How To Teach Large Classes

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Hollie Anderton

Hollie is currently an English teacher and Head of Year in North Wales with a degree in Theatre. She trained in Bath Spa University to gain her PGCE and is currently a Network Leader for WomenEd Wales Hollie is the author of the Teacher Toolkit...
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How do you manage teaching a ‘large’ class? 

30 kids vs 1 teacher – where do we start? Does class size even matter?

Having a ‘big’ class can be quite daunting, especially if you’re early on in your teaching career.

I have had the (good) fortune of having had 30 children for the past three years, so I’m classing myself as relatively old hat.

The key differences in having a class of say, 24 upwards, become apparent once you start the academic year and you realise that actually, these books are taking a lot longer than they ever have done and why has this child done almost no work?

How then do we make sure that we are staying on top?

My Top Tips for Mastering a Large Class

1. Differentiation

The most important thing to remember with any class is that you will have differing abilities and you need to take this into account. But with a large class, this can often be a little bit more difficult to master.

Instead of having three distinct groups of ability, you might find that you have 5 or 6 groups with very different needs, and without an additional adult, you will find yourself barely treading water ensuring that each child has the curriculum catered to their needs.

My advice would be to find these groups early on. They are subject to change of course, but you need to tailor the curriculum to what the child needs so if that means having groups of visual learners of mixed ability or having different ability groups then so be it.

2. Seat wisely

Seating plans can make or break even the best of classes.

If you make a dodgy decision to sit mortal enemies together then you will have more than differentiation to worry about.

With a large class, space can sometimes be an issue. If you seat by ability then maybe make some groups larger rather than adhering to the usual 4/6 tables.

I have a 10 table this year as my higher ability -they are all on the same level so this makes for easier teaching rather than having a separate 4 and 6.

If you’re looking to try something a little bit different, maybe have a look into my previous ideas on experimental classrooms.

3. Ensure no ‘grey’ kids

Every teacher knows that sometimes, we have one or two children that really don’t get a look in. These pupils are very ‘middling’ and often no trouble therefore they are left to be instruments in their own learning whilst you have more intelligent or boisterous children to deal with. This is a brutal, but true fact of class life.

What’s crucial with a large class is that you make a conscious effort to avoid having these ‘grey’ kids.

With 30, it’s much easier to just let a couple off your radar and before you know it, you’re looking through a book and there’s massive gaps in their learning.

My top tip would be to focus on a different child each day. Just a little chat with them in each lesson to see how they’re weekend was, how they found the lesson.

A small token just to let them know that you’re thinking about them. You might just find that they try a little harder to make themselves heard within the class because they know that you care.

4. Additional Adults

Rather than getting your Teaching Assistant to do your displays/photocopying then have a bit of faith and give them a group to teach.

By giving a middle group a boost or a higher group extensions outside the class, you find yourself with a nice group of 24 to work with. Better still, take a focus group out yourself and push them as hard as you can.

Use your additional adult to keep the class on task inside the classroom, they should know what they’re doing and will be fulfilling their job title as ‘Teaching Assistant’, even though they may be ‘PA Extraordinaire’.

5. Marking woes

Obviously, with a big class, there’s going to be a higher workload so instead of battling against 150 books each evening, let them peer assess. Get them to ‘sticky note’ each others work and underline incorrect spellings. Remember, you taught them so they know what you look for!

Also, make sure you go around during the lesson and mark. It gives them instant feedback on what they’re doing rather than looking a few days later and really not remembering what was going on anyway.

Giant classes

One final thing….’large class’ is a relative term so perhaps we need to put things into perspective. Some teachers in the world have classes of 45.

The City Montessori School in Lucknow, India has over 1,000 classrooms and with more than 45 students to a class.

30 doesn’t seem so big now does it?!

3 thoughts on “How To Teach Large Classes

  1. I had a class of 30 ‘borderline’ Year 11’s last year in maths. I taught about 7 of them the year before. I was used to aving about 23 at most aiming for a grade C, so having 30 to get to 4’s and 5’s was difficult.
    It was siginificantly more difficult to get to know this class to help them individually, even the logistics of getting around a very cramped room to speak to pupils.
    Amazingly all but 3 did make a leap in progress and hit a 4 or 5. I do wonder if the 3 would have achieved it with more individual attention.

  2. Teaching classes of over 50 was common in England not so long ago. My mother taught in packed classrooms in Mile End (East London) in the 1950s. As for other countries, I have seen lower primary classes of over 100 (Uganda, Yemen) and have heard of classes of over 200.

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