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Motivating the ESL Class: It's Not Just a Sea of Faces

Large ESL classes can be intimidating and sometimes
daunting, but with a few tweaks to how you plan for your
English classes, you can make the large class seem smaller
for both you and the students.

Tip #1: Keep Yourself Motivated
Think back to what classes you like best and why. If the
teacher was bored and didn't make learning English
interesting, then the students often didn't like the class
either. To keep yourself motivated, change your activities
to things that you are excited about. If you're not excited
about the ESL activities you have planned for your students,
it's time to get some new ones.

Tip #2: Get to Know Each Other
This can be especially difficult in large classes, but it's
so important so that your students don't become nameless
faces and faceless names. You can let them know about your
hobbies and interests by talking about them and displaying
things that interest you in your classroom. If you don't
have your own classroom, periodically bring in things that
interest you and tell your class why it interests you –
these could be English books, English CD's, photographs of
English speaking countries or mementos.

It's also important to get to know your ESL students. When
there is down time in the class, walk around and talk to
them. If they are wearing a pin on their book bag, ask
them about it. And remember, icebreakers aren't just for
the first day of class. If you need a change of pace in
your classroom, take a break from the lesson plan and have
everyone participate in an ice breaker. You'll learn more
about your students than ever before. This kind of
activity anyway is excellent speaking practise for ESL
students. (You might want to keep a binder or file full of
ideas so you can do them spontaneously when needed to give
the class a "jump start".)

Tip #3: Play Games
There are many ways to play English language games in
larger classes. You can separate the class into smaller
groups and have four or five different types of games going
on at the same time and rotate the games so that each group
gets a chance to play each one. You can create teams and
have them compete against one another or you can have
smaller groups in different areas of the room doing the
same activities. The smaller groups, however, give
students more opportunities to participate. You can then
just rotate around the room to make sure everyone is on

If your class are not well enough behaved for you to let
them play in groups then you can also play ESL games with
the whole class. For this you need English language games
designed especially for large classes otherwise you can
lose control and the noise levels and chaos will not be
conducive to any learning. ESL Classroom games do exist
that can be used successfully in a traditional classroom
set up, with up to fifty children, with benches and no room
to move around. Some of these games can be played silently
as they are listening games that are ideal for introducing
new vocabulary or phrases and for revising known
vocabulary. There are also speaking games that allow for
controlled speaking practise where all the students have a
turn to speak without waiting a long time for their turn.
Other games make reading, spelling and writing tasks more
fun. You can find out about these games written for large
ESL classes in the resource box below.

Tip #4: Get Them Moving
Don't let the large class size intimidate you into keeping
the students in their desks at all times. The best way to
prevent students from zoning out is to get them up out of
their seats at least once each class period. Even if you
just require them to come up to you instead of you going to
them for help, the movement can help get them out of the
trance that they sometimes get from sitting in one spot too
long. Grouping the students for study projects and
activities helps as well. If you can, let them move the
desks around or sit on the floor to change things up as

Again, if your class are just too naughty or moving
furniture is just not an option then you do have viable
alternatives. You can get the children moving while
keeping them at their desks by using certain games that
involve limited movement. The children can stand up and
sit down at their desks, they can move their arms or hands
and fingers and heads, they can stand up and swivel around,
they can pass things from desk to desk, etc. All of this
movement will help keep the children interested without you
as teacher losing control. It is unrealistic to expect a
teacher to give a constructive lesson with 35-60 children
all milling around or running about!

Tip #5: Stick to a Schedule
Students in large ESL classes may sometimes get overwhelmed
or feel like they don't know what's going on when they can't
get as much individualized attention as they ideally should
have. Creating a schedule for your students help them know
what to expect in the class and will help them stay
organized as well which will lower the frustration level
for those students who sometimes struggle in school. If
they know that every Friday is a vocabulary quiz, then they
won't have to wonder on Thursday if they were supposed to
study last night. If they have weekly assignments due on
every Wednesday, then you don't have to spend valuable
class time reminding them that the weekly assignment is
due. This schedule should be clearly explained to the
students as well as posted in the classroom.

Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an
inspiration to their pupils and achieve results 2x as fast.
Improve the effectiveness of your lessons by up to 80%.
Receive free English language games now on

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