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Teaching English in Large Classes

Muhammad Fauzan Ansyari

There is no single quantitative definition of large class in ELT literatures. It has different number to different people: varying from one country to another. Teaching English as a foreign language in large classes is common in Asia. Take in China for example; a large class may consist of 60-150 students in one classroom. In Indonesian classroom context, however, it could be 30-60 students particularly at elementary and university level. However, most teachers agree that teaching large classes is more complicated than in small ones.
Such teaching essentially has disadvantages over small ones. Teachers should familiarize many students and remember more names. Students cannot concentrate well on lesson because the class is crowded and noisy. Teachers have to prepare design materials, which accord with mixed-ability class, manage many students, and cannot easily pay attention on each student. In addition, teachers have to spend more time giving written feedback toward students’ works, etc. According to Hayes as cited by Xu (2001), the disadvantages of teaching English in large classes could be:

1. Discomfort: many teachers are worried by the physical constraints imposed by large numbers in confined classrooms. They feel unable to promote student interaction, since there is no room to move about. Some teachers also feel that teaching in large classes is physically very wearing.
2. Control: teachers are often worried by the discipline aspects of large classes. They feel they are unable to control what is happening, and that the classes become too noisy.
3. Individual attention: many teachers are concerned that they are neglecting the needs of their students as individuals. e
4. Evaluation: teachers feel a responsibility for checking all of their students’ work, and are worried if they cannot do so.
5. Learning effectiveness: all teachers want their students to learn English. They are understandably worried if they do not know who is learning what.
Handling large classes

Brown (1990, p. 416) highlighted several considerations to handle large class in which teachers should:

a) try to make each student feel important,
b) get students to do as much as interactive works as possible,
c) optimize the use of pair-work and small group work to give students chances to perform in English,
d) do more listening comprehension activities,
e) use peer-editing, feedback, and evaluation,
f) give students a range of extra-class work,
g) do not collect all students’ works at the same time,
h) set up small learning center for individualized work, and
i) organize informal conversation groups and study groups.

According to Xu (2001), 5 techniques for coping with the teaching of English in large classes are to make the best use of the manpower saved from large class teaching, bring the teacher authority into full play and teach not only knowledge but also learning methods, Collaborate with the students and build up a good learning atmosphere in large classes, Take advantage of the “size” of the large classes, and Communicate, discuss and share regularly the classroom management techniques with other teachers who are involved in large class teaching. In addition, Ning (2007) suggested five strategies to cope with large classes. She suggested teachers to understand individual students as much as possible in large class in English teaching, clarify learning goals to inspire the motivation and interest of the students, use group work and collaborative learning, foster the students’ independent learning abilities and reduce their dependence on teacher, and use different learning materials and different teaching forms.


Brown, H. D. (1990). Teaching by principle: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs.
Herrmann, A. and Kulski, M. M. (Eds) (2001). Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. Retrieved from http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/contents.html on November 27, 2008.

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