Teaching large classes

Large classes are a reality in many countries and they pose particular challenges. 

This article suggests ways to help discipline, to use group work and to cope with limited resources.

  • What are the challenges of teaching a large class?
  • How can you use group work to help learning in a large class?
  • How can group work help in a large class when resources are lacking?
  • How can you develop good discipline in a large class?
  • The advantages of a large class
  • Next steps

What are the challenges of teaching a large class?

  • It's difficult to keep good discipline going in a large class.
  • You have to provide for more children of different ages and different abilities, wanting to learn different things at different speeds and in different ways.
  • You can't easily give each child the individual attention they need.
  • You may not have enough books or teaching and learning aids.

How can you use group work to help learning in a large class?
In a large class children in pairs and groups can help each other and learn from each other. They don't get bored listening to teacher talk. Try these strategies:

  • Organise the groups to suit the children's abilities
    Teachers of large classes have tried different strategies:
    • mixed-ability groups: The more able learners in the group can help the others to master the work so that the teacher need not teach some parts.
    • same-ability groups: The teacher can leave the groups of faster learners to get on with the work on their own. S/he can give extra help to individual learners in the slower groups.
    • using group leaders/monitors: Some teachers appoint faster, more able learners as group leaders or monitors who can help slower learners.
  • Monitor the groups yourself
    The teacher needs to move around the classroom to see what progress learners are making and what problems are coming up. S/he can give advice, encouragement and extra individual help where it is needed.

How can group work help in a large class when resources are lacking?
Group work can help you manage with few textbooks, or even only one text book.

If you do not have enough books for each child, form groups so that each group has one book.

If you have only one book, let each group have some time to work with the book. The other groups can do activities that fit in with the theme of the passage in the book. For example, if the topic is 'family life' those groups who have not read yet can work on pre-reading tasks around 'family life'. They can write down words they know on that topic, or talk about their families. Those groups who have finished reading can talk about what they have read, or write down a summary. After about ten minutes give the book to another group, so that by the end of the lesson all the groups will have done some work with the book.

With or without group work, if you have only one book, you could:

  • write the important bits of text on the blackboard before the lesson.
  • make the text into a dictation, so everyone has a copy of the text written down.

How can you develop good discipline in a large class?

  • Establish a code of behaviour that is created by teacher and learners together. It should state clear basic rules of conduct that learners understand, such as:
    • They have to work quietly;
    • They may talk, but not loudly;
    • Children who have finished the lesson tasks can read a book to keep them busy.
  • Use the environment outside the classroom. It offers a new, different space when children get noisy or bored, and helps to reduce overcrowding. Remember that:
    • You can work with some groups inside the classroom while the other groups are working outside (use different tasks or the same task)
    • You need to set up outdoor activities clearly and carefully and monitor them.
  • Appoint responsible group leaders who can help maintain discipline. They can also give out and take in work for the groups, and explain what groups must do.

The advantages of a large class

  • When there are many children in a class they can share many different ideas and interesting life experiences. This stimulates the children and enlivens those parts of your lesson where children can discuss and learn from each other.
  • During project work, children can learn to share responsibility and help each other. This also brings variety and speeds up the work.

Next steps
Remember these are not the best or only ways to teach and learn in large classes, but if you have not used these techniques before, you may want to try them with your class.

  • Discuss with your class a code of conduct, that would suit your situation. The children can write the points on a poster. Put this poster in a visible place.
  • Plan a variety of activities that can be used when you have only one book.
  • Plan a group project in which each group member will have their own special task that is connected to the others. Each group should sign a contract in which they each agree to do their own task and finish it by a certain date.

This article is based on the ideas from a BBC World Service radio programme 'Teachers in Action', with contributions from teachers and teacher educators in India, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia.

Contributors to this programme are: Dr George Kankam (Ghana), Maria Asamwe Bothawe (Ghana), Joseph Garty Ampia (Ghana), Ponstance Jennifer (Ghana), Violet Debali (Zambia), Fathima Bismillah (SA), Jean Tylie (SA), Sue Lake (SA) and Rohini Michigan (India).

Teachers in Action, BBC World Service / OLSET

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