7 Tips For Teaching Smaller Classes

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Helen Woodley

Helen Woodley is a primary trained SENDCo currently working in a large KS1-4 Pupil Referral Unit in the North East of England. She spent 3 years studying Theology in Durham; Helen has worked in a wide variety of special school settings, including all age schools....
Read more about Helen Woodley

Is it better to have a smaller class?

When I told other teachers that I had a class of less than 15, their initial response was, ‘Oh, you are so lucky, I would LOVE that!’.

Teaching a small class does have its benefits but, and this is what is often forgotten, it can actually be a very hard job.

Once I had a class of 14 spanning Reception to Y4 and from P6 to L3. I would often think of great activities but I didn’t have enough pupils to form suitable groups, or the activity was age appropriate for some but not others.

Here are some tips for those of you who are preparing to teach a smaller class for the first time.

1. Adapt

You can adapt materials made for larger classes – okay, so you have to think carefully about group and partner work, but it is possible.

I regularly use pre-designed schemes and adapt them so you do not have to start from scratch!

2. Plan for extension

Don’t worry if your lessons finish sooner than you expect – it is amazing how quickly a smaller class can organise themselves in comparison to a large one so always plan for extension activities as you will probably need them.

Use this time for targeting specific needs or groups or individuals. Don’t forget that you can include some life skills work or social skill development too.

3. Build deeper relationships

See a smaller class as a benefit – you will get to know that class so well and be able to develop a really strong relationship with them in a way that it is not possible in a large class.

Just prepare yourself for how deep these can become and always follow your school’s safeguarding policy as you may find that your are privy to more being shared with you than you may have previously experienced.

4. Make space

Plan time for pupils to get time away from their peers – with less pupils in a class, there is less choice for who pupils can form relationships with and less freedom to play away from peers you may find annoying.

Tensions in a smaller class can run high so you need to create space in the day for pupils to have some time away from each other. This can be incorporated at the end of lessons due to the extra time you may have.

Personal activities could include an ongoing project based around their interests or some valuable 1:1 time with you to address any misconceptions.

5. Spread out

Make the most of the extra classroom space – a small class can often feel lost within a room which runs the risk of pupils not experiencing a lively environment.

The extra space can have so many uses from a nurturing area with comfy seating and books/magazines, to space to have interactive displays which are so much more fun than one on the wall. The extra space also means that you can incorporate physical activity into lessons, such as parachute games, rather than having to wait for your timetabled session in the hall.

6. Use your time wisely

One benefit from having a smaller class is definitely the amount of marking – use the time you get freed up with to either experiment with how you mark (Ross’ new book, Mark.Plan.Teach is a great starting point) or engage with educational research.

The whole reason I ended up writing a thesis was because I took the opportunity to read educational research after I had finished marking for the day. Ask for ideas on social media or search Google Scholar for open access materials.

And finally, 7…

Don’t take your foot off the gas – whatever you do, do not think that it is easy!

Bad habits can creep in with less pupils and unfinished tasks can mount up.

Colleagues and leaders will probably be eyeing your data to see what progress is being made in comparison to a large class so you need to be on top of the game….and fight your corner if needed.

Does class size even matter? Isn’t it the quality of the teacher that matters more?

Do you have the opposite problem? Your class is very LARGE? Click here for tips on How to Teach Large Classes.

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