Class sizes in Thailand are typically larger than you are used to in your home country, or other countries where you have taught ESL.
This is particularly true for government schools, with private schools tending to have smaller numbers of students in a class. In a government high school, my largest class size was 54 students. In a government primary school, my largest class size was 37 students. Having discussed the student numbers with numerous ESL teacher colleagues, it appears that these figures are fairly representative of typical class sizes in Thailand. I thought I was just unlucky!
Not only can it be difficult to teach such large groups, it can also be a challenge to keep students under control. I have had high school level students trying to climb out of a second floor window, throwing plastic bottles into an overhead fan to try and get them to shatter, fighting, and the common problem of mobile phones and general chatter. I have also noticed that students love to go to the toilet in small groups, girls like to spend classes re-applying their makeup and everyone likes to play on FaceBook Skype / Twitter etc during class. In primary schools, my students’ antics have been limited to making a dash for the door, small squabbles and trying to secretly trade cars and play games.
Despite the large student numbers, it is very possible to teach effectively, have fun and engage your Thai classes.
There are some handy tips that can be a sanity saver in the large classrooms.
How Not to Give up while Teaching Large Groups
Learn Early What Role to Play
I found that some groups responded well to fun teacher Sarah, others, usually the higher level classes, genuinely want to learn, and respond well to an open style of teaching that encourages discussion and questioning, and other classes, unfortunately, need a stricter and more disciplinarian approach. I find that by identifying your class type early on, setting clear boundaries and assuming the relevant role from the start can really work wonders. I’ll give you a great example. I taught a large class of entirely male students, mainly aged 14 years old. It was the final year in school for most of them, as students can leave education after Matyom 3 and attend a vocational college. The majority of this class had no intention of staying at school, they had no interest in learning English, and the class was labeled by many teachers, Thai and natives alike, as the worst class in the school. I adored them! The key was to teach them at their level. Okay, so my classes usually began with a student greeting of, “Yo! Sarah! What’s up?!” despite my best attempts at trying to encourage “Hello Teacher Sarah, how are you today?”, but with a bit of patience, a quick self-lesson on rap-talk and taking the time to answer their unending questions we made progress. I quickly realized that although they had no interest in learning English, they were an inquisitive bunch, full of questions. By being open with them and taking time to chat, they were practicing their English and learning new things far quicker than if I had tried a different approach. Learn your class type, and teach them accordingly.
Separate any Mischief Makers
We’ve all dealt with the band of students who just will not listen, no matter what the topic or how fun you try to make activities. I deliberately make a point of separating these groups from the start, and no amount of sulking, pouting or glaring is going to make me change my mind. Not only is it difficult to teach a class when there is a small group who do not even pretend to listen, but it is also unfair on the students who do want to learn. For those who continue to misbehave, I have a designated “time out chair” at the front of the room. This is effective with all ages. Loss of face is a big deal in Thai culture, and most students, even the cocky ones, hate to be singled out from their friends and made to feel different. I will make students go to the chair, in front of the class, for a short period of time before returning to their seats. I don’t draw attention to it, I just continue with my lesson. If this is not effective, repeat offenders are made to sit outside the classroom door, within my line of vision, for a few minutes. Most are terrified of being seen by a Thai teacher, who will then question them as to why they have been removed from the class.
Use a Microphone
Some schools will provide microphones, many will not. In the majority of classrooms though there are plugs and PA systems to enable a microphone to be used. They are inexpensive to buy if not provided, and they really can make a lot of difference. Make sure your microphone has a long cord though, as if you tend to walk around the class a lot, as I do, it would be rather embarrassing to become tangled in your wire, or inadvertently wrench it from the socket mid-sentence.
Have a Large Variety of Activities Planned
A large variety of activities prevents your classes from becoming bored. Whilst this is important for any effective lesson, it is particularly important when there are a lot of students, as bored students can quickly become disruptive students. I tend to teach a topic at the start of the class, and then follow this with a conversation or practice activity, during which time I will go around the class and help any weaker students. I use a lot of games, friendly competitions, quizzes and other interactive activities in the classroom. A large concept in Thai life is “sanuk”, which means fun. Thais try to make sanuk part of their everyday routines. Many schools in Thailand encourage teachers to have fun with their classes. So, as long as your students are learning, fill your class with as many fun activities as you can.
If a Planned Lesson Is Not Working – STOP!
Do not be afraid to change your lesson plan on the spot if it really is not working. We’ve all had those moment where a carefully and meticulously planned out class does not go as expected. If you realize that there is a sea of faces looking at you in bewilderment and confusion, change your approach immediately. The worst thing is to completely lose the class, as then it is so much harder to get their attention back.
Don’t Dwell on Difficult Days
We all have them – days that we wish just had not happened. Don’t dwell on them. Assess how you could have done things differently, learn from it and move on. Do not let one bad day drain you of motivation and energy.
Don’t Use Physical or Cruel Punishments
Although you may see Thai teachers hitting children, sometimes using rulers or sticks, do not follow suit. It is illegal in Thailand to discipline students in this way, although some teachers still do it. Not only is it unfair and unethical, you risk the wrath of an angry parent, who may be less than happy at a foreigner raising a hand to their child. I have been in the process of making a small child sit down, when a classmate has brought me a stick from the front of the class and motioned for me to smack the disobedient child. It is heart-breaking that some students expect this form of discipline, and whilst you will not change the practice, and you should understand this, there is no need for you to join in with it.
Thailand can be a challenging place in which to teach, but it can also be very rewarding. For every tale of a nightmare class you hear, you could also hear multiple tales of great classes. Accept that you will likely have large classes, plan appropriately, and learn a little bit about Thai culture before you step into your first Thai classroom. Do not be intimidated by the large numbers of students, and make your classes fun and action packed.
How do you deal with teaching large classes in Thailand?
Do you agree that classes are often bigger than in other countries? What other tips can you add for a teacher in Thailand?