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Teaching large classes

teenagers outside schoolAlastair Grant, a Teacher Development Manager in Buenos Aires, looks at the challenges in managing large classes of teenagers, and suggests ways to ensure successful lessons.

I shut the door behind me and realised I had made a big mistake.

No, this isn’t the starting sentence from a creative writing class that I went to when I was 12, but the feeling I got when stepping into that secondary school classroom…

Me, a first year teacher, fresh off my teaching course, and full of ideas about communicative activities, interaction patterns, etc., suddenly faced with 32 teenagers all speaking in a language which I didn’t understand, and not paying me any attention! I needed to change things fast.

Back when I started teaching (time seems to move at twice the normal speed in this profession), I found this pretty intimidating. We know that large classes can have their fair share of challenges – I’ve picked out five to get you thinking:

  1. Monitoring
    Let’s see: you have 32 students doing an activity; that means you’ll have about 12 working quietly, 6 working together, 4 talking about their weekend, and 10 calling your name in unison, demanding help. And if you’re lucky, it’ll be in that order.
  2. Environment
    There are desks in the way, bags all over the place and it can seem impossible to be able to reach your students to help with them while they’re working.
  3. Discipline
    With even the best adolescents and adults, there’s a temptation for them to speak in their native tongue, or just not to work, which is even more common in a larger class, especially as there’s less chance of you spotting it!
  4. Interaction
    Trying out a “find someone who” activity with a class THIS size can turn you into a policeman, because you have to make sure students don’t use the activity as a reason to speak in their language. It’s also hard to make sure everyone can get to speak to each other without creating chaos!
  5. Testing
    Having 32 writing, reading, listening, speaking, and grammar tests to check for only ONE of your classes, is exhausting for any teacher.

Ok, so far so bad, but strangely, six months into the job, when asked by my director which class I was enjoying the most, I found myself answering “the one at the secondary school”.

So what had changed?

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Do you use humour in the classroom?

Three school girls laughingIn this post, Jeremy Taylor, a freelance writer and teacher trainer based in Czech Republic, explores the benefits of using humour in the classroom to engage students and improve their learning.

Do you have a good sense of humour? Do you use your humour in the classroom? A class that is laughing and having fun is a relaxed class and more receptive to learning, as I have found over 25 years of teaching. Humour is a very difficult thing to get right but it is a wonderful addition to the classroom. It is a useful tool to engage your learners and make your lessons (even) more interesting. But also:

  • Students are also likely to repeat jokes and humorous stories they have heard.
  • If they know they will be rewarded with a laugh, they are more likely to be motivated to read.
  • Jokes tend to be short – so can be enjoyed by even the weakest students.
  • Jokes are memorable.
  • You can learn a lot about a nation’s culture through its humour.

Of course when using humour you should be able to laugh with your students not at them.  Laughing at your students is horribly unprofessional and I’ve only done it once in my career.

Is it possible to use jokes in the classroom? It definitely is, but you need to decide whether the joke is cultural appropriate and also whether the joke will be understood by your students. Jokes that rely on a play on words are unlikely to be understood. There are lots of jokes for children like this.

“Where do you take a horse when he is sick?”

“To horsepital!”

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Party Mix: Engaging teenage learners

Group of teenagers at a partyIn this guest post, Anna Musielak, a Gimnazjum (Lower Secondary) teacher and teacher trainer from Poland, tells us how she coped with teaching teenagers and gives her tips for how to engage this troublesome age group. Feel free to follow Anna on Twitter (@AnnaMusielak).

Teaching teens is a very challenging job. They are extremely hard to please and it is our role as teachers to provide them with tasks and activities that will be interesting, motivating and effective. Of course, our teenage students very often decide to make our life, well… living hell!

When I taught Gimnazjum students I very often felt like screaming. There were days that I could (literally) stand on my head and they would still say the lesson sucked… But there were those precious moments when I got to them, when the lesson was so interesting that they forgot to moan and complain and just took part in it!

The key, in my opinion, is to introduce a variety of animated and efficient exercises that motivate students of mixed abilities and help them learn and reinforce the material. The activities have to be engaging and directed to all students – those better at English and those who struggle with it.

Of course, it helps a lot when we have an idea what our teenage students are into. For some it will be the Twilight Saga, for others Facebook, and for some, playing Guitar Hero. It is our role to find out about their passions and hobbies – by doing so, we prove to our students that we are genuinely interested in their lives. Obviously, I don’t mean channeling your inner rock star or coming to the classroom plugged into your iPod. I just think that knowing a bit about our students’ activities outside school gives us a perception of their temperamental life and, what’s more, helps us understand them better.

There is one activity that always works with my Gimnazjum students – I call it Party Mix. It does not require a lot of preparation from the teachers (one of the biggest advantages when conducting a lesson) and gives freedom to the learners.

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