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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

Teachers' tips: Instructional strategies for large classes

by Steve Naylor

Many teachers today are teaching larger classes because class-size limits were stripped from collective agreements. Teaching large classes is taxing and tiring. The undemocratically elected College of Teachers, the imposition of school planning councils, the intrusion of FSA and Grade 10 examinations, and the constant barrage of teacher-bashing headlines, add to our stress. Here are some ways to deal with oversized classes in a time of ongoing attacks on public education.

Ten instructional strategies that work with large classes

Whip around, pass option
Ask each student in your class to speak to an issue or a topic or say "I pass." The purpose is to increase the number of students who contribute ideas and to give students practice in staying on task. Some teachers limit the number of "I pass" statements.

Question, all write
After you ask a question, give the students a minute or two to write an answer before you call on one or more students or announce the right answer. All students will be thinking about the answer, not just the ones who respond by raising their hands.

Outcome sentences
Give your students a chance to reflect on the lesson or demonstration by giving frames such as I learned... I’m beginning to wonder... I was surprised. This technique allows students to create meaningful learning for themselves and to help them develop the habit of reflecting on their learning.

Ask questions such as How many of you... Who agrees... Who feels... Having students respond with a show of hands maintains the pace of the lesson. Also, some students may feel less intimidated when they can raise their hands with their classmates instead of answering individually.

Turn to your neighbour
Sometimes during a lesson or lecture, it is a good idea to vary the pace and give the students a chance to talk. Having them discuss with a partner for a few minutes encourages students to summarize and listen. Follow-up questions such as, Bob and Jane, what did you talk about? are a good extension.

Choral work
Remember when you learned your times tables by chanting them? At times, rote learning is essential. Having students repeat information aloud in unison helps them memorize material in a relatively easy way. The energy of the class is also heightened.

If you feel you must lecture for an extended period, pause every few minutes and have your students write personal reactions, summaries, questions, etc., about what you have been saying. The learning power of lectures is increased, and students are encouraged to be active listeners.

Think aloud
When you are analyzing a poem, describing a process, or working through a problem, talk out loud to the class, and describe your thinking. You give students a model of how your thinking proceeds. In fact, it is good for students to see you struggle once in a while and to illustrate that thinking is not always linear.

Guided practice
Once you have demonstrated a technique or procedure, guide the students through a similar question or problem. Ask, What is the next step? or What should we do now? as you work with the class. This is an important step in moving students toward independent work. The ultimate goal is, of course, mastery of the concept.

Review test
Working through a sample test one question at a time may be less intimidating than having a whole test as a review. Reveal one question on the overhead, and have all the students write an answer. Then announce the correct answer, or ask for a range of answers before moving to the next question. Students will review the subject matter and quickly correct any misunderstandings. Most students should feel successful and ready for the next stage of learning.

The ideas in this article are adapted from Inspiring Active Learning: A Handbook for Teachers, by Merrill Harmin. The book was published in 1994 by ASCD, 1250 N. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314. ISBN 0-87120-X.

Steve Naylor teaches at Salmon Arm Senior Secondary School, Salmon Arm.

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