good pedagogy.. large classes?

large classes.jpg

Many teachers in many countries do not have the luxury of small class sizes. When access to education is a priority, and the system is constrained by human and financial resources, something has to give. But I've seen plenty of evidence that good pedagogy is possible even with large class sizes. 

The following was originally written in 2005 in the context of the bilateral Strengthening Capacity in Basic Education in Western China project, reposted here (English/Chinese) for the benefit of my colleagues in the RRU MAELM program. 

Strategies for Using SCI with Large Class Sizes

Working with large classes can be challenging no matter what strategies are used.  However, using SCI strategies with large groups can be particularly challenging.  The following are some strategies to help deal with common issues encountered when conducting activities such as: discussions, problem-solving activities, skill practice, group assignments, experiments, learning games, using manipulatives (hands-on learning aids) etc.

Issue:  It takes a long time to share ideas with the whole group.


  • Have students first share in small groups, then choose a speaker to summarize the group’s ideas for the whole class.
  • Limit the amount which students are allowed to share (for example, “tell us in one minute or less” or “make only one point and do not repeat something a previous group has reported”).
  • Ask yourself if sharing as a whole class is necessary?  This can take a long time, and should only be done if there is clear value in it.  Often it is enough for students to share their thoughts in small groups.

Issue:  I can’t get around to visit all of the groups during discussions or group activities


  • Provide as clear structure and scaffolding as possible before groups begin working.  If you do so, each group will require less attention and you can circulate more quickly.
  • Provide whole-class facilitation.  If you see that several groups have similar questions or problems, stop the whole class, and provide everyone with guidance at the same time.
  • If you don’t reach all groups during a certain activity, be sure to start with the neglected groups in the next activity

Issue:  There are too many questions to respond to during activities


  • Too many questions is usually a sign that the structure or scaffolding for the activity was not enough.
  • Look for common questions, which can be answered to the whole class or to small groups at the same time
  • If students ask very basic questions instead of first trying to figure things out on their own, tell the class that everyone must work silently and independently for the first 3 minutes… after that, the teacher will begin answering questions.  This usually encourages students to think for themselves first.
  • Encourage students to ask their question to three peers before asking the teacher.  Teach the students how to support each other, without actually copying each other’s answers.
  • If you have some advanced or highly capable students in your class, you can recruit them to be “teacher-helpers”.  During break-time, coach these students on how to help others without actually giving answers directly, then, during activities, the helpers can circulate to assist their peers.

Issue:  It’s difficult to get everyone’s attention while they are working collaboratively


  • Develop a cue or signal which will get students’ attention without shouting.
  • Teach the cue to students and have them practice responding to it.
  • Insist that the classroom environment always remain in control; the teacher should never have to yell to get students’ attention.
  • Insist that you have everyone’s full attention before you give instructions; avoid the temptation to speak loudly overtop of noise… the noise should stop first.
  • Many teachers use a clapping pattern.  In my class, I say “freeze please” in a warm but firm voice, then begin counting.  The students know that if they are not still, silent, and looking at me by the time I reach 5, they will be asked to speak with me after class.  Sometimes there are students who don’t hear me when I say “freeze”, so I train the students to help me get the others’ attention before I reach 5.  This needs to be practiced, but the result is very efficient.

Issue:  Some participants can’t hear, or can’t see the board


  • If a student has poor vision or hearing, they should be sitting near the front.
  • Invite students to bring their seats forward during instructional time, then return to their desks when it’s time to work.
  • Don’t stand at the front.  Move around the class as you speak.  If you have visual aids, you may carry them with you.
  • During small group activities, some students may be turned away from the front of the class in order to be part of the group. Try to arrange it so that these students are able to turn their chairs or turn on their bench easily in order to face the front when you are making explanations.

Issue:  Some participants misbehave if they finish before others


  • Ensure behavior expectations are clear to students.
  • It is important for students to have something interesting, but productive to do when they are finished their work.  Most misbehavior happens when students are bored. 
  • Encourage students to review their work when they are finished.  If work is rushed or carelessly done, it is fair to have students redo it.
  • Post a fun problem or riddle on the wall each day which students can work on if they are finished. 
  • For very bright students, consider providing extension such as challenge questions for them to complete while they wait for others.  This extension work should be challenging yet interesting, so that it is not viewed as a punishment. 
  • Sometimes it is appropriate to ask students who finish early to help their peers.

Issue:  Some students get off task or waste time while they are supposed to be working


  • Make the activity expectations clear to students.  Most students will follow expectations if they are clear and reasonable.
  • Be sensitive to students, try to understand why they are not working, and find a solution or consequence which is appropriate to that child.
  • Use logical consequences for misbehavior.  For example, if a student does not work during class time, perhaps they should stay inside during break time to complete the work.
  • Ensure that students understand that misbehaviors will be met with negative consequences, and that positive behaviors will be met with positive consequences (such as smiles and praise from the teacher).
  • Reinforce positive behaviors by praising those students who are focused, on-task, and hardworking.
  • Hold students accountable for their work. If the students know they will need to demonstrate what they’ve learned or completed, they are very likely to do it.
  • Remember that all talk (including adult  discussions) wanders (rather than following a very straight path), so that sometimes a comment may sound off-track, when it is actually a way for a student to think through a valid point. Notice the trend of a conversation amongst students before concluding that their discussion is off-task.

Issue:  The classroom doesn’t seem to be running efficiently


  • Pay attention to where time is being wasted.  What is the source of the inefficiency?  You need to find the problem if you want to find a solution.
  • Routine tasks like passing out papers and quieting the class down can be time consuming.  Creating and practicing procedures for these tasks with students can greatly improve efficiency.
  • If students are slow to respond to the teacher, talk to them about the problem, explain why it is important that they respond more quickly, and then practice this with them.

Issue:  The classroom gets very noisy during activities


  • Decide how much noise you are comfortable with.  How loud can the classroom be before it becomes disruptive of learning?  In some activities noise is not a problem, in others, the noise interferes.
  • Take the time to discuss expectations with students, and make sure students understand that if they do not behave reasonably the activity will be stopped.
  • Discuss appropriate use of voice with students.  Individual activities can often be done in silence.  Pair work can be done using whisper voices.  Small group work can be done in quiet speech.

Issue:  There is not enough space to move the desks around


  • Each classroom has its own physical limitations.  If you can’t move desks around but still want students to interact, think creatively… students may be able to work with neighbors, or form small groups without moving. 
  • If you can’t move the desks, consider moving the students instead.  Think about how the students could be positioned around the room in order to conduct the activity you have planned.  Sometimes half the students can simply turn around to face other students.

Issue:  There are not enough hands-on materials for all students


  • If space allows, create different stations around the classroom so that small groups of students can use materials one group at a time.
  • Have students share the materials, if appropriate.
  • Consider creating additional materials yourself, or having students create their own.
  • Think about what other materials are available which would serve a similar purpose.

Issue:  It is too hard to meet everyone’s needs in the classroom


  • It might be impossible to provide individual support to all learners every day.  However, try to distribute your attention around the whole class throughout the week.
  • Planning a variety of activities and communication strategies helps to meet the needs of more learners.
  • If you have some responsible and advanced students, consider recruiting them to help support their peers.
  • Consider providing periodic tutoring sessions outside of class for students who need extra assistance. 





  • ·      先让学生在小组内分享,再让每个小组推选一位发言人,向全班同学总结陈述该小组的观点;
  • ·      限制学生可分享的量(如“用不超过一分钟的时间告诉我们”或“说一个新观点,不要重复前面小组已经提到过的观点”等方法);
  • ·      教师需要自问一下,学生是否有必要逐个地与全班同学进行分享,因为这可能会花很长时间。只有当学生的逐个分享具有明确价值时,才应该这么做。在很多情况下,让学生在小组中逐个分享他们的想法就够了。



  • ·      在学生开始分成小组学习前,教师应该尽可能地提供明确的架构,为学生的小组活动搭建脚手架。这样会有利于学生较顺利地自主完成小组活动,而教师也就可以在班里快速地巡视,为需要帮助的小组提供及时辅导了;
  • ·      提供针对整个班级的辅导。如果你发现有好几个小组都碰见了类似的问题或麻烦,就可以让所有小组都停下来,提供全班性的指导和讲解;
  • ·      如果你在某项活动中没有顾及到所有小组,在开展下一项活动时,一定要从上项活动中被忽略的小组开始。



  • ·      太多的问题通常意味着教师对该活动所提供的架构或搭建的脚手架还不够;
  • ·      寻找共同的问题,以便对整个班级或几个小组同时进行解答;
  • ·      如果学生问的都是很基础的问题,而未尝试着对问题先进行独立思考,教师则可以告诉全体学生每个人都必须安静地自己先做3分钟,3分钟过后,教师才会开始回答他们提出的问题。这会促使学生先自己动脑思考问题;
  • ·      鼓励学生在向老师提问前,先询问三位同学。教学生学会如何相互支持,而不是单纯抄袭彼此的回答;
  • ·      如果你的班上有一些接受能力很强、学得很快的学生,你可以让他们成为“教师帮手”。可以在课间休息时,教这些学生如何才能更好地帮助其他同学,而不是简单地告诉其他同学正确的答案。然后,鼓励这些“教师帮手” 在活动期间,在班里进行巡视以向其他同学提供恰当的辅导。



  • ·      制定一种无需大声喊叫就能够获得学生注意力的暗示或信号;
  • ·      把这种暗示或信号教给学生,并训练他们该如何对暗示或信号做出回应;
  • ·      驾驭课堂环境,教师绝不应该需要喊叫才能获得学生的注意力;
  • ·      教师在对活动指令进行说明时,一定得先获得每个学生的充分注意,而不是提高嗓门大声讲话去盖过学生的喧闹----教师应该先制止住学生的喧闹,让他们安静下来;
  • ·      很多教师采用拍手或其它的一些方式。在我的课堂上,我用一种温和而又坚定的口吻说“请全体同学安静下来”,然后开始数数。学生们知道当我数到5时,他们还不安静下来的话,我就会要求他们下课时找我谈话。有时当我说“请全体同学安静下来”时,有些学生并没有听到我说的话,因此我需要训练学生在我数到5之前,替我获得其他学生的注意。这可能需要练习好几次,学生才能熟悉。不过,一旦熟了之后,就会很有效果。



  • ·      如果有些学生的视力或听力不好,就安排他们坐到前排;
  • ·      教师在前面进行讲解时,可以让学生挪动椅子坐得离教师近一些,等到该学生自己练习时,再让他们回到自己的座位上;
  • ·      教师不应固定不动地站在讲台前,而应在讲解时适当地巡回走动。如果你有图片等视觉教具,可以手持它们进行走动;
  • ·      小组活动期间,一些学生可能需要背对讲台而坐。教师应尽量安排,以易于这些学生挪动椅子或回转过身,以便在教师进行讲解时能够面对教师。



  • ·      确保每名学生都清楚教师对他们的行为期望;
  • ·      在一些学生提前完成任务后,让他们再做一些有趣、有意义的小任务。这一点很重要,因为大多数不良表现都是在学生百无聊赖的时候发生的;
  • ·      鼓励学生在完成任务后进行仔细检查。如果学生急匆匆地完成了任务,且做得很不细致,教师可以让他们重做;
  • ·      每天在墙上贴一个有趣的问题或谜语,让那些提前完成任务的学生去思考或解答;
  • ·      对于学得很快的学生,可以在他们等待其他同学时,给他们出一些延伸任务,譬如让他们完成一些具有挑战性的问题。这种延伸任务要既具挑战性,又具趣味性,以免学生把它看作是一种惩罚;
  • ·      让提前完成任务的学生去帮助其他同学,有时也不失为一种好办法。



  • ·      让学生清楚活动期望。如果期望明确、合理,多数学生都会按教师的期望行事;
  • ·      要敏于感知学生,尽力去了解某个或某些学生活动不积极的原因,找到一种比较合适的解决方案或处理方法;
  • ·      对不良表现采用恰当合理的处罚。举例来说,如果某个学生在课上没有学习,教师就可以让他在课间休息时待在教室里完成任务;
  • ·      使学生意识到不良表现会带来消极的结果(如老师的处罚),而良好表现能带来积极的结果(如老师的微笑和赞扬);
  • ·      通过表扬那些集中精力完成任务、勤奋学习的学生来强化积极的学习行为;
  • ·      让学生对自己的学习负责。如果学生知道教师需要他们展示所学或所完成的任务,他们就很可能会去认真做;
  • ·      记住,很多谈话(包括成人的讨论)都可能会有些绕圈(即不是沿着主题直接深入地探讨下去),因此有时某个发言可能听起来有些跑题,但实际上却是在向正确的思路迈进。因此,在对学生所讨论的话题作出偏题的论断前,一定要先把握清楚他们的讨论思路。



  • ·      注意在什么地方浪费了时间,课堂低效的原因在哪里。如果你想找到解决办法,首先需要找到存在的问题;
  • ·      收发作业、维持课堂纪律等一些常规事项,可能会比较花时间。为这些常规事项设计一些程序并对学生进行训练,有助于效率的提升;
  • ·      如果学生对老师总是回应得慢慢腾腾,就和他们好好谈谈这个问题,向他们解释为什么他们有必要做出快速些的回应,并对他们展开相应的训练。



  • ·      确定你所能容忍的喧闹度。课堂上的喧闹需要保持在什么限度,才不至于影响到正常的学习?对于一些活动,喧闹可能并不成之为问题,但在另一些活动中,喧闹则可能会造成干扰;
  • ·      花时间与学生共同讨论对他们的期望,让学生明白如果他们不好好进行活动的话,活动就会被停止;
  • ·      与学生讨论他们对音量的使用。让他们知道在进行单独活动时,常常可以在不出声的情况下就能完成;两人一组进行活动时,可以采用耳语交流;多人一组进行活动时,可以采用低声交谈。



  • ·      每间教室都会有其物理局限性。如果桌椅很难被随意地移动和布置,但又需要学生互动,教师就可以进行一些创造性的思考……学生可以和邻桌一起学习,或让学生不用移动就组成小组;
  • ·      如果实在无法移动桌椅,就考虑让学生动。想一想你所计划开展的活动,如何才能最便利地安排学生的位置。也许有时让一半学生转过身去面对其后排的同学就够了。



  • ·      如果空间允许,可以把学生分成若干小组,让他们以一次一组的形式轮流使用教具或材料,没有轮到的组则可以先从事一些其它的活动;
  • ·      合适的时候,可以让几名学生同时共用一套教具或一份材料;
  • ·      思考一下是否能找到一些可用来满足类似目的的其它现成材料;
  • ·      必要时,教师可以考虑自己整合或简单制作一些补充材料,或鼓励学生自己动手制作。

问题: 在课堂上很难满足每个学生的需求。


  • ·      每天都给所有学生提供个别辅导可能无法做到,但教师可以尽力在一周之内把注意力分给班上的每个学生;
  • ·      设计不同形式的活动、采用不同的沟通策略,有助于满足更多学生的需求;
  • ·      如果你的班上有一些学得快、责任心强的学生,可以考虑让他们成为你的帮手,以对其他学生提供必要的辅导和支持;
  • ·      考虑为那些需要额外帮助的学生定期提供课外辅导。