Published 5th October 2019

Top Tips for Dealing with Large EFL Classes. Picture this: you’re teaching a Polish university student Academic English. You’re both seated at a table in the library, sharing a book between the two of you. You talk quietly together and work at the pace set by the student. When he gets a bit distracted, you take a break for a coffee before getting back to work. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

This is a scene from a 1-to-1 class. Classes like these certainly do happen and when they do they are a joy. 

Now picture this: you’re teaching a class of 45 16-year olds in Shanghai. They are sitting in nine rows of five desks while you stand at the front of the class at the interactive whiteboard. You have a microphone but you’re not convinced the students at the back can hear you. Most of the time they definitely act like they can’t. Some students in the back are chatting happily away to each other while the students in the first few rows are listening to you intently. Handing out worksheets is a pain because it’s difficult to walk all around the classroom and you have learnt to organize activities according to the seating arrangement.

This is a scene from an EFL classroom. It might be in Shanghai but it could be anywhere in the world. This might sound disastrous but it’s actually a very common classroom situation. What do you do if you find yourself teaching in a classroom like this? Give up and count down the minutes until the lesson ends?

Of course not! You’re stronger than that!

But, just in case, here are a few tips to help you when dealing with large classes:

Learn their names

This may seem daunting but it can make such a big difference to your relationship with your students. Making an effort to learn all your students’ names will show them that you care about them individually even if there are lots of them in the class. It’ll also help with organizing classroom activities and discipline.

Top tip: when you first meet a big class, make a seating plan with their names. Students tend to sit in the same places and if you refer back to your plan during your first few lessons and use their names whenever possible, you will soon remember them.

Organise your classroom

In classes with so many students, you’re bound to have students of different levels in the same class. Arrange the seating plan of the class wisely, choosing either to seat students of similar levels together or to group stronger students with weaker students. 

Top tip: don’t be shy to move students around if the setup is not working for you. You might find some students are disruptive when sitting together while others work really well together. Mix and match until you find a seating plan that works for you.

Be smart

Try to make use of the classroom as is. If your classroom doesn’t lend itself to an open mingle, then don’t try it. Instead of trying to herd cats, rather tweak an activity so that it works for you. 

Top tip: accept the fact that with large classes your students might be seated more than you would like. Use activities which involve pairwork and pair up students with the person sitting next to, behind or in front of them. 

Involve your students

Dealing with so many students can be physically draining. Handing out worksheets to 50+ students can be time-consuming and awkward, depending on the layout of the classroom. Utilise your students by allocating tasks to students from each row – for example, to hand out worksheets, collect homework or arrange groups.

Top tip: Be specific when assigning tasks. Make sure the students in question know exactly what they need to do. Make sure you don’t always call on the same students to help out.

Give your students more responsibility

Your students can be assets not only when it comes to classroom organization. Marking can be a real pain if you have more than thirty students, but if you can get your students involved it will save you a lot of time and many headaches. 

Top tip: make good use of your interactive whiteboard to display answers to worksheets or exercises. Having the answers visible will save a lot of questions from the students. 

Having a big EFL classroom might not be the ideal situation but it doesn’t have to be disastrous. Bear these tips in mind and you’ll soon get the hang of dealing with so many expectant faces staring back at you.

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