning a language is very similar to learning how to ride a bicycle or how to swim. It cannot be done by just watching someone else do it. If a person is going to learn the language, they must practice it as often as possible.
- Make sure all the students get a chance to participate. Very often, the shy or quiet students can be ‘forgotten’ or can become invisible in large class settings because the more outspoken students are ready to volunteer their answers or ready to read out loud for the class whenever the teacher asks. Keep a running checklist of how often students participate and call out on students who do not volunteer to do so.
- Another way to ensure even more participation is to have all the names of the students in a bowl, hat or bag, and pull one out every time students are required to do something. You can also use a class list and choose students randomly according to their number on the list, their student number, their birthday, etc.
- Reward participation with positive feedback and explain to students how crucial it is to their success.
- Make use of pair work and group work often so that more students are ‘speaking’ at once and using the language. It is very important that an “English-only, except for emergencies” policy is in place in your class. Otherwise, students will switch to their native language. This is something you need to look out for when teaching in non-English-speaking countries where students speak the same language. Walk around and become aware of as many students’ work as you can.
- Assign homework daily or almost daily. If students only use the language in your class and then do not interact with the language until they see you again, their progress will be much slower.
- If possible, direct students to the Internet and provide them with safe links and websites where they can interact with the language as much as possible from home or school libraries or any other place where they can access the Internet.
- Write a blog or set up a Twitter account and ask students to follow you. This is another way to interact with students outside classroom hours and provide them with more chances to practice the language.
- Teaching English to a large number of students can be daunting, but it needs to be considered a challenge rather than an obstacle. New teachers often fall in the Direct Method trap. Take your time to be creative and develop effective lesson plans using Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)!
OnTESOL’s TESOL certification courses will give you the skills that you need to teach English communicatively.