German lessons with more than 100 pupils in the classroom is the norm in some countries. Naturally this poses some particular challenges for the teacher and for their lessons. What can be done to ensure that all pupils learn at the same time without chaos breaking out?
While the alarm bells already start to ring in Germany when schools have nearly 30 children in each class, teachers in other countries are happy when their classes have fewer than 100 pupils.
Even though education researchers agree that good teachers can give good lessons regardless of whether their classes have a few extra pupils or not, class sizes of 60, 80 or 100 learners – often in conjunction with infrastructural shortcomings in the classroom – pose a challenge for any teacher.
There are certain geographical regions in which head teachers have no choice but to assign large numbers of learners to each class because of a lack of teachers and/or space: this is the case in much of sub-Saharan Africa (particularly Western and Central Africa), as well as in parts of Asia, such as in India and certain regions in China and Indonesia. However, large classes are not unheard of under certain circumstances in Europe either, for example when events to promote the German language are staged at educational fairs, when primary schools offer taster classes in German or when voluntary German courses are made available at refugee reception centres.
How class size influences teaching style
Recent research suggests that group size has virtually no significant influence on successful teaching (Hattie 2013). However, working with very large groups or 100 or even more learners often places particular demands on teachers, not only in areas such as pronunciation training, discipline, motivation and performance assessment, but also when it comes to differentiating between pupils of different ability levels. This is why a large number of methods for and didactic approaches to teaching in large groups have been developed, which can of course also be adapted to smaller class sizes.
Because discipline is particularly important in large groups, many teachers attempt to achieve this using the traditional “talk and chalk” approach, as they believe this is the best way to control the class. This frequently has a negative impact on learner motivation, however. The widest possible range of social forms and methods should be employed to avoid boredom. I would like to present three methods which, thanks to their high degree of learner activation, help create diverse and varied large group lessons. Another advantage of these methods is that well-documented examples of them are available as videos or detailed lesson descriptions.
Inspired by theatre and music education methods, a samba circle can form the basis for various rhythmic exercises. Together, learners use their feet to drum out a simple rhythm that connects them, encouraging even shy pupils to speak in front of the group. Rhythmic speaking is a useful way to practise language use, such as introducing oneself, or to learn lexical fields such as the vocabulary of the classroom. One example of exercises in a samba circle, which for reasons of space need not necessarily be a circle, is given in the video featuring Mrs Che Neba from Douala in Cameroon:
Illustrative descriptions of this and other exercises can be found in the Sprach-Fluss project documentation (Holl 2011).
Total Physical Response
The Total Physical Response method combines language teaching with physical movement to activate the learners’ different senses. This permits a holistic form of learning. The exercises link vocabulary from a particular lexical field to specific movements, which helps pupils to memorize the vocabulary. In the following example presented by Nurul Widaningrum, a teacher from Jakarta in Indonesia, the pupils also add singing to the actions:
Teachers can also use activity-based project work so that all learners in a large group are simultaneously occupied as far as possible. In this context it is important to make sure that learners can complete the project within a limited period of time (two weeks at the most), and that the contents of the project are relevant not only to the curriculum but also to the everyday lives of the learners.
Project work is ideally suited to large groups: the different groups can tackle different questions and then give a final presentation of the topic as a whole. But how is one to organize group work involving 100 or more learners considering that the ideal group size for effective work is three to five learners? This can be achieved if the teacher asks several groups to work on the same topic at once. Before the presentation, the small groups tasked with the same question get together to discuss which material they wish to use for their presentation.
When assigning pupils to the groups, the teacher should ensure that the groups comprise learners with different talents. One learner may be good at drawing, another at presenting, and a third may be able to express herself well in German. This means that each can contribute their particular skills, has something to do and can contribute to the success of the project. In the project-based lessons given by Nadège Tchuinang from Yaoundé in Cameroon (Tchuinang et al. 2017: 40-45), the teacher creates pupil profiles at the start of the school year, which allows him to put together suitable groups in advance. Consequently, hardly any time is wasted when dividing the 120 learners up into 40 groups. In addition to insights such as these, the project report also contains many practical tips, including on aspects such as time management and ways to deal with disruptions.
The problem of assessing performance
The more learners there are in a class, the longer it takes to mark and assess tests. And yet such tests are essential if the oral and written abilities of individual pupils are to be evaluated. Angelika Loo (Loo 2017: 8 f.) provides some recommendations that reduce the work involved in assessing performance in large groups:
A variety of learning experiences | Photo (detail): © Goethe-Institut Cameroon
- tests should be easy to mark, comprising closed or semi-open questions (multiple choice, right/wrong, cloze tests)
- if open exercises cannot be avoided – as is the case at higher levels – tests should be scheduled during less busy weeks in the school year
- some tests can be taken and even assessed online
- in certain situations learners can carry out a preliminary marking of each other’s tests after having been provided with the correct answers
- oral performance can also be assessed during group presentations.
The advantage of large groups
Despite the extra work involved in teaching large groups, the advantages of learning in large groups should also be highlighted: learner diversity is enormous, and it is precisely their different biographies that make for stimulating contributions. Lessons are likewise enriched by the pupils’ wide range of experiences of learning other second or foreign languages. Last but not least, a large group of learners can generate an emotional dynamism that can reinforce both positive and negative attitudes towards either the lesson content or indeed the teacher. This makes it all the more important for the teacher to appear well-organized and to establish a good relationship with the class.
Che Neba, Marie-Noelle/Hoffmann, Christian/Tchuinang, Nadège (2017): Großgruppendidaktik in Zentralafrika. In: Fremdsprache Deutsch, Issue 56, p.37-46.
Hattie, John (2013): Lernen sichtbar machen. Überarbeitete deutschsprachige Ausgabe von “Visible Learning”. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren.
Holl, Edda (2011): Sprach-Fluss: Theaterübungen für Sprachunterricht und interkulturelles Lernen. München: Hueber.
Loo, Angelika (2017): Unterricht mit großen Lerngruppen. In: Fremdsprache Deutsch, Issue 56, p. 3-9.
Schmidjell, Annegret: Interaktionsorientierter Unterricht. Lernende in großen Gruppen. In: Fremdsprache Deutsch, Issue 56 , p.10-18.