Teaching Large Multilevel Classes

Title: Teaching Large Multilevel Classes
Author: Natalie Hess
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Consists of: A resource handbook of activities for large multilevel classes
Summary: "student and teacher friendly"
Reviewed by: Michela Gronchi
Review date: October 2002

Teaching Large Multilevel ClassesThis is a handbook designed for busy teachers in a large multilevel class context. It contains a number of activities especially created to deal with all the difficulties of such a context, and at the same time to gain most benefit from the advantages. Even though the book is particularly advisable for those teachers approaching large multilevel classes, many activities can be successfully used also in smaller and more homogeneous classes. As one of the principles promoted by the author is open-endedness, most activities are easily adaptable to different class sizes and levels, and they often lead on to follow-ups and add-ons.

The book presents some activities which are quite common in ESL/EFL settings, but they are selected according a different criterion:

  • how to arouse students' interest
  • how to personalise and individualise their work
  • how to promote collaboration
  • how to make students aware of their learning
  • how to achieve positive class management

These are approximately the main sections into which the book is divided. Great attention is given to timing and how to keep the right pace in each activity. The author focuses on the importance of maintaining interest among the students, exploiting the great variety of such large classes instead of being hindered by it. Variety can lead to collaboration among the students as they may learn from one another. The author points out how variety can also lead to disorder and how important is to create and respect rules and routines.

Routines are considered crucial for good class management and the author gives ideas on how to use them effectively in order to keep control over such large classes. Routines and rules are set by the teachers for the students and for the teachers themselves, but they are never seen as obstacles. On the contrary, they are highly appreciated by the students as they make students responsible for their own learning, and also by the teachers as they create order.

A lot of attention is given to establishing a good relationship among the students and between the students and the teacher through the activities. The author never forgets to create a sense of belonging to a group - which is extremely important in large classes, where shy or weaker students might feel left out. Very often group work is mixed with individual work and once again the author proves to be sympathetic towards students' feelings - encouraging individualisation and personalisation together with group activities. As a matter of fact, students in a big group might be given little space to express their opinions or to stand up for their own ideas, but in this book activities are always designed to keep a balance between individual and group. Moreover, this balance is present also in the role of the teacher. The teacher leads the group, keeps everything under control and is the point of reference for all the students, and at the same time he interacts with the group. In fact higher level students can prove to be of great help for weaker ones, thus creating a sort of learning chain. The author tries to stop any students dominating the class, seeking instead to create equal relations among them, yet never suppressing individual attitudes.

Many activities are intended to make students aware of their learning styles and responsible for their own learning, and to evaluate their own progress. The author focuses on the idea of teaching students how to learn, providing tips and activities which I found extremely useful both for the teacher and the students.

I found that most activities are carefully designed and they proved to be effective in managing a large multilevel class. However, a few projects are too arduous to be realised in small private schools, especially in EFL settings.

In conclusion, this book contains a good and varied selection of activities which are best used in large multilevel classes but can also be well exploited in smaller classes. A busy teacher will certainly find this book an invaluable source of ideas and for those approaching large classes for the first time this book is a must-read as its reassuring tone will make their tension ease off and will support them throughout the course.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesMichela Gronchi is currently teaching in a small private language school in Italy.