Large classes, beautiful minds

Large classes are a reality in Finnish high schools. Usually approx. 30 - 35 students start an English course, hiding behind their handbags and backpacks before they are told to take out their books and pencils and notebooks. And put away those cellphones! Then, when everyone is finally settled, the teacher gets to teach.

Since language is all about communication and interaction, a language teacher should not lecture. I sometimes find myself lecturing when I get carried away telling stories about my travels in the States or Apartheid or school in Zimbabwe, where I lived when I was a child. They love hearing good stories and it can be interesting at times, however, lecturing does not serve different learners when used constantly. And if used for teaching grammar, it does not allow the students to have any of their own epiphanies.

Here are some methods that I use to make a large class interactive:
  1. role-playing in pairs
  2. discussions or tasks in smaller groups which are then presented to the rest of the class
  3. polls (online or the "raise your hands" method)
  4. passing a piece of paper around onto which everyone writes one answer - checked by the teacher by projecting the answers on the Document Camera
  5. mind maps on the Smart Board
  6. PowerPoint slides with questions instead of answers
  7. grammar through demonstrative examples and deduction instead of a list of rules

A teacher should never chew up the information and knowledge for her students. Students need to develop stronger teeth to chew for themselves and acquire a deeper understanding of a topic. When you understand, you do not forget.

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