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Using small group activities to compensate for the limitation of large classes the case of EFL classes in quangninh university of industry

VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES

******

NÔNG THỊ LEN

USING SMALL-GROUP ACTIVITIES TO COMPENSATE FOR THE
LIMITATION OF LARGE CLASSES: THE CASE OF EFL CLASSES
IN QUANGNINH UNIVERSITY OF INDUSTRY
Sử dụng các hoạt động nhóm bù đắp cho những hạn chế của lớp học
đông: Một trường hợp nghiên cứu lớp tiếng Anh đông sinh viên tại
trường Đại học Công nghiệp Quảng Ninh

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field: English Teaching Methodology
Code: 60140111

Hanoi - 2015



VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES

******

NÔNG THỊ LEN

USING SMALL-GROUP ACTIVITIES TO COMPENSATE FOR THE
LIMITATION OF LARGE CLASSES: THE CASE OF EFL CLASSES
IN QUANGNINH UNIVERSITY OF INDUSTRY
Sử dụng các hoạt động nhóm bù đắp cho những hạn chế của lớp học
đông: Một trường hợp nghiên cứu lớp tiếng Anh đông sinh viên tại
trường Đại học Công nghiệp Quảng Ninh

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field: English Teaching Methodology
Code: 60140111
Supervisor: Nguyễn Thị Minh Tâm, PhD

Hanoi - 2015


DECLARATION
I hereby declare that the paper is my own original work and is neither copied
from another source without proper acknowledgement, nor written for me by
another person, in whole or in part, though I may have discussed the paper with
others and used advice and suggestions from others in writing it. This minor thesis
is the fulfillment of the requirement for the Degree of Master of Arts at Faculty of
Post-Graduate Studies - University of Languages and International Studies, VNU,
Hanoi and it has not been submitted for any degrees at any other universities or
institutions.

Nông Thị Len
Hanoi, October 2015

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to my supervisor, Dr.
Nguyễn Thị Minh Tâm, for her invaluable guidance, critical feedback, and
especially, her enormous encouragement, without which my thesis would be far
from completion.
My sincere thanks also go to all the lecturers and the staffs of the Faculty of
Post-Graduate Studies for their useful lessons and precious helps.
Moreover, I am greatly thankful to all my colleagues and students at
Quangninh University of Industry for their assistance during the process of data
collection.
In addition, my high appreciation extends to all the authors whose materials
have been used in the study. Thanks to them, I could accomplish my study.
Last but not least, the whole-hearted thanks and debt gratitude are reserved for
my dear family, friends and relatives who have supported and helped me to
overcome the difficulties during my study.

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ABSTRACT
It is never easy to teach English as a Second / Foreign Language (ESL/ EFL)
effectively because of so many common reasons. Among them, one of the objective
reasons causing ESL/ EFL teaching a lot of difficulties is large classes.
In Vietnam, large ESL/ EFL classes are unavoidable, especially in higher
education, because of the increasing English-learning needs associated with the
limitations of class facilities (limited number of classrooms), limited number of
teachers and so on. In order to overcome the disadvantages of large classes, this
study makes clear on how properly the small-group activities can compensate for
the limitations of big size EFL classes.
In other words, this minor thesis examines students‟ perceptions regarding the
effectiveness of small-group work in large EFL classes. More specified, it considers
and illustrates how small-group activities could reduce students‟ anonymity
connected with large classes and promote students‟ accountability. In addition,
strategies to use these types of activities to compensate for the limitations of a big
size EFL class are worked out.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
DECLARATION ................................................................................................ i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .............................................................................. ii
ABSTRACT ..................................................................................................... iii
TABLE OF CONTENTS ................................................................................. iv
LIST OF ABBREVIATION ........................................................................... vii
LISTS OF TABLES AND FIGURES ............................................................ viii
PART A: INTRODUCTION..............................................................................1
1.

Rationale for the study ........................................................................1

2.

Aim of the study ..................................................................................2

3.

Research question ................................................................................2

4.

The significance of the study...............................................................2

5.

Methods of the study ...........................................................................2

6.

Scope of the study ...............................................................................3

7.

Design of the study ..............................................................................3

PART B: DEVELOPMENT ..............................................................................5
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW .......................................................5
1.1. Small-group activities..........................................................................5
1.1.1. Definition of small group .............................................................5
1.1.2. Common types of small-group activities .....................................6
1.1.3. Benefits of small-group activities ................................................8
1.1.4. Challenges of small-group activities ............................................8
1.1.5. Principles to use small-group activities ........................................9
1.2. Large classes ......................................................................................10

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1.2.1. Class size and students‟ performance .........................................10
1.2.2. Definition of large classes ..........................................................11
1.2.3. Limitations of large classes ........................................................12
1.2.4. Managing large classes ...............................................................13
1.3. Review of previous studies................................................................15
CHAPTER 2: METHODOLOGY................................................................17
2.1. Rationale for the use of action research ............................................17
2.2. Context of the study ..........................................................................19
2.2.1. General introduction of QUI and English Division at QUI .......19
2.2.2. The current situation of large EFL classes at QUI .....................20
2.3. Material .............................................................................................21
2.4. Subjects of the study..........................................................................21
2.5. Instrumentation ..................................................................................21
2.5.1. Questionnaire..............................................................................21
2.5.2. Class observation ........................................................................23
2.5.3. Semi-structured interview ..........................................................24
2.6. Research procedure ...........................................................................25
2.6.1. Phase 1: Pre-action .....................................................................25
2.6.2. Phase 2: Action ...........................................................................25
2.6.3. Phase 3: Post-action....................................................................27
2.7. Data analysis ......................................................................................28
CHAPTER 3: DATA ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS .................................29
3.1. Analysis of preliminary investigation data ........................................29
3.2. Data analysis ......................................................................................31

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3.2.1. The findings from the questionnaire ..........................................31
3.2.2. The findings from classroom observation ..................................32
3.2.3. The findings of the semi-structured interview ...........................35
3.3. Discussion .........................................................................................36
PART C: CONCLUSION ................................................................................40
1.

Recapitulation ....................................................................................40

2.

Implications .......................................................................................41

3.

Limitations .........................................................................................42

4.

Suggestions for further study ............................................................42

REFERENCES .................................................................................................43
APPENDICES .................................................................................................... I
Appendix 1: Pre-action Questionnaire for Students ................................... I
Appendix 2: Post-action Questionnaire for Students ...............................III
Appendix 3: Classroom Observation Evaluation Sheet .......................... IV
Appendix 4: Group Observation Evaluation Sheet ................................... V
Appendix 5: Questions for student interview .......................................... VI
Appendix 6: Results from Questionnaire 1 ............................................ VII
Summary of Students‟ profile ................................................................ VII
Summary of Students‟ purposes of learning English ............................. VII
Summary of Students‟ learning style ..................................................... VII
Appendix 7: Results from Group Observation Evaluation Sheets ........ VIII

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LIST OF ABBREVIATION
VNU: Vietnam National University, Hanoi
EFL: English as a Foreign Language
ESL: English as a Second Language
QUI: Quangninh University of Industry
WTO: World Trade Organization
CLT: Communicative Language Teaching
ICT: Information and Communications Technology
MA: Master of Arts
CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference
ESP: English for Specific Purposes

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LISTS OF TABLES AND FIGURES
Tables
Table 1. Types of small-group activities ............................................................7
Table 2. The action phase .................................................................................27
Table 3. Summary of Students‟ self assessment about their participation .......30
Table 4. Summary of Factors make students reluctant ....................................30
Table 5. Summary of Students‟ responses after action ....................................31
Table 6. Result of Classroom Observation Evaluation Sheets .........................33
Figures
Figure 1. The action research cycle (Stephen Kemmis, 1988: 6) ....................18
Figure 2. Detailed action research mode ..........................................................18

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PART A: INTRODUCTION
1. Rationale for the study
Touching upon EFL teaching, it can be seen that large class nowadays is
becoming a global issue. In Vietnam, EFL teachers and learners also have to face
with this problem. According to Van (2010), after 1986, the teaching of English has
grown and expanded rapidly in Vietnam. There has emerged a boom of learning
English as foreign language in the whole country. The number of English learners
in Vietnam has increased at an overwhelming speed with Vietnam‟s entry into the
WTO along with the rapid development of globalization and communication among
all countries in the world. Thereafter, due to the lack of quality teachers and
resources, the size of language class at any educational level tends to be larger and
larger. It is very common for Vietnamese teachers to teach a class with more than
50 students and even not rare to have a college class with over 100 students
especially after the expansion of college enrollment. Teachers face many challenges
in teaching in large classes which cannot be easily avoided in Vietnam context. So
much research has been conducted in such environment in order to facilitate
teachers to cope with the problems arisen by the increase of the students in the
classroom.
With the experience of four-year teaching EFL at Quangninh University of
Industry (QUI), I can see that QUI also cannot avoid the current real situation of
Vietnam‟s EFL teaching. It is usual to have an EFL class of over 50 students, even
120 students at QUI. Our students come from all over the country, with different
background and learning habits. It is really difficult for me, as well as other EFL
teachers at QUI, to manage these large classes from the very easiest thing namely
checking students‟ attendance. Therefore, I would like to do the research in order to
find out a better solution for the problem of large class in QUI. More specifically,
this research was carried out to make clear to what extent the small-group activities
can compensate for the limitation of large EFL classes. The pedagogical
implications withdrawn from this study are definitely beneficial for QUI teachers
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and students. I sincerely hope that thanks to the findings of this action study EFL
teachers at QUI can better manage large classes, improve teaching quality, and help
students in large EFL classes to significantly improve the effectiveness of their
English learning.
2. Aim of the study
The aim of this study is to find out the extent to which the use of small-group
activities can compensate for the limitations of the large EFL classes. For more
detail, this study is aimed to promote the students‟ participation through the
employment of small-group activities in a big size EFL class. A big size EFL class
truly has some limitations in which the most undesirable one is discouraging the
participation of students. In this action research it is hoped that small-group
activities can be effectively used to compensate for that limitation of large EFL
classes at QUI.
3. Research question
This study is conducted to find the answers for the following question:
To what extent do small-group activities promote students’ participation in
large class?
4. The significance of the study
For the teachers of English division, this study is hoped to bring them the
detailed and full view on the reality of big size classes at QUI and the necessary use
of group activities to compensate for some of large class‟s limitation. As a result,
they can apply the proper teaching methods to their large classes. For the students in
the large EFL classes, this action research can help them to realize their strengths
and their abilities to learn, develop their language skills and contribute in a large
class.
5. Methods of the study
Action research is employed in this study. Both qualitative and quantitative
methods are used in this research. The data were collected by means of:

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-

Questionnaires

-

Classroom observations

-

Interviews.
These three research instruments are used in three phases of the action

research for preliminary investigation, exploration of the effects that the action
created, and reflection on the action phase.
6. Scope of the study
To promote students‟ participation in large classes, EFL teachers can use
varieties of techniques. However, this study merely focused on studying how
effective small-group activities, that are considered well-matched to the
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach – a learner-centered approach,
can be used to reduce students‟ anonymity connected with large classes and
promote students‟ accountability. Small-group activities seem to be the most
suitable to the context of large classes. Among so many different useful small-group
activities, only two activities are employed in this thesis: Small-group discussion
and Role play.
This action research is applied in six consecutive speaking lectures. Speaking
skill is chosen because it is the best in expressing the students‟ participation among
four performance indicators for language skills (reading, speaking, writing and
listening). The action is carried out for the first-year students of all majors in a class
of 50 at QUI. The collected data are analyzed and discussed to figure out how
small-group activities contribute to encourage students to participate in their
oversize class. Then some solutions were proposed to improve the quality of
teaching and learning in large classes.
7. Design of the study
The study is organized into three main parts: Introduction, Development and
Conclusion.

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In part A – Introduction, the rationale, aims, research question, significance,
methods, scope and the organization of the study are presented.
In the second part, part B - Development, there are four chapters.
Chapter I, Literature Review, mentions some main points about the theoretical
background for the field of the study. This is the review of literature on small-group
activities and large classes.
Chapter II describes the methodology, or the overall picture of how the
research was carried out from the first step of determining the research design to the
last step of gathering the results.
Chapter III presents data analysis and findings. This chapter attempts to
provide answers to the posed research question: To what extent do the small-group
activities promote students‟ participation in large class? Then there are some
discussions on the findings of the study.
Part C is Conclusion. This part gives the conclusion of the study and also
accesses some pedagogical implications which suggest some ideas for teacher so
that they can maximize the benefits of small-group activities in their large classes.
In addition to that, this part points out the limitations of this study and offers some
suggestions for further study.

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PART B: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter discusses the theoretical background of the two main issues
mentioned in this minor thesis: small-group activities and large classes. More
importantly, this section points out how large classes affect the students’
performance and how to effectively manage a large EFL class in order to promote
the students’ participation according to previous researches.
1.1. Small-group activities
To solve the problem of less participation in large classes there exist quite a lot
of techniques such as using students‟ names, pair/ group work, questioning, extraclass work, incentive marks and so on. Among them, pair/ group work is one of the
best methods which focus on communicative competence and learner-centeredness.
1.1.1. Definition of small group
Group work or cooperative learning is a method of instruction that gets
students to work together in groups. In the past two decades there has been a rapid
growth in the use of small group learning experiences in higher education (Fink,
2004).
In fact, though EFL teachers do not have choice in the class size they teach,
they can still create the best learning environment for their students. Small group
teaching has become more popular as a means of encouraging students learning.
The question is how small a group should be to be called a small group. As
Surgenor (2010) stated, there is no magical number that defines a group as a small
group. A lecturer used to taking 400 in a lecture would define 50 as a small group,
while a lecturer used to taking a group of 50 would define 5-10 as a small group. As
there can be sub-groups within groups, it is hard to define small group. In a
discussion, where participation is assessed some students may not speak up in a
group that begins to get bigger than 10 participants and in addition tutors would find

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it hard to assess participation by individual students in groups with numbers greater
than this. Hence, a group of less than 10 students may be the most suitable choice.
1.1.2. Common types of small-group activities
To encourage students‟ participation, in “Twelve things you can do to help
students learn in small group situations”, Race and Brown (1993) mentioned some
types of activities for use such as Discussion, Role play and simulation. Besides,
teachers can use Task groups, Problem-based learning groups. For pairs of students
in a large lecture, Gibbs (1992) gave some ideas for active learning like Silent
reflection, Solve a problem, Swap answers with person beside, Discuss an issues in
pairs, etc. The table below (modified from Bender, 2003; Exley & Dennick, 2004;
Salmon, 2005) provides some information on a variety of teaching methods that are
suitable for small group work because they adopt a student-centred approach.

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Types of
small-group
activities
Role play

Description

Provide a situation or individual for a small group to act out. There
are pros and cons of role-playing, be wary of the content and what
students are asked to do. There are many different forms of roleplaying.
E.g.: Role-play a situation where you have to return an item to a
shop or make a complaint; role-play a conversation between a
doctor-patient, father-son, waiter-diner, etc.
Simulations
Provide a „real‟ world opportunity for rehearsal in the safety of a
and games
group.
E.g.: Simulate a bus crash and respond with the appropriate first
aid.
Discussion
Students join small groups to discuss ideas, comments, etc.
(Buzz group) E.g.: What are five things you got from today‟s lecture?
Student-led
Small groups of students (or pairs) are provided with the
seminars
opportunity to led class (usually tutorials). Also called co-operative
learning it aims to develop collaborative skills between students and
increase student involvement, and decrease teacher talk time.
Debate
Prosecutor vs. defendant, critic vs. defender, affirmative vs.
negative.
Fish-bowling One group works at a task while another group observes (e.g.
observe a PBL task, a role-play, a performance) and then
comments, responds.
E.g.: Group A develops a role-play between a student and a teacher
while Group B observes (evaluates, comments).
Jigsaw
A student works individually on one part of a task/activity then
works with others to combine various parts and complete the task
Brainstorming Provide a cue, concept, question or idea in order to generate a list of
responses, options and suggestions.
E.g.: Brainstorm „masculinity‟.
Cross overs
Organisational method where groups work together then one
member from each splits to form another group so that students
report findings to smaller groups rather than class.
Adaptation
Modify, adapt and use any or all of the learning and teaching
activities above in the specific context.
Table 1. Types of small-group activities

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In summary, the activities for small groups are flexible and open to adaptation
and interpretation to suit teachers‟ individual needs. EFL teachers should adapt the
activities in order to best suit to their practical teaching.
1.1.3. Benefits of small-group activities
Research shows that group work allows students to become active participants
in their learning and helps students develop skills valued by employers (such as
problem solving, negotiation, conflict resolution, leadership, critical thinking and
time management). In addition to that, group work exposes students to diverse ideas
and approaches; acknowledges and utilises individual students' strengths and
expertise. Besides, through discussion, group work also helps students articulate
their ideas, refine concepts and develop interpersonal and communication skills and
facilitates a deeper understanding of course content. For teachers, group-based
learning can often reduce the marking and feedback load associated with individual
assessment.
To encourage active learning, in a meta-analysis of thirty-nine studies
focusing on small-group learning in undergraduate environments, Springer, Stanne,
and Donovan (1997) found that small-group learning was effective in advancing not
only student motivation but also academic achievement.
1.1.4. Challenges of small-group activities
Although group work has the potential to encourage positive student learning
experiences, research evidence suggests that this potential is not always realised
(Fink, 2004, Pieterse & Thompson, 2010). Although some students report that their
group work projects or tasks are the best learning experiences of university, others
find them the worst, and feel reluctant to work in groups again. Some students
prefer to work independently, and find the group experience challenging and
confronting. Added to this tension is group work's appeal for teachers in the face of
increasing class sizes and staff workloads (Burdett, 2003). But teachers often
underestimate the effort involved in organising effective group work. Group work

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can sometimes be time consuming and difficult to implement. Nevertheless, given
the benefits for learning and future employability, it is important that all students
have the chance to work in groups during their study at the university. When it
comes to developing students‟ group work skills, there is no single best approach or
assessment strategy. It all depends on teacher‟s particular learning and teaching
context and objectives. The challenge is to choose a range of strategies that will
allow the students to develop effective group work skills within the context of
teacher‟s discipline.
To do small-group activity is one way to change the pace of a large class.
There are so many types of small-group activity but what type an EFL teacher
should use in his/ her class depends much on how large the class is, the length of
time available, the physical features of the class, and the nature of the group task.
1.1.5. Principles to use small-group activities
To effectively implement in a large class, there are some strategies for using
group work technique. Group activities should grow out of a learning-based
rationale (Harris and Watson, 1997). Primary goals for small-group activities are to
create a trusting, cooperative atmosphere for later class discussions; develop
effective groups for class projects; develop effective, complex, cooperative learning
or problem-solving groups; prepare for out-of-class study groups; reach people with
different learning styles; and illustrate course content. EFL teachers who want to
incorporate group strategies in their teaching should think comprehensively about
the components of the lecture: content, goals and objectives. To be effective, group
work must require learning, not merely completing tasks. Moreover, successful
group work demands the teacher‟s attention. Well-planned group work requires that
teachers are involved in the process from beginning to end (Harris and Watson,
1997).
In conclusion, the use of small group learning experiences in higher education
is increasingly grown recently. Although small-group activities present some
challenges, they really offer great benefits for large class teaching. If EFL teachers
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make reasonable, flexible adaptation and appropriate application, small-group
activities will become an efficient supporter for teachers to cope with the problem
of big size class.
1.2. Large classes
1.2.1. Class size and students’ performance
Extant research on the relationship between class size and student performance
has identified conflicting results (Toth & Montagna, 2002). The results of some
studies show no significant relationship between class size and student performance
(Hancock, 1996; Kennedy & Siegfried, 1997), while other studies favor small class
environments (Gibbs, Lucas, & Simonite, 1996; Borden & Burton, 1999; Arias &
Walker, 2004). Results vary based on the criteria used to gauge student
performance, as well as the class size measure itself. When traditional achievement
tests are used, small classes provide no advantage over large classes (Kennedy &
Siegfried, 1997). However, if additional performance criteria are used (e.g., longterm retention, problem-solving skills), it appears that small classes hold an
advantage (Gibbs et al., 1996; Arias & Walker, 2004).
Teachers of large classes have found that students‟ participation can be
identified in terms of three kinds of interaction, namely, students to their teacher,
students to students, and students to material (Hung, 2005).
In terms of the interaction between students to their teacher, students who
maintain good interaction with their teacher always participate in the class
discussion. They become involved in what is happening in the classroom by asking
more questions, share personal ideas, opinion and experience with their classmates.
Hence, participation is not just come to class on time, take notes what their teachers
say and write down on the black board, and stay in the class all the time. Students
are considered being active and attentive only when they work on the problems with
the teacher during the class, laugh at jokes, respond to the teacher‟s questions, often
show great desire to learn and become good students.

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In terms of the interaction between students themselves, students tend to
discuss in small groups.
The last kind of interaction is the one between students and material. It can be
understood as students‟ success in completing assigned reading activities.
There are some factors affecting students‟ participation: students‟ learning
styles and students‟ motivations. According to Willing (1995, cited in Nunan,
1988:93), learner styles can be classified into four types:
Concrete learners: they prefer learning by games, pictures, films and videos,
talking in pairs and learning through the use of cassettes.
Analytical learners: these ones like studying grammar, studying English
books, finding their own mistakes, and learning through reading newspaper.
Communicative learners: they like to learn by observing and listening to
native speakers, talking to friends in English and learning English wherever
possible.
Authority-oriented learners: they like the teacher to explain everything,
writing everything in their notebooks, having their own textbooks, learning to read,
studying grammar, and learning English words by seeing them.
Regarding to students‟ motivation, according to Brown (1987), motivation is
an inner drive, impulse, emotion, or desire that encourages one to do a particular
action. Teachers, therefore, should know and realize the source of student‟s
motivation, both instrumental and integrative to meet specific needs as well as to
“actively push learners to realize their full potential and make maximum progress”
(Ur, 1996:273).
1.2.2. Definition of large classes
It is not easy to give definition of large classes because we must first answer
the question: How large a class is considered as a large class? Hayes (1997) says
there is no quantitative definition of what constitutes a large class, as people‟s
perception of this varies from context to context. In some private language schools a

11


class with 20 students may be perceived large, in Lancaster University project an
average number of the large class is around 50 (Coleman, 1989), while in Vietnam,
large class generally refers to that of holding 50-100 students or more, which to
some foreign teachers may be super large. It can be seen that in different context or
culture, people have different degrees of tolerance of class size. Ur (1996)
concludes that what is relevant to the class considered as large one is how the
teacher perceives the class size in the specific situation, regardless of the exact
number of the students in it. Therefore, large class is one with more students than
the teacher prefers to manage and available resources can support, from this point of
view, large classes usually are considered to pose insurmountable problems for
teachers.
When does a class become large? It depends on the class. Writing classes
become “large” quickly because of the need to give written feedback. A speaking/
listening class can seem large, and the same size reading class can seem “small”.
Young students make a class “larger” than older students because of shorter
attention spans. If your classroom is very small and desks don‟t move, a few
students can become a large class. Diverse classes become “large” sooner than
homogeneous classes. However, in a survey done in 2008 covering more than 30
countries, regardless of how many students the respondents typically taught
(anywhere from 20 to 150), most felt that a class became large with about 30
students (Brady, 2011).
1.2.3. Limitations of large classes
Before discussing the limitations of large class, it can be denied that large
classes do have some advantages. Ur (2000) and Hess (2001) argue that large
classes can provide richer human resources and greater opportunities for creativity
than smaller class. Actually, some researchers (like Zhichang, 2001) agree that
more students mean more ideas, and therefore, provide more opinions and
possibilities.

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However, large classes obviously have some limitations because in large
classes, students come from different backgrounds, areas and they are different in
learning styles, preferences, levels of English proficiency, and general attitudes
toward English. Therefore, these classes are usually multilevel and cause various
challenges for effective teaching and learning English. One of the most critical
problems instructors of large lecture classes face is that students are often
anonymous to both the instructor and to one another (McKeachie, 1999). Students
who believe they are anonymous often feel less personally responsible for learning,
are less motivated to learn, and are less likely to attend class (Cooper and Robinson,
2000). In addition to that, according to Ur (1996:303), teachers of large classes also
face with the problems of discipline, correcting written assignments, creating
effective learning for all, finding suitable materials, and activating all students
especially, silent ones. In conclusion, the biggest problems with having a large class
are related to class participation.
1.2.4. Managing large classes
Effective management of large classes is a popular topic among faculty in
higher education. Carbone (1998) and Stanley & Porter (2002) have produced
books focused on the large class environment, offering strategies for course design,
student engagement, active learning, and assessment. The advantages of large
classes include decreased instructor costs, efficient use of faculty time and talent,
availability of resources, and standardization of the learning experience (McLeod,
1998). However, there are significant disadvantages to large classes, including
strained impersonal relations between students and the instructor, limited range of
teaching methods, discomfort among instructors teaching large classes, and a
perception those faculties who teach large classes are of lower status at the
institution (McLeod, 1998). Thus, teachers should comprehend thoroughly the
advantages and disadvantages of large classes in order to have the appropriate
management strategy in particular context.

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There is a management-related strategy that teacher can group student in
multiple ways. Group work is a technique that focuses on communicative
competence and learner-centeredness. The groups can be permanent from the
beginning of the course or temporary with subject to each lesson content. Students
will have varying levels in the group, but this can be seen as a good thing. If the
class is conducted in English the students can help each other, which is good
for both the good students and the slower ones. Grouping strategies occasionally
allow better student support for struggling students when the teacher sees the need
but lacks the time, because she can pair a stronger student with a struggling student
as a provisional “stand in” for her own guidance. Furthermore, teacher will find it
much easier to manage students in each small group rather than in a large group of
whole class. Last but not least, to learn languages, practice is essential. In large
classes, teachers have to create ways for students to practice without continuous,
direct teacher monitoring - structured groups are the only way to accomplish this.
Using groups allows students to be self-managing and allows more time for
practice. Groups can be created in almost any class. Even when desks can‟t be
moved, having the front students turn back and the back students turn forward can
make pairs and quads.
To sum up, though there are some conflicting opinions, that large class has
some limitation which affects the students‟ participation is still existent. It can be
seen that a large class is a relative concept. Problems and difficulties of teaching
associated with large classes can also be found in smaller classes. Teachers need to
view large classes from a different perspective and recognize that despite a lot of
disadvantages they can also provide many opportunities for teaching and learning.
Class size is not the determining factor of teaching efficiency. Teachers need to
enhance their innovative awareness and capabilities for developing effective ways
for dealing with large classes based on the characteristics of large classes. It can be
seen from all the literature review above that small-group activities can be one of
the most effective techniques which should be used in a large class to achieve active

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learning. Teachers can effectively apply small-group activities to their multilevel
large classes because the small-group activities are multiform and flexible.
1.3. Review of previous studies
From the early 21st century, the issues of handling large English classes
aroused the interest of teachers and researchers all over the world. A study by
Qualters (2001) suggests that students do not favor active learning methods because
of the in-class time taken by the activities, fear of not covering all of the material in
the course, and anxiety about changing from traditional classroom expectations to
the active structure. In contrast, research by Casado (2000) examined perceptions
across six teaching methods: lecture/discussion, lab work, in-class exercises, guest
speakers, applied projects, and oral presentations. Students most preferred the
lecture/discussion method. Lab work, oral presentation, and applied projects were
also favorably regarded. Hunt et al (2003) also noted favorable student attitudes
towards active learning methods.
Some researchers express concerns over the challenges encountered by the
language teachers. For example, Zhang Jiamin (2002) analyzes the large classes in
two colleges and identifies the problems as follows: 1) Discipline problems; 2)
Effective learning; 3) Weariness, which confirms to those mentioned by some
foreign researchers. Yu Jianqiong (2004) identifies some similar problems of large
classes, e.g. students‟ individual differences are ignored and the classroom
environment is worrying. She also mentions that limited chance for students to
practice English hinders the improvement of their oral English, which is particularly
true in foreign language context like China, since speaking English in class might
be the only chance for students to practice oral English. These problems of college
large classes are also reflected in those of primary and secondary schools (Su
Tongquan 2005, Tan Long 2009, Zhang Lian 2010).
In Vietnam, Trần Thị Ngọc Bắc (2005) conducted an experiment with the use
of group work and questioning techniques for increasing students‟ participation in

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