Teaching large classes can be daunting if you’ve never stood in front of that many students before. Ideally, ESL class sizes are fairly small. Discipline is easier, and you can devote more resources and time to giving each student the attention that they need. Things don’t always work out like that, though. In many schools, where resources are limited, you may find yourself staring at a sea of 20 or more faces. Not to worry—once you get the hang of it, teaching a large class is not only easy, it can be a lot of fun. Here are a few tips to get you going on the right foot:
Plan, Plan, Plan To keep a large class engaged, you need to keep things moving and have a lot of energy. That means you need to know exactly what you and the students are doing next. Dead time while you are shuffling through textbooks or notes trying to find the right page or choose an activity is the perfect time for students to get distracted and start misbehaving.
Establish Routines Routines are one of the most important things to have in terms of maintaining order in the classroom. When students know exactly what is expected of them, what books they need to have ready, and how to do certain activities, the class flows by easily and efficiently.
Be Strict About Discipline and Rules This doesn’t mean you have to be a mean teacher. It does mean that you can’t let students get away with little things like talking to their neighbor or starting fights. At all. Make it clear from the first day of class what you won’t tolerate, and enforce it consistently. If you have to stop class to manage a conflict between two students, don’t expect the rest of the students to sit there twiddling their thumbs silently.
Have Fall-Back Activities In the event that you do have to deal with one or two students’ behavior or leave the classroom for some reason, have something prepared for the students to work on independently. Keep a stash of worksheets, or have some reading activities that they can do. Be sure to offer rewards to the students or team who finishes first or most accurately.
Manage Your Time Carefully With so many students, it’s easy to let a game or activity take up a lot of time. Have a clock visible and keep a close eye on it, or bring a timer to keep a strict limit on activities. Always have extra activities planned and ready to go in case you have extra time.
Seating Have a seating plan ready. If you know the students, think about which students are most likely to start chatting or fighting during class. Also think about which students are struggling, and try to seat them next to students who have a strong grasp of the material. Make some notes during the first week of classes about what problems have come up, and don’t hesitate to rearrange the seats to nip any problems in the bud.
Divide the Class into Teams Having a fun, competitive environment can help motivate students. By rewarding points for the quietest team, best behavior, or fastest to finish their work, you can keep their behavior in check, too.
Give Every Student a Chance to Participate In a large classroom, it’s easy for quieter students to fade into the background while the more outgoing ones answer the questions and participate. Whether you are keeping track of who you call on, playing games where everyone has to participate, or doing partner work, make sure that every student is involved.
Reinforce and Review Before starting any independent work, practice lessons, patterns, or new vocabulary thoroughly. You don’t have much time or resources to give individual attention to a lot of students, so make sure that the whole class really understands everything and can do the work pretty independently.
Learn everyone’s name and get to know them. When you’ve got a high-energy, fast-paced activity going on, the last thing you want to be saying is “You…no, you, in the red shirt, um…Tim? Tommy?” Know everyone’s name within the first couple of days of class. Plan name-based, “get-to-know-you” activities to help establish rapport.
Don’t overlook the fact that, although teaching a larger class has many challenges, it also has its own set of rewards and benefits. Since there are so many students, you’ll very rarely find yourself facing a wall of blank stares—someone will almost certainly be willing to participate or take a crack at answering a questions. Class time tends to fly by, too, since activities and games take much longer when there are a lot of students. Large classes tend to have a lot of energy and, if well-managed, can be very rewarding and fun for the students and the teacher.