Reflections of Special Interest Group (SIG) (1)Handling large classes [Archives:2009/1226/Education]

January 19 2009

Abduh Moh'd Dawood Haj
[email protected]
SIG Coordinator

To continue what we started earlier under the guidance of Dr. Manmatha Kundu and with the help of Dr. M.N. Bose and Dr. Ramakanta Sahu, that is, namely, SIG (Special Interest Group) in ELT in Yemen, I here would like to edit this series of articles entitled “Attempts to pin down our problems.” Here we don't include all the problems we face but the most important ones as decided by the group members. This is to invite those who are concerned about ELT problems in our country and faced by our learners of English. I am sure there are many Yemeni officials, doctors, teachers and students, and expatriates concerned about the problems that affect the Educational System in Yemen in general and those that affect English language teaching/learning in particular. The group initiates this series to invite other writers to discuss the situation thoroughly by writing articles to Yemen Times regarding these problems.

I will begin with some general problems like large classes, mixed-ability classes and low-proficient learners and will come to more specific problems like vocabulary, listening, speaking, etc. The layout of exposing these problems is unified. I begin with some questions under the label “Let's question ourselves.” Each question will, eventually, be answered. The last section of studying each problem is for self-reflection to help us reflect within ourselves about our responsibility and awareness of these problems. I am expecting to hear from you especially our academic fraternity who have the experience in ELT.

Large classes

Let's question ourselves:

1- Why do we have large classes?

2- What are the problems of teaching large classes?

3- What are the negative results of large classes?

4- Are there any advantages of teaching large classes?

5- How to handle large classes to help our learners learn?

The main problems typical of the third world countries are poverty and overpopulation. Thus we have more children to study. Their number increases every year. Our classroom size becomes therefore larger and larger. We can make our classroom small provided we have enough resources – classrooms and teachers, for example. But we are poor. Our country is not rich enough to provide these resources to make our large classes small. And this has been the case for a long time. We are not likely to solve this problem in near future.

The teacher teaching large classes faces some of the following problems:

(1) It is difficult to bring in discipline to help learning/teaching to take


(2) Students are at different levels of intelligence (the question of mixed-ability, will be discussed in the next article) even though they are in the same class. To teach such a group is difficult. If you aim at helping the best ones, the less intelligent ones are neglected. If you teach the less intelligent ones the best ones feel ignored. It is difficult to give individual attention to each student.

(3) One feels physically exhausted after taking such a class.

Two major negative outcomes of having large classes for long time are – increase of low proficient learners and class becoming a mixed ability class.

Large classes are cost effective. With less cost large number of students can be educated. Teaching a large number of learners at times gives the teacher a kind of self-satisfaction

Stated below are some tips to handle a large class.

(1) Divide the class into four sections by making two cross roads one vertical and one horizontal so you can move inside and come close to most of the students.

(2) Don't always stick to the teacher's place. Move around. Don't always lecture or talk. Give them tasks to do and move on the cross roads to see them do the task.

(3) Make your voice clear and loud.

(4) Speak slowly.

(5) Adopt activity-oriented teaching so that the learners get all the time engaged.

(6) Adopt the process approach – don't ask about the final product, go step by step to help them, begin with simple tasks and move gradually and slowly to the difficult ones.

(7) Use peer/group work to help them learn from each other.

(8) Use peer correction technique to save class time – ask them to evaluate each other's script so that you need not go through everyone's script as it is difficult due to their large number. You can do other things as helping the less intelligent ones, thinking for the next step, etc.

(9) Take your students into confidence. Tell them about the problems of teaching a large class. Ask them to cooperate and learn to learn in difficult situations.

(10) Change, at times, the normal sitting order. Don't allow the best ones to occupy the front benches and the less intelligent ones back benches. At time pair them up.

Let's reflect

(1) Are we as teachers aware of this problem?

(2) Have we ever tried to solve some of these problems at our own level?

(3) Is it possible to apply some of these solutions?

(4) Let's try one and record the result.

(5) Do you have some other special ways of solving some of the problems? Let's know about your ways.

(6) Have you ever talked to your learners about this? Try and see.