Teaching Large Esl Classes

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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


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.

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