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5 Smart Ways to Effortlessly Manage a Large Class

Mike Sullivan

For any teacher, whether experienced or not, it can be very difficult to handle a large class. For students, they can see that they outnumber the teacher or teachers, and the younger they are the more inclined they can be to misbehave or not pay attention. Furthermore, they can sense if a teacher feels nervous or uncomfortable and take advantage of it to make a lesson become completely unproductive. For teachers, and actually for anyone, addressing a large group of people can be quite disconcerting and if it is something you haven’t done before it can be very nerve-racking.

However, in fact there is nothing to fear if you think ahead about how you want to manage the class, of course it is always a good idea to ask for advice from colleagues but the truth is that there some very simple ways which will help make your class a success. These nuggets of wisdom have been passed from teacher to teacher for decades and have not only helped many people manage large classes but can also be useful for any kind of lesson.

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Plan ahead
There is nothing like planning, planning and planning. If you can plan out exactly how the class will go, in 15 minute intervals for example, you will certainly feel not only less nervous but will also be better able to measure the productivity of the class. As you have a definite structure in place and the students can see that you know exactly what you want to achieve in the class they will put more trust in your teaching and help boost your confidence. However, plan A is just as important as plan B in case an activity is finished quicker than expected or hits some unplanned obstacle. Sometimes it is necessary to quickly move the class onto plan B, in which case prior planning will be your best friend. Another advantage of in-depth, and in advance, planning is that the more you concentrate on your plan and what you wish the students to learn the less time you will have to worry about working with a large class. In order to manage a large class you will need to prepare a lesson plan appropriate for the number of students being taught, and always be ready for unexpected surprises.

Be confident, make the rules clear
From the very first class you need to make it crystal clear who is in charge and what the rules are. For example, when the teacher is talking everyone must be quiet, or that you won’t accept students walking in 20 minutes late. In order to be a teacher you must command the respect of the students and show them that this is your classroom and there can only be one person in charge of that classroom. Depending on the age of the students it can be appropriate to explain that there will be consequences for breaking the rules, or for young students it can be worthwhile to make them write down your rules such as homework has to be handed in every week. This is especially important for large classes as it is so much easier for students to become unmanageable, but if you lay down the rules from day one this should make the task achievable.

From the very first class you need to make it crystal clear who is in charge and what the rules are.

Divide and Conquer
A common tactic for teachers with large classes is simply to form the students into groups and set them a task, this not only has the benefit of not needing the teacher to speak throughout the lesson to a large group of people but it also helps students feel more comfortable as it is easier for them to speak with a smaller number of people too. One teacher’s advice was to teach a specific kind of grammar for 10 minutes and then split the class into groups of 3-4 and set them the goal of creating ten sentences together after which each group had to read their sentences to the other students. In this way 50 minutes easily passed by with the teacher only needing to speak for 10 minutes, keep an eye on the time and offer advice for each group as needed. The added advantage to this technique is that when a teacher addresses any kind of class, whether small or large, it is hard to keep the student’s attention for any length of time, but placing them in groups with a task to complete and a time limit to finish it helps keep them focused. There are many variations to this strategy; it can also be helpful to appoint a group leader or to make it competitive by creating teams and a point system. However, the main point is to make a lesson productive and a large class manageable.

Get to know your students
It is too easy in a large class to make students faceless, to not remember their names and to treat them as if they don’t have a personality. This can also make younger students become more rowdy, or treat the teacher with disrespect, as they feel the teacher doesn’t recognize them as a person. For this reason it is essential to try to get to know students, to take the time to remember names and faces. A name can be a word of power; you can use it to pick someone out very easily and show the students that even if there are many students you can still recognize their individuality and pick them out for a question or task at any time. Knowing your students makes it easier to teach them as well, they are no longer strangers, they are your students and they are here for you to teach them – this is really helpful as it improves your confidence too. Furthermore, the better you know your students the easier it will become to tailor the lessons a bit more personally to their personalities, needs and wants.

Change the layout as needed
An often forgotten, yet very simple, strategy is to make the layout of the class work to your advantage. Rather than have lines of desks facing you, the students could be placed into a circle so that they can all see each other as well as you, and if they are divided into groups then they can easily sit in small circles which is ideal for group work and for you to walk around. Furthermore, it is useful for taking students out of their comfort zone and moving them around so that they aren’t sitting with their friends. They can be more inclined to chat, not complete tasks or not pay attention when sitting together with close friends so the circle can be a great way of breaking them apart and also has the effect of helping them develop friendships with other people. It is best to think about what kind of lesson you are planning, and then imagine the ideal kind of seating layout for that plan.

Have you tried any of the above before? What else can we do to better manage a large class? Quite often the simplest of ideas can make a huge difference in the classroom!

About the author

Mike works for one of the world's top universities in London, UK and writes for an art magazine based in Hokkaido, Japan. Besides enjoying traveling or working abroad he loves eating great food, discovering small art galleries, and attempting to become fluent in Japanese.