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Teaching Small English Classes in South Korea

K-12 class sizes can vary dramatically in South Korea. Many teachers are placed in rural areas where they work at schools with less than twenty children in total, and class sizes of only three or four students. You could also end up working at a city school with hundreds of students, where the average class size is 30 students. It is difficult to anticipate which situation you will find yourself in until you arrive at your destination and get your placement. So it is useful to get acquainted before you arrive.

This OnTESOL graduate blog is about teaching small classes with EPIK. A new teacher might suspect that classroom management is easier with smaller groups, but small K-12 classes in a foreign country comes with its challenges.

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Managing Behaviour in Small Classes

In a small group you often experience outspoken kids who dominate the class easily by talking out of turn or answering questions without raising their hand; therefore, not giving other students a chance. This student can have a huge impact on the direction the class takes, as they feel they are the voice of the other students. You have to be careful not to accept this as always being true.

For instance, in one class I had planned to play Scrabble. The students hadn’t played it before and so I was going to teach them. One of the girls loudly declared that they were bored with it and it was too difficult, and asked to learn a song instead (Baby by Justin Bieber, which is always a hit with grade six girls). I consented but later found out that other students still wanted to learn Scrabble. They hadn’t spoken up during the class, but I should have asked. It is too easy to assume that the most outspoken opinion is the popular opinion.

Class Participation

Within a small class, students sometimes struggle to participate on a class level. In some exercises, they don’t have the benefit of anonymity and might choose not to participate at all. In small classes, it’s more difficult to elicit that resounding, enthusiastic class-wide response that we teachers love. Contrary to what I would have believed, in group presentations I often have a harder time encouraging participation in smaller, more intimate classes. With large classes, the students feel more confidence having watched their friends go before them.

It helps to lead with the more outgoing group, as they will often come up with something funny or outlandish that will put the other groups at ease with their less dramatic presentations. In a small class, you may have to break the ice yourself. Don’t be afraid to participate and make a bit of a fool of yourself. Shy students will benefit from watching you.

Group Dynamics

In small classes, you’re also more likely to find that you have that one kid that no one seems to talk to. Getting this student involved is a challenge that can’t be ignored. Change the dynamic of the group often so that different kids work with this student at different times.

Ask one of your more eager students to work with the student on group projects. They will be happy to help you out if you make it feel like a personal favor. Of course, a small group can also be closely knit and have no trouble with confidence. As a teacher, you should try to facilitate this. Group dynamics are important for the atmosphere you are trying to create.

In a small group, it will be easy to remember which students are friends, which students have higher abilities, and which students are shy or outgoing. Experiment with seating arrangements. For a straight forward lesson, keeping friends separate might benefit you, as the students will pay closer attention to the lesson. But for a group presentation, groups of friends often turn out more creative, higher quality work.

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