Tips for working with large (language) classes

The other day, a friend wrote me and some other French teacher colleagues on Facebook asking how to handle large classes in the lower levels. Over the course of my Facebook conversation with her, I realized I was sharing some tips that could be appropriate to a lot of teachers’ situations. Not all of the tips are uniquely mine. They come from years of experience, talking to colleagues, a lot of reading, and more than a few presentations I’ve attended that inspired me while I learned from others.

Here is my reply to her:

I’m sure you actually know all this, but coming from someone who routinely has 35+ in the lower levels, I recommend routines: seat them in partners; give them a warm up every day (it doesn’t have to be written–they can warm up with short question-answer segments related to previous teaching). They do this while you take roll. Try to do at least one out-of-seat mingle activity in the language every couple of days. Design board games they can play in groups of four for vocabulary and grammar practice. Also effective are dice games, index card games, versions of tic-tac-toe and battleship to practice language.

To meet students’ need for resources and help away from the classroom, try to provide to provide reteaching, review and formative assessment resources online so that if they had questions and you weren’t able to answer (or they didn’t feel comfortable asking) or if they were absent, they can still catch up or keep up. And of course, target language immersion with lots of gestures, visual support and modeling will actually help with classroom management.

If you are allowed to use phones and other devices, I highly recommend designing some practice and formative assessment using online tools such as PollEverywhere, Socrative, InfuseLearning, and Google forms. This way, you and the students can efficiently get (and discuss) a lot of data about their understanding and progress. Socrative and InfuseLearning provide multiple, interesting ways for your students to respond.

To get speaking samples from all of your students quickly, set up a Google Voice phone number and they can leave you a voice message in French. They can even do it all at the same time from your room (turn off the feature that forwards Google voice to your cell phone first otherwise they cannot all leave a message at the same time). Within five minutes, you can have an audio response from each of your students that you can later listen to in order to give feedback—this is great in large classes! But, be sure to remind them to state their names in their messages if you wish to give individual feedback.

If you have the whole class preparing a presentation, consider having the students use an online presentation creator such as SlideRocket, Google presentation, or Prezi.  When the students are ready to submit their presentations, create a Google form with just two questions:

  1. What is your name? and
  2. Paste the link to your presentation here. Be sure your presentation is “public”.

When the students complete the form, it will automatically create a spreadsheet for all of the responses. When you want students to give their presentations to the class, you won’t lose time opening, closing and ejecting hard drives; you will merely open the spreadsheet from your Google Drive and you can click seamlessly and efficiently from one presentation to the next. This saves enormous amounts of class time. The larger the class, the more time it saves. You can also easily access their presentations later from any computer with Internet for more detailed grading.

To manage the task of answering numerous students’ questions in a large class, start an “ask three then me” system to make it easier to address student questions during independent and group work.  In this system, before they can raise their hands for your help, they must have first sought help from three different students. If none of them know the answer, chances are it is a question you should address with the class anyway.

Do you have tips for maximizing instructional time with large classes? Post them in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Tips for working with large (language) classes

  1. One of my favorite ways to maximize class time is through the use of stations. Depending on the class needs of the day, I either position myself at a station to do small group instruction of new material or at a proficiency based station where students will benefit from having extra support. Similar to the Google drive that you mentioned, my school has edline accounts for each class, and each student. While it takes some time in the beginning to set up, I create a student work folder that each student is then able to upload their work in order to avoid the time delay that it takes inserting each student’s USB drive. Another small thing that helps with classroom management is grouping the students in advance. It makes the transition into the activity much quicker because students do not have to choose their groups or their partners.

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    • Thanks, Lindsey! I also love stations and I think that for most activities, it is the teacher’s responsibility to design groups anyway (which not only saves time, but ensures that groups are crafted for maximum benefit to tackle the tasks and responsibilities the students will have).

      Similar to the USB issue, I have stopped having students create PPTs at all. Instead, they create presentations online (using any online tool they want: Google Presentation, Slide Rocket, Prezi, etc.) and then they complete an online Google form for me with their name and the link to their presentation. On the day we will view and discuss them, all I have to do is open the spreadsheet of form responses and click on each link to open each student’s presentation. This has saved sooooo much time!

      Thanks again for your great ideas and contribution!

      Nicole

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      • I would love to learn how to use Google Presentation, Slide Rocket, and Prezi! They all sound like fabulous alternatives to PPTs! When you group your students, do you group them by ability or do you specifically put students of differing abilities in the same group? I have done both and I can’t decide which is more effective. When grouped together, it is easier to challenge advanced students and simplify for those who need it. When mixed abilities are grouped together, it has gone one of two ways, either really well or the advanced students end up doing most of the work. What are your thoughts?

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