Most teachers would agree that teaching a small class comes with many benefits. Teachers can offer one-on-one assistance at times and are more likely to meet the individual needs of their students. Some teachers, however, find it quite challenging to keep their students interested and excited about learning in a small class. Depending on the location you are teaching in, small classes range from about three to seven students. In countries where large classes are the norm, classes of twenty may still be considered small. There are numerous coping strategies and activities that teachers can use to deal with the challenges of timing and student engagement.
Advantages of Teaching Small Classes
Comfort: Teachers and students often feel more comfortable when the class size is smaller. Students generally feel more comfortable voicing their questions and opinions.
Students' needs met: Teachers can design customized lessons to meet the needs and interests of all of the class members.
Student centred: Teaching is student centred and often more communicative than is possible in large classes. Students also have more opportunity to speak.
Space: Students have plenty of space to move around in the classroom. Teachers can also arrange excursions (or suggest spontaneous ones) outside of the classroom where students can be exposed to real world English.
Attendance: Class attendance is usually high because students know they will be missed if they are absent. They also feel like they belong to the group.
Tasks Completed: Assignments and homework are more likely to be completed because the teacher is more likely to check.
Preparation time: Less preparation time is required for photocopying. There are generally enough textbooks to go around so photocopying is limited to extra activities.
Detailed Feedback: Teachers have time to provide detailed feedback when marking assignments and tests, so students get a better sense of how they are improving and where they need to work harder. Teachers also have more time to answer questions before, during, and after class
Challenges of Teaching Small Classes
Timing: Activities finish quickly, so teachers may need to prepare more lessons and games.
Distractions: Pairs can get distracted easily since they can hear what each other are saying.
Attendance: If a few students do miss a class, planned lessons can occasionally flop. For example, you may plan a lesson that requires pair work, and then find that only three of your six students come to class.
Fillers: Teachers must always have plenty of fillers on hand for times when lessons or activities get completed quickly.
Boredom: Students may become bored working with the same pairs or groupings all of the time. There may also be less energy in the room in a small class.
Anxiety: While you will likely feel more comfortable teaching in a small class, shy students who are used to blending into a large class may be uncomfortable participating. You will have to take special measures to help them gain confidence.
Activities not always suitable: Some activities in textbooks, such as debates or role-playing, may not be possible if a class is very small. You will have to spend some preparation time adapting textbook activities.
Strategies for Coping with Small Classes
Fillers: Always have plenty of fillers (such as puzzles and games) ready in case activities finish quickly. Keep a list of games or warm ups on hand to use when energy gets low. Some may need to be adapted slightly if the class is very small.
Review often: Take the time to make sure that your students understand the lessons and material.
Encourage confidence: Help shy students to feel more comfortable by trying not to put them on the spot. Let them get comfortable with you and their classmates before you start calling on them to speak up more. Remember to praise them often and save criticism for private interviews.
Change the dynamics: Invite students from other classes in once in a while. Prearrange pair group and getting to know you activities with other teachers who have small classes. If you have high level students pair them with lower level students and give them the opportunity to teach.
Ask for feedback: Take time to find out whether or not students are happy with the class. Ask for suggestions regarding activities they want to do or skills they would like to improve. Put a question box or envelope out so that students can remain anonymous if they want to.