Some Advice on Large Classes

<b> Forum for discussing activities and games that work well in the classroom </b>

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Teacher Lindsay
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Some Advice on Large Classes

Post by Teacher Lindsay » Tue Mar 23, 2004 1:21 am

I've been teaching ESL for 6 years and have accumulated 500+ games / activities / hand-outs during that time.

I am in my first year of teaching in China, at a government secondary school. I teach 22 classes of Senior 1 students, who are aged 16 - 17 and are in their third year of secondary school. They study with me once per week for 40 minutes per lesson.

I teach a total of 1,760 students. There are 80 students per class and they are packed into the classroom like sardines are packed into a can.

My usual modus operandi is to introduce the subject matter outlined in the study book, explain the vocabulary, role-model the conversation / questions & answers with one student and then get the students up out of their chairs to walk around and practice the conversation with each other.

With 80 students in the class there is simply no room to move. The students have permanent seating positions (students remain in one room all day, the teachers go from room-to-room) so practicing the conversation whilst seated means they talk with the same person each time.

Also, there is no room for me to walk around and monitor every student.

All of games and supplementary activities I have collected over the years require the ability for students to be able to freely move around the classroom. I need to come up with some new ideas.

16 of "my" classrooms have functioning computers and overhead projectors. I have a computer (& printer) in my on-campus apartment with unrestricted access to the internet.

The school has a photocopier but I have been told that making 1,760 copies of a hand-out for any given lesson is out of the question.

I considered producing hand-outs myself but the cost is prohibitive.

The head of the English Language Department suggested that I have hand-outs copied at a photocopy shop and ask the students to pay for each sheet, but I am reluctant to do so.

I do have a few outdoor activities in mind (information hunt & word relay race) for when the weather warms up.

I would very much welcome and appreciate advice / ideas from any teacher who has first-hand experience teaching very large classes.


Teacher Lindsay

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Post by Glenski » Tue Mar 23, 2004 5:01 am

I feel sorry for anyone teaching more than 45 students per class.

Best I can tell you is read as many of Penny Ur books as you can, and try this. Make enough copies of handouts for ONE class. Do your best to inform the students that they are not to write on them, and that they will hand them in at the end of the class period. That way, you save on photocopy costs, and even if you don't get back every copy, you will probably get back most. Make 90 copies so you have 10 as a backup to fill the gaps on papers you don't get back.

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Post by molihua » Fri Apr 02, 2004 3:46 am

I am so glad that someone with with as much expirience teaching has the same problem as I. This is my first esl teaching job, I am in China aswell. I have 4 classes a day with 60 students per class. I cannot even walk around in the class and having the students move is out of the question. The room is so small that some students have to sit outside the classroom. Any ideas on how to teach Oral English in these conditions? It is very draining and the students don't listen anyway.

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Post by Sally Olsen » Thu Apr 08, 2004 5:24 pm

Sounds like you are doing a great job in a difficult situation. You have a lot of resources in your situation compared to what we had in Mongolia and it should be a lot of fun to use them.

Think of it as eight classes of 10 but just held at the same time. Make up teams of 10 and have them identify themselves in some way with name and chant and logo and even song or rap. Then the group of 10 work together on something and you only have 10 worksheets to make.

How is paper situation by the way? I used old wallpaper in Mongolia because it was cheapest and sometimes free. The students at the computers can get worksheets and games for the others. They can also do their written work to you to be sent to a special email address. You can have a form for them to fill out for most homework that can be checked by the computer or an answer sheet available to them the next class for them to check but do get them to write to you personally at least once. It takes time but is nice to have at least one personal contact with the students a term. You can have form letters to send back of course and can build those up as you see the topics that they want to ask you about.

So that is 10 on the computers, 10 with you for special discussions, 10 doing the worksheets or games, 10 at the chalkboard making up an exercise for homework and 10 exploring the town for English signs with a camera and 10 interviewing the staff about some important issue and so on.

You have assignments for the team in an envelope and a leader and you only have to make 8 and change these around to the different teams so that is 8 weeks of work. They can add instructions or warnings or additions to the next group.

Then you can have competitions between the teams on what they learned or they can keep a journal and share that with team members and then with the group at the end in a poster board session where they write their best observations or funniest or wierdest on posters and a team member takes turn standing by them to explain while the rest go around and read and laugh.

I used to "laminate" all my worksheets with clear packing tape (wear something over your nose or you will be done in by the smell of that packing tape) so they couldn't be written on and they either copied them or did them with removable black markers .

I bought a karaoke machine and that was the best investment I ever made and we stuck it in a closet and kids practiced until they knew a popular song by heart with actions and then had an English song contest. I stuck in a mirror in the closet so they could see what they were doing. Lots of possibilities.

I often had them stack the chairs and desks in the hall and it amazing how much more room you have to do moving activities. The custodian appreciated it for cleaning the floors as well. The kids had to say something to me as I passed down the line we had formed to put their chairs or desks out in the hall so I felt like I was talking to each one.

I had them wear name tags each class and all the time and they actually got to know one another quite well - I really tried.

Keep taking pictures and put it in their teams envelopes for a good review every once in awhile. You can packing tape them too. We used to call it "scotching" them for some reason - I guess from Scotch tape.

You can create small rooms with pretty panels of material that is so cheap there and hooks and string so that there are 8 little team cubby holes which they seem to love and then put stuff up on the panels so it their private clubhouse with sewing thread or pins.

It is also possible to have 10 over for pizza at your house when it wouldn't be possible with 80 or to meet them at an attractions or museum.

I used to put posters (made from the wallpaper) on the roof that I wanted them to see for awhile.

You can play large games like Bingo with the whole group or your words searches and such just to keep in mind that they are one large class.

They can make a newsletter when it is their turn on the computer that can pass around with the envelopes and gets changed every 8 weeks.

They can come up with some pretty creative projects in a group of 10. They even marked each others work and were harder than I was.

You can put a lot of things on the overheard for groups to do or even get them to write on the overhead paper so that they can see the final group product. We did it on the window because we didn't have overheads and even made curtains with certain things we wanted to practice.

I took things from one class to show the others and then back again as they did it "better" and so on.

We had an English Competition between classes with the team of four or five being voted on and then meeting in the gym in front of all the classes to compete in friendly ways - they had to do a skit on the spur of the moment with characters like a camel, a rabbit, an old man and a Queen, present their class song, draw a picture as a team from a description and so on. They came up with more ideas for the next one that were fun and really not all that competitive so I was pleased. We had a good sound system so everyone could hear the answers and the plays and songs.

There were little fellows in the community running around collecting garbage and I had them on the look out for old books, papers and boxes or large pieces of paper which they charged me little for but sure saved me a lot. They know lots of ways to save money and yet do what you want and someone always has an uncle or grandfather who can get you the best deal. Have fun!
Last edited by Sally Olsen on Sat Apr 07, 2007 4:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Lorikeet » Thu Apr 08, 2004 5:50 pm

Wow! What an impressive, imaginative, useful list of suggestions.

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Post by DRIVER » Fri May 06, 2005 9:59 am

Ok I am here in Inner Mongolia China....I am having the same problem..but I am finding new ways to deal with the students....I do a lot of Team 1 and Team 2 activities. I write words on the board and get them to circle the word I am saying, or write the word on one side and the definition on the other. There are many different ways that you can do this activity. The only thing that is bad that I have found is that my students that aren't picked to come up to the board are quit loud, and when I go to pick the students to come up I get mawlled, pulled, yelled at "TEACHER! TEACHER! Lau Sur!" So I have taught them that who ever sits quietly gets picked.....It's been working great so far but still after 3 weeks some still just don't get it...LOL Good Luck and if ya know of some more ideas hook it up!

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Post by Sally Olsen » Fri May 06, 2005 6:05 pm

Three weeks is a great record. It takes time for students to learn your social practices, what you expect and will tolerate. They are used to challenging foreign teachers and getting away with it. I think it is a positive thing in the long run because you earn the respect. You are not just accorded it because you are a "teacher" or from a respected family or worse still, because you demand it. If some students are still demanding the attention, I would speak to them privately and praise their enthusiasm but ask them to think of the greater good of the class and how everyone needs to have a turn. I would try to make it so that there were more turns though - could you have boards on the sides and back of the classroom so that you could have more teams and more things going on at once? You can get blackboard paint to make more boards or buy some whiteboards and pens or just use large paper.
I hope that you are participating in school events and lunchtime or after school activities with the kids to get to know them better. That will make a huge difference in how they respect you.
Last edited by Sally Olsen on Tue May 10, 2005 7:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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could you please share with me your 500+ games/activities?

Post by harvest09 » Sun May 08, 2005 7:03 am

hi, Teacher Lindsay. i am a student, maybe an english teacher in future, in China. could you please share with me your 500+ games/activities? thank you very much. my email address is [email protected]. my MSN account is [email protected]. hopefully we can meet online and become friends.

thanks ahead!

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Re:large classes and advice for the weary teacher.

Post by angellll » Fri May 27, 2005 6:01 pm

I am in a similar situation in a small city in North Eastern China. I teach at a middle school with over 65 students per class. I am struggling, because the classes are too big and the classrooms are too small. I have tried several approaches from games to songs to roleplays. I found the roleplays worked the best.
Yet, I've come up against barriers from the Chinese staff who have accused me of not teaching the students, but just playing games all the time.
That annoys me, as I work very hard to prepare my classes and feel that they do not have a lot of respect for me.
I tried to divide the classes into smaller groups of five or six students, to allow them all to have a turn in talking. However, it was too disruptive and noisy.
The only style that the teachers here like is the spoonfed, choral repetition which I do not like as it is not really teaching English.
Has anybody esle encountered similar problems?
I am fighting a losing battle here, as they do not want to change their styles towards learning English. I have nothing against respecting the culture and so on, but respect should be earned both ways.
I would like some advice on what to do, as I would really love to go home. However, I will honour my contract, because I want to work in Shanghai in the future. Yet, working seven days a week without a day's rest plus teaching many classes is wearing me down in body, mind and spirit. Am I the only one with these problems?
Thank you.

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Post by Sally Olsen » Tue May 31, 2005 12:16 am

I think if you go the thread on China in Dave's forums you will find that you are not alone.

You are not alone either in teachers in other countries. I have heard the same complaints from collegues in Mongolia, Japan and Greenland. I have heard, "It is not the (country) way." so many times but I just kept doing what I thought was best for the students and tried to ignore the naysayers.

I used to experience the same when I was a regular classroom teacher in Canada so I was used to it even at home. It does get wearing for sure but my friend told me a little thing that helped.

A river wears down the stone gradually by constantly passing water over it. Whenever I met the stone teachers, I just imagined me washing over them with my ideas and that helped.

If you think about it, their methods of drill and kill have worked in some ways because there are an enormous amount of people who learn what they teach and do well in their lives. When you have that many people, you have to sort them out in some way and doing well in memorizing and reguritating is probably as effective as passing our multiple choice exams here in Canada.

I just couldn't teach that way and it sounds like you can't either so don't. Just continue to do what you can to make the classes interesting for you and the handful or more of studetns who want to participate.

I found that if things got too noisy during group work, if I had them sit on the floor, it calmed them down a bit. I don't know why that is, perhaps they aren't used to it. You could also try to get them to whisper. Flick the light switch on and off when things get too loud.

Learning to work in groups is a new skill and takes a lot of practice so don't give up easily. I always demonstrated with a group at the front before I let them go on their own and if a group wasn't functioning well, joined that group to help them come up with ideas of where they were going wrong.

You can also set up a fish bowl with a group in the middle of the class of about 6 or so and the rest listening to their discussion. After one of them has had a chance to express their opinion twice they have to leave the fish bowl and allow another person to come in to their place.

Otherwise, think of it as a lecture and lecture them about talking for awhile until you can get across the points you want.

You can find research on group work to back you up and leave the articles on the teacher's tables in the staff room if they have such a thing. Invite the teachers who criticize you the most to dinner and talk about their beliefs about teaching. Show them a video of a classroom in your home country and get them to comment. You may not change their minds but at least you will understand and empathize with their beliefs and be able to see where you differ.

North American kind of education could have never arisen in China with such pressures on their institutions of so many kids and such limited resources and yet they have outstanding scholars so something they did must have worked right.

Look on it as research and you wil take yourself a step out of the situation and have a better perspective on it.
Last edited by Sally Olsen on Sat Apr 07, 2007 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by DRIVER » Mon Sep 19, 2005 11:33 am

I am now having another problem...I just got my new classes for this semister and well......I got 53 kids in a class...after school for 40 mins...and well...they are crazy and loud..I never thought that i would be a person who couldnt keep the kids under control.....They are 8-13 and I feel like maybe I should be finding out new wayz to entertain them cause i feel like i am just there so the school can say they have a English Teacher from Canada and the students have some white bread to look at!!......there english level is so different and the smart kids are so loud so they take over the small little voices of the other kids........jeeze louise.....

I also have High school kids and its my 1st class tomorrow so I will keep ya posted on that one...but i love the idea of splitting the class and having 8 classes in one...I only have 50 kids in the high school so 5 classes in 1 might just work..wish me good luck.....

and I am being eaten by mosquitos.........

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Post by Sally Olsen » Tue Sep 20, 2005 5:51 pm

If it is an after school class, I think I would do it completely differently and look at it as a recreational class as well. I would play baseball, soccer, teach them cheers and chants, have them dancing and singing to English music, having races in teams where they have to say something in English when they get to the end of the run and just generally keep them active and busy after they have been sitting all day. I can't imagine that they will be able to concentrate on anything "academic" and worksheet oriented after a day of doing that. I would form teams of mixed ages and abilities with a team captain who is good in English and then keep points and have some kind of prize at the end of a certain period of time. Hope you have fun. Never heard of White Bread - that is funny. I thought we were called "Canuks".

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Post by awen » Tue Oct 18, 2005 1:49 am

large class is abig problem in China , especialy in village. I am also teaching this kind of class. Ususlly useing tradiationl method.hawhaw

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Post by fubachukwu » Thu Oct 20, 2005 12:02 am

I wish I knew how to do this much earlier
Fidelia Ubachukwu

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about the 500 games...

Post by merav » Sat Nov 05, 2005 7:34 pm

I teach 40 students in a small classroom, and now I understand that I have it considerablly easy! (Unless your students are more well behaved than mine...). Your 500 games and activities cought my attention. I was wondering if you could share a few of the best ones- that could meet the interests of 7th grade boys. Thanks ahead!

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