A local teaching colleague looks at me knowingly and hands the new foreign teacher in this prestigious Thai Government school a small, portable speaker with a microphone. ”Here, you will need this for your class”. While I appreciate the gesture, I wonder if there are better ways to work with more than fifty children in a small classroom..

From nicely colored police bullhorns to portable karaoke style microphone and speaker sets, there is some great technical gadgetry available for teachers to make their voices heard in class in Thailand. While “outshouting” the loudest students with the help of a speaker system is one way to address the issue, we do recommend more learner-centered, low-tech initiatives that focus on the improvement of the individual student.

Large Class Issues
Classroom Management is difficult when we do not speak the native language, students can not hear or sometimes even see us, the ambient noise is substantial, and memorizing our learners’ names becomes a challenge. Monitoring completed work is hard, and giving individual feedback next to impossible.
Evaluation of individual learners is problematic as time consuming and keeps you from being in charge of the class, and assisting individual learners to improve by identifying their challenges is difficult. Which brings me to…
Differentiation, since most classes have a variety of students with various language skill levels present. How can you challenge, encourage and correct each student individually according to their needs and level?

The Three Must Do’s for Large Classes
Just about every government school in Thailand has large class sizes, and the more famous schools have even larger classes due to a general teacher shortage cause by attractive early retirement packages presented by the government a couple of years ago. You can not change the number of students in your class, but implementing these hints will certainly make it a positive learning environment without you having to wear out your vocal chords in class:

1) Have Clear Classroom Rules
Transparency is imperative: Every student must know that you want each one to succeed, improve, and at least, challenge themselves to be better. This means you need to clearly define student responsibilities, assign duties for team members, clearly post the rules in the classroom, and display classroom award recipients. Establish routines, and religiously adhere to the rules.

2) Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule
It worked for the ancient Romans to control their vast empire, and it works for you and your large class (in a slightly different way): Separate your large class into small groups of mixed ability learners, where a group leader can be assigned. Make it a weaker student or someone who has been wanting attention from you in class, and you may well be surprised by the self-managing initiatives and team work that blossoms. Keep the groups the same for a longer duration unless you realize that one group has too many weak or strong students, then re-shuffle if necessary.

3) Self-Evaluation and Peer Assessment
As long as your students understand that honest self-evaluation, just like candid yet respectful peer assessment, improves language skills, these are two very valuable tools that will help you manage large classes and allow you to identify individuals’ language strengths and weaknesses and students in need of extra assistance.

As the unofficial fourth point, remember to get your learners out of their seats! Having your students move about for a while gets the blood flowing again and provides some kinesthetic stimuli that are truly necessary for renewed learner and teacher focus. The class will thank you, and your brain will too.

For more information on better ways to teach large classes and a look at published research on the topic, I invite you to check out this great compilation by the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK.

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