How do you get big classes to work well in groups? It’s a question that baffles many ESL teachers. Indeed, some classes are just going to be difficult, while others many act like angels. But there are some ways that you can help them out.

  1. Most importantly, make sure the students know what they should do. This sounds obvious, but think about your instructions and how they might be misinterpreted. Ask some ICQs to ensure they follow you, and monitor their activity. Don’t be afraid to call a halt and explain the task again if it’s not working out.
  2. Following on from that, make sure to give tangible goals and realistic time limits. Don’t give vague tasks and indefinite periods of time to achieve them. Be clear and precise. If needed, note the time limit on the blackboard.
  3. Mix up the groups so that the students aren’t just playing around with their friends. Sometimes friends work best together… but sometimes they need split up so that they can get some actual work done. I often find that mixing the genders and putting students of varying abilities works well.
  4. Monitor the students to make sure that they’re on task. If they’re not, push them in the right direction. Sometimes this means just quietly reaffirming the task, but if many groups are doing the wrong thing, you need to go back to the start and explain more clearly.
  5. Give the groups names! This is a surprising one, but it really, really helps. Better yet, let them name themselves. This gives them a sense of identity, and makes them work harder towards their goal.
  6. Allow the team to choose a leader, and allow the leader to lead the team. Don’t let them be tyrants, but this will help keep them working towards their goal. Weaker students will gain confidence from having a more assertive and confident person giving them instructions.
  7. Don’t interfere too much. Show that you are interested in what they’re doing, but watch from a distance after your initial monitoring.