6 Tips on Teaching Big Groups of Students


6 Tips on Teaching Big Groups of Students


Although working with smaller groups is ideal for language classrooms, many of us will be asked to teach large groups at some point in our career.  To ease into this and to make it enjoyable for both the teachers and the students, follow our six tips!

1-Plan your lessons. 

You need to make sure your lessons are well-planned and structured.  It's one thing to walk into a small classroom with a loose lesson plan, but it's a totally different ballgame to try to teach a large group of students with no organized plan.  You should have a good idea of what you want the entire class period to look like, and have a number of back up activities ready for every lesson.  Too much down-time in a large class can create chaos. 

Make sure all of your class materials are set up before the class starts.  Test all tech devices and put all of your worksheets and notes on your desk, in the order you'll need them.  Organizing all handouts in paperclips will keep them easy to manage. 

How Do I Plan Lessons for my English Students?

2-Manage your time well.  

In order to maximize the learning experiences for the students, it is important that teachers of large classes manage their time well.   Down-time cannot only create chaos, it is a misuse of time.  Students should be learning something or practicing a skill related to learning English.  One way many teachers mismanage their time is with transitions.  Pre-meditate how you will move from one activity to the next.  How are the activities connected and how will students know what you want them to do?  Consider using a timer and make sure all instructions are clear and modeled for the students.  Also, don't waste the first few minutes or the last of each class.  I'll give more tips regarding this in my next point.

How Do Teachers Manage a Classroom?

3-Establish routines and classroom rules. 

Students should know what is expected of them at all times.  Routines should be established within the first couple of classes, with the teacher demonstrating everything.  For instance, warm ups or "bell-ringers" are a good way to get every class started.  Have a quick activity on the board or place a handout by the door for students to grab as they come in and find their seats .  It could be a review of the material from the day before, a brainteaser or some other fun activity that only takes around five minutes.  While students are working, you can take attendance, check homework assignments, catch up quickly with students that missed class the day before. 

When I was teaching classes of forty or more students, I would use these five minutes to walk up and down the rows of desks to check students' homework for completion.  They knew that their workbooks needed to be opened to the correct page for me to sign it, while they were working on the warm up.  Which brings me to another pro-tip:  if your school allows it, grade homework solely on completion!  You'll save tons of time!

In the same vein, you can finish each class with an exit ticket.  This is another quick activity that students have to complete and give to the teacher before they can leave class.  It could be another small handout or something written on the board, and it can be as simple as "One thing I learned today was..." or "One thing I need to practice before the exam is..." 

Regarding classroom rules, we suggest having the class work together during the first day or two to create a short list of classroom expectations.  Things like "English only," "No cell phones," "Don't touch things that aren't yours," or "Respect the person who is talking" will help create a classroom environment that is based on trust and respect.  Then post the rules in a place that is visible for all students.  As the teacher, make sure you are consistent, persistent and fair when it comes to implementing the rules, and focus on rewarding good behavior, opposed to punishing bad behavior.  Don't put too much time and energy into those students who choose not to adhere to the established routines and rules.  If necessary, talk to those students during breaks to find out why they are acting out.

4-Think about seating. 

Not only will you want to consider a seating chart for attendance purposes and classroom management, you should consider ways to rearrange the students' seating to make it a comfortable learning environment that encourages students to work together.  For instance, when I was teaching in a classroom with individual desks, I created two groups of rows that faced each other.  I could still see all of the students, and they could see each other.  You could create pods of three or four desks, small circles or even horseshoes throughout the classroom.  If your classroom is equipped with tables, you could horseshoe them as well.  Try different options and see what works best for you and your students! 

What is Differentiated Instruction?

5-Connect with each student on a personal level.  

Take the time to learn all of the students' names in the first class or two.  One trick I have used is to take pictures of the students on Day 1 of class.  Individually or in groups of three, have each student write his or her name on the board and stand below their names for the picture.  You can study the pictures at home or during your commute!  The seating chart will help you memorize names also.  Knowing students' names will not only show them that they are special and valued, it will help you call on students during class activities, not excluding anyone. 

I also like to have the students fill out a quick survey on Day 1 to get to know some of their interests and personal stories.  Depending on the age of students you are working with, you can ask some of the following questions on the surveys:  Who do you live with?  Do you work?  What are your hobbies?  Why are you studying English?  The students' answers should guide your planning and activities you choose to implement in class. 

Finally, within the first couple weeks of class, I like to give my students an individual oral exam.  I know the time commitment for something like this can be overwhelming, especially for new teachers, but believe me, the connection you make with each student will make it all worth it.  Each assessment should only take a minute or two, but sitting face-to-face with the student and hearing their voices and seeing a bit of their personalities will go a long way in creating good rapport and a healthy classroom environment.  Depending on the level of student you are working with, you could ask them to recite the alphabet or answer basic questions like "What's your name? How old are you? Where are you from? etc." 

3 Important ESL Classroom Techniques

6-Implement pairs and small groups.  

An important method used in language classrooms is to focus on high student talking time (STT).  With large groups of students, it can be challenging to give every student the opportunity to produce the language in every single class.  However, this is why it's important to implement lots of pair work and work in small groups.  This ensures that all students will get the chance to talk in the target language during class.  Students can work in pairs or small groups to complete any task, from gap fills to creating a role-play scenario. 

Make sure your pairs and small groups are working well together by monitoring every activity.  Switch up the groups as frequently as needed.  Students can work with the person sitting next to them or in front of them.  You can use a deck of cards to help create groups.  You can even ask the students to line up by age and assign the pairs based on the line! 

Follow these six steps to have a successful and productive class, regardless of how many students  you are teaching!  Aren't yet TEFL-certified?  Take our 4-week training in Costa Rica to gain hands-on experience with real English students and gain more insight on teaching! 

 What does the Practical Teaching look like in our 4-week TEFL course? 


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