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Teaching Large ESL Classes in South Korea

I worked with EPIK in both small and large class environments and I generally enjoyed teaching larger classes more. This article will share some of the experiences I encountered in terms of class participation, collaborating with the co-teacher, student discipline, and the multi-level environment.

Article originally published by Sarah P. in 2013. Recommended TESOL certification program for South Korea: Advanced 120-hour TESOL certificate and 20-hour TEYL specialist ($200 OFF)

Class Participation in Large ESL Classes

Encouraging students to participate can be challenging in large classes. Giving stickers or candy is a good way to get wider participation, especially among younger groups.

You can also have a long term reward system for the class as a whole. If the whole class is affected by one student’s bad behavior, they are more likely to govern themselves. They will tell the noisy kid to be quiet, or help the student who has difficulty completing homework to get it done on time.

Promising movie or treat days for a month of good behavior is a good way to get this response.

In a large class, it’s not so difficult to get students to respond as a class in repetitive exercises. They may start out weak, but simply having them do it over again until you get wider participation is usually effective. However, you must watch out for kids who are faking it and try to make note of who they are. It’s easy to spot the kids who participate well, but there are always kids who will try to hide in the shadows.

These students often have a low level of confidence in their English ability and singling them out in front of the class isn’t going to make it any better. Instead, I find that it helps to approach these students and work with them during reading and writing practice. Getting them to read aloud and answer questions one-on-one will give them more confidence to do it in front of the class.

Give them the extra attention they need and you will often find that they step up to the plate more frequently during a question and answer format.

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Working with a co-teacher allows you to visit with those students who need extra help more quickly so the pace of the class won’t be hindered. Bigger classes tend to work at a slower pace anyway.

Simple tasks like having all the students open their books take longer as you wait for that inevitable element of students who weren’t paying attention when you asked or the ones who are simply feeling defiant. For a more comprehensive review on how to collaborate with the Co-Teacher, read my other article on Co-Teaching in South Korea.


In larger classes, the defiant element is always something to watch out for. It should be caught early and dealt with. If you have a co-teacher, it’s best to have them explain the expectations clear to students.

If you are on your own, make it clear for them to understand punishment, and use it consistently. Standing at the back of the class, going to a corner, or writing lines for bad behavior are clear and easily understood punishments, which are good for removing the defiant element from the class without interfering with everyone else’s learning.

Whatever class size you have, the main thing you should keep in mind is to be flexible. Don’t let your plans get in the way of the student’s learning. If something isn’t working for the group, think fast, and try something else.

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Special considerations for Large Multi-Level Classes

One of the greatest challenges you may experience is having a large multi-level class and not being able to speak the native-language for assisting low-level students. Keep your activities simple and re-use formats for activities over and over.

For low-level students, make a demonstration video or PowerPoint presentation that explains how to do the assignment or game. Showing is better than explaining. Group activities work better in these situations.

Use the high-level students to help explain the assignment to the low-level students so the class moves faster. Once the class understands the assignment you can use that format over and over again and the students will know what’s expected of them.

You may worry that it will become stale for the students, but you’d be surprised at how much the students enjoy familiar games. I use a hot potato format a few times a month. Using different music and different key expressions keep the game lively, and the kids are thrilled every time it comes out.

The most important thing you can do is learn to speak slowly and to adjust your language to the level you are teaching. This comes with time. You will find yourself even speaking with an accent to low-level students so they have an easier time understanding you.

I frequently say things like lunchee, or changee when talking to young children who have only heard English spoken with a Korean accent in their lives, (this accent takes over and it becomes difficult to invite a friend out to lunch instead of lunchee).

Many of the students may know English but find your accent hard to understand. It is a process to get the students accustomed to listening to a native speaker, and you will have to ease them out of their bad speaking habits.

Read: Special Considerations for Teaching Small K-12 Classes in the EPIK Program

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