Dealing with Large TEFL Classes

Fifty students and only fifty minutes once a week! How do you get the students to actively participate in class?

Here are a few teaching tips and ideas to help you cope with L and XL classes, and give all your students the opportunity to take part in the lesson.

They may not all apply to your situation but you can certainly try them out and can often adapt them to your specific circumstances.


  • Divide the class into small groups and have them do group work. Make sure you monitor their work. Walk around the class and check that they are actually speaking English! Also don’t let them get into the same groups every time.
  • Since large classes can let weaker students ‘hide’ if possible make the groups quite small (say, 3 or 4) so that weaker students would need to participate.
  • Monitoring can be difficult; you could try having the better students monitor or ‘lead’ a group.
  • Make sure you balance class work and group work. Having 40 kids sitting and listening to you might get really boring. Rather than you standing at the front of the class talking or writing, divide the class into pairs or groups. Make sure that they stay on task though and don’t see group work as an excuse for talking about their stuff.
  • Use activities that allow for team work and exploit the competitive spirit. Draw grids on the board that represent each team. In a class of 60 that’s about 6 columns. Give and deduct points according to performance. Also apply a bit of peer pressure when one member of the team is costing the others points. Always make sure that one group doesn’t lose a game by a large margin and challenge the losers to win the next time.
  • With large mixed levels classes split the class into fours with mixed levels in each group. Make the activities very simple but leave room for expansion on dialogs and role-plays so more advanced or more adventurous students can do more with an activity. Not only that but the more advanced students can also help the weaker students in the group when you are attending another group.
  • Have plenty of short back-up activities for when a group finishes an exercise first; it will keep them occupied till the other groups catch up.


  • Make homework mandatory. Start your classes with a homework review drill. If students review and prepare then the classes will go much more smoothly and you can cover more material. Make them regret not doing their homework and don’t let them get away with not doing it. Play games that require the homework to be done and if someone has not done it give them a hard time over it by asking them why they didn’t do it and explaining why they really need to.
  • Correct homework by asking teams or groups to swap their exercise books or papers and then write your answers on the board (or get a good student to do this). This way students can spot mistakes of others and learn double. Also if wrongly corrected, students will complain and it all shows they are learning.
  • Don’t correct individual homework during the class – it will simply take too long.
  • Don’t give out so much homework that YOU have no free time!

Other Ideas

  • With adults and older teenagers use debates‏‎. Give them a topic with one group preparing PRO arguments and the other CON. The more controversial/outrageous the subject, the more fun the debates!
  • Try to do things that are interactive and full of energy. Party games like Taboo are great for conversation classes and to review vocabulary.
  • Use ESL board games. They are good to teach grammar but will get the students talking as well. Many are available free online. Print enough copies so that groups of 2-3 students can play. Make sure you have enough pawns and dice.
  • Pay attention to the students at the back and get students used to being moved about the class so you can split up groups of lazy students and vary the groups easily.
  • Catch people off guard and ask them questions; this is to keep the whole class alert.
  • Call names at random, it keeps all alert.
  • With XXL classes, particularly if the students are crammed in a small room, aim for an outside activity and incorporate their immediate surroundings with whatever you are teaching them.
    Change the class atmosphere. Move the desks out of the room one day. Keep them guessing and you will be able to keep their attention. When seating rearrangement is not possible try this: divide the class in 3 rows. Get the student at the head of each row to read (silently) a sentence and whisper it to the next student … and so on. The last student in each row has to shout the sentence correctly.
  • With larger classes, it’s always important to simplify activities as best you can. Once the students are working and getting on with the activity, then you can add to it. Remember to give instructions clearly‏‎.
  • With primary students you can try games that allow several students to participate at once with minimum time waiting for a turn. Games like Relay Race or Kidnap, for example, are designed to allow for frequent repetition of vocabulary or a sentence containing a grammatical structure that you would like to practice.
  • It’s difficult to remember 40 or more names; how about using a register with small photos of each student? How about getting each student to write a short 50 word biography at the beginning of the new class and give it to you (with a picture) as a record?
  • Is it possible to get another teacher or teaching assistant in?

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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