Teaching Large ESL Classes Essay

This essay has a total of 3106 words and 16 pages.

Teaching Large ESL Classes


REVIEW OF LITERATURE
on the subject
TEACHING LARGE ESL CLASSES





by
Neal D. Williams




A CUR 524 assignment submitted to the faculty of the
Fischler Center for the Advancement of Education
of Nova Southeastern University in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of master of science
January 6, 1999


INTRODUCTION


The purpose of this review of literature is to search the scholarly literature for
information on the subject of teaching ESL [English for speakers of other languages] in
large classes, especially in a foreign context. This subject is of immense practical value
for the present writer because it is his intention to begin teaching at a Korean
university in September 1999. It is a fact that many university classes in Korea have
thirty students or more, and, indeed, one of the first questions that interviewers usually
ask prospective teachers is how they would teach such a large class. In addition to the
difficulty of teaching the large class, there is also the problem of the varying levels of
English proficiency that are present in many classes.

It is well known that there are four basic skills that must be taught in language
learning: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Of these skills, one stands out as
particularly troublesome for the teacher of large classes. Of course that is the skill of
speaking the target language. "Speaking" includes both pronunciation and conversational
ability. Competent teaching of these skills by one English-speaking teacher in a large
class with varying levels of proficiency requires a great deal of creativity and
resourcefulness. The goal of this review is to find articles and research reports—both
primary and secondary—which will offer practical guidelines in helping the teacher who
is faced with this problem.

Makarova, Veronika. (1996). Teaching English pronunciation to large groups of students:
some suggestions. Research report. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 416678).


Of all the titles that appear in a search in the ERIC database on the subject "Teaching
English to large groups," Makarova's work seems to be the closest to hit the mark.
Makarova taught English at Meikai University in Japan, and her suggestions are based on
her own experience there. The first suggestions that she makes concern how to get
non-verbal feedback from the students in the course of listening exercises. One idea is
the use of "phoneme cards" that have a phonetic symbol on one side, e.g., /Q/, and a short
list of words on the other side that contain that sound, e.g., "bag, cat, ran." The
students use these cards to signal to the teacher the sounds that they hear during a
listening exercise.

Another suggestion for listener response in large groups is the use of clapping by
students to signal the presence of stress. For example, students would clap on the
capitalized words in the following sentence: "I'm GOING to the STORE and I'm COMING back
at THREE." This method is a good way of learning the rhythmic nature of English.

Other signaling systems can be developed in a given classroom. For example, Makarova
instructed students to use the "OK" sign in a "radio tuning" game. As she turned a radio
dial across various stations with many different languages, students had to give the "OK"
sign in just a few seconds, if they thought the language they were hearing was English.

Other techniques for teaching pronunciation in large classes include games, such as the
following: crosswords, mazes, "hangman," and bingo. A simple bingo game can be used to
match pronunciation and phonetic transcription. The teacher can also use a phonetic word
game as follows: The teacher writes a long word on the board in phonetic transcription.
The students must find other words that exhibit those same sounds and write down those
words in correct transcription. In all of these games, the teacher can have students work
alone or in small groups.

After games, such as those suggested above, the teacher should switch to an "activation"
phase. This stage is designed to have the students utilize in conversation the words that
were used in the game. The activation stage can become the second part of the game
competition.

Correction of students' mistakes in pronunciation can also be difficult in a large class.
Makarova suggests responding to an incorrect pronunciation with a question, e.g., Did you
say "eel" or "ill"? Students can also practice troublesome pairs of words in small groups.
For example, in practicing the /l/ and /r/ distinction, students try to guess whether a
fellow student in the group is saying "lamb" or "ram."

It is also important to motivate students so that they are encouraged and motivated to
improve their pronunciation. Some suggestions for this task include: pronunciation games,
"fun" textbooks, video clips of favorite films, stories, dialogues, poems,
tongue-twisters, limericks, and reports on the history of English pronunciation. Finally,
the teacher can give guidelines to individual students who may be interested in improving
their pronunciation. Such items would include the use of cassette tapes for listening and
practicing, as well as for recording the student's own voice.


Hayes, David. (1997, April). Helping teachers to cope with large classes. ELT journal 51 (2), 106-16.

The second most helpful work in this literature survey appears to be that of Hayes. As
Hayes aptly points out, most ESL teachers have had little or no training in teaching large
classes and are thus are ill-prepared to cope with them. The article is based on Hayes'
work as an English teacher in northeast Thailand as well as his study of the current
literature.

At the outset Hayes summarizes the results of a survey of teachers in northeast Thailand
on the subject of teaching large classes. The problems these teachers cite are centered in
five areas: (1) Discomfort (Large numbers in confined classrooms make students
uncomfortable.); (2) Control (Teachers may lose control of large classes.); (3) Individual
attention (Teachers believe they are neglecting the individual needs of students); (4)
Evaluation (Teachers worry that they cannot properly evaluate the students' work); and (5)
Learning effectiveness (Teachers are concerned about their overall effectiveness).

In response to the survey of problems, Hayes, and others, developed an in-service course
that is designed to help teachers in Thai secondary schools cope with classes of about
fifty students. The purpose of the course is to address the five specific areas that were
cited in the surveys as problematic. The key suggestions for each area are as follows: (1)
Discomfort. The teacher should arrange the furniture of the classroom for optimum
student-centered language learning, and, in this regard, small group arrangements seem
most helpful.

(2) Control. Teachers should not avoid pair work among students because the teachers think
it will be too noisy. Instead, they must learn how to keep the noise level to a minimum by
using clear attention-getting signals, never shouting, addressing individuals by name, and
selecting group leaders.

(3) Individual attention. Teachers should make every attempt to learn the students' names,
even if that means using a seating arrangement or name tags. As small groups practice, the
teacher should move around the room, confirming that the groups are on track and giving
attention where needed the most.

(4) Evaluation. Teachers are naturally suspicious of students working together in groups,
for fear they will cheat. Teachers should try to develop a sense of responsibility among
the students. The gigantic task of grading many writing assignments for large classes can
be cut down by having students exchange workbooks, correcting their own work, writing
answers on the board and being corrected by other students, and by working in pairs.

(5) Learning effectiveness. Teachers should realize that effective learning can take place
in large classes. They should modify their own behavior and lead their students to do the
same. If they can accomplish this feat, the teachers may be helped, psychologically, to
feel less overwhelmed.


Senior, Rosemary. (1997, January). Transforming language classes into bonded groups. ELT journal 51 (1), 3-11.

This article is based on the findings of a survey that asked twenty-eight accomplished
English teachers to comment on the nature of "good" ESL classes. Senior notes that the
most recurring idea was not what one might expect. The teachers did not speak of
well-behaved, hard-working, compliant classes. Rather, in Senior's words, "They clearly
perceived that any class with a positive whole-group atmosphere was ‘good,' whereas any
class which lacked a spirit of group cohesion was unsatisfactory, even if it was composed
of high achieving students." A number of expressions kept reappearing in the teachers'
descriptions of successful classes, such as the following: "a feeling of warmth," "mutual
support," "group solidarity," "a sense of camaraderie," "unity within the class," "the
class gelled," "the class came together," "the class bonded," etc. In response to these
descriptions, Senior selected the expression "bonded class" to describe any class which a
teacher would describe as functioning cohesively.

After looking at the psychological aspects of group bonding, Senior then identifies eight
key facets of the bonding process in language classes. These are worth repeating: (1)
Breaking down the barriers. Teachers should devise some sort of "ice-breaker," which may
be as simple as each student sharing a piece of personal information. (2) Creating the
climate. The teachers were able to create bonded classes took pains to avoid appearing as
godlike dispensers of knowledge. Rather, they made mistakes, laughed at themselves, and
encouraged the students to do the same. (3) Convincing the customers. In all cultures,
students (and their parents!) expect to get their money's worth. They want to have the
confidence that their teacher is competent. The teacher should speak openly of her
qualifications, knowledge of other languages, travels, and credentials. (4) Defining
directions. Despite the presence of students with a wide range of abilities, the teacher
must obtain a common goal, a consensus of where the class should be going. (5) Harnessing
the headstrong. Rather than ignore or demean difficult students, effective teachers find a
role for them in the class as a whole. (6) Establishing expectations. Teachers from
Western culture are used to a relaxed classroom, but they must make sure, if teaching in
Asia, that this model is not taken to mean that high standards have been abandoned.
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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