Large Classes: Inherent Problems and Teaching Solutions The phenomenon of large classes in the


The phenomenon of large classes in the EFL world is very common. In Many countries a classroom of fifty or more students is not uncommon. More often, a classroom of 35 or so is most common. The sheer number of students involved presents a great problem to the teachers of an EFL class. Understanding the problems associated with large groups and some techniques to deal with these problems can make the best out of a situation that is not always preferable, but is unfortunately necessary.

The main problems that are common in large classes fall into two main categories: behavioral problems and educational problems. With a large number of students confined in all too often a very small room, the temptation to talk and the frequency of idle chatter is greatly amplified. This talking is problematic in a smaller class, but in a large class the number of students talking can create an impossible learning environment. Even small amounts of talking will be quite loud and interruptive in such a large class.

Educational problems associated with large classes result in the large student to teacher ratio. This cuts down on the time that the teacher has to dedicate to each student, if, in fact, the teacher has any opportunity to work one-on-one with any of the students. This will greatly diminish the amount of practice time that a student can have with the native speaking teacher. It also makes individual pronunciation correction by the teacher virtually impossible.

Educational problems also include the problems that a native speaking teacher has coping with large classes. Native teachers, for the most part, come from countries where class size is deemed optimal at twenty to twenty-five. When confronted with a larger number of students, they are immediately overwhelmed and concerned with the quality of education that the students will get. (Zhao & Grimshaw, 24) Native speaking teachers that are trained as educators have never encountered such large classes and know no methodology to deal with the groups effectively.

Confronted with these problems, the native speaking teacher is forced to adopt a different style in teaching, in order to deal with the above mentioned problem. As the native speaking teacher has most likely never been in front of a class so large, their comfort level with these classes is likely to be quite low. For any kind of learning to take place, the will most likely need to be split into varying groups. By splitting the large class into mixed- ability groups, the teacher can have stronger ability students helping those that are struggling. This will free up the teacher from explaining simple items and allow them to focus on more important matters. (BBC World Service) Group work also allows the students more interaction with each other, allowing for greater speaking practice. This can lead to greater volumes within the class, making learning and listening more difficult for many students.

Giving students in-class work to do will better serve the students than a standard lecture. (Felden) Allowing the students to discover for themselves the techniques and practicalities of English through in-class work frees up the teacher to help and address major problems and to circulate throughout the class, assisting where necessary. When students discover the grammar rules or intricacies of a specific topic without being 'spoon fed' the information from the instructor, they feel a greater sense of accomplishment and become more energized for learning English.

Problems with behavior within such a large class must be addressed. The expectations of the class on the part of the teacher need to be outlined completely for the students at the beginning of the term. These rules and expectations need to be periodically reiterated so that students know exactly what is expected of them and what is and is not acceptable behavior in the classroom. Talking can quickly become out of control in such a class. To handle this type of behavior, electing more serious and advanced students to act as classroom monitors (BBC World Service) can be a useful practice. These students can help to reduce the talking and behavior problems within the class. The can also help the teacher as assistants, collecting and handing out papers, and clearing up directions for the groups.

If the problems associated with large classes are analyzed and handled one at a time, they can be dealt with in an organized and effective manner. The day-to-day problems of group management and classroom behavior can be eliminated if the teacher simply sets specific guidelines and is able to divide the class into well thought out groups of mixed abilities with group leaders. Delegating authority and responsibility allows the teacher to address the main problems of learning English. While large classes are not ideal, they are not an insurmountable problem that the EFL teacher needs to fear.

Works Referenced

Felder, Richard M. (1997) Beating the Numbers Game: Effective Teaching in Large Classes.

Online resource. URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/felder- public/Papers/Largeclasses.htm

Qin Zhao, Hong & Grimshaw, Trevor. (2005) Expatriate Teachers' Adjustment to Teaching Large EFL Classes in China. TEFL Web Journal, vol. 3, no. 1

Online resource, URL: http://www.teflweb- j.org/v3n1/zhao_grimshaw.pdf

BBC World Service / OLSET. Teaching Large Classes: Teachers in Action.

Online resource. URL: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/large_classes.sht ml