In this installment we look at how the number of students in a class might limit the effectiveness of an English training course. Many corporate English language training courses in Bangkok
are split into classes of from one to three hours and take place from one to three days a week for between one and three hours per class. Let’s say that a standard course runs twice a week for two hours per class and has around 15 learners. Is this effective?
To answer this question, you have to consider several factors.
The first consideration is the type of course
you are running. Here are examples of fairly common courses:
- a business English writing course
- a business English conversation course
- a presentations course
The second consideration is the starting level of the course participants. Here are some examples of broadly defined starting levels:
- elementary level
- pre-intermediate level
- intermediate level
- upper-intermediate level
- advanced level
If you are running an elementary-level business writing course, the number of learners does not have too great an impact on the effectiveness of the course as the participants are all doing the in-class writing exercises at the same time. Elementary-level learners also tend to make the same or similar mistakes, and the instructor can often teach one point of written English to the all class, and the whole class will benefit from it. In this case it is reasonable to run a class with 15 participants.
Now imagine you are running a business English conversation class with 15 participants.
If each class runs for two hours, how much time will each individual have to speak in class? One way to estimate this is to divide the duration of the class by the number of learners:
120 (minutes) ÷ 15 (participants) = 8 minutes speaking time per learner
But what about the instructor? A good instructor takes up no more than 25-30 percent of the total class time in teacher talking time, known as TTT.
Let’s say we have a very good instructor, and he takes up only 25 percent of the two-hour class in TTT, which leaves 90 minutes of student talking time. Our new calculation of the time that each student gets to speak in class now looks like this:
90 (minutes) ÷ 15 (participants) = 6 minutes speaking time per learner
So you’re sitting in a language class for two hours, and you get to speak in class for only six minutes. That’s not a lot. The same is true for a presentations course, which is probably the most time-consuming type of English training. For the participants to have enough time to give their presentations (about three to five minutes initially and up to ten minutes in later sessions) at least once or twice in each session, there really have to be fewer than 15 participants.
Of course, we noted earlier that elementary-level students tend to make the same or similar mistakes, and as long as all the participants understand and internalize the correct way to speak in the classroom and then practice it outside the classroom, they don’t all necessarily have to speak each particular language point while in the classroom.
There are other factors to consider such as the available budget, cost-per-head calculations and the number of employees that can be away from their work stations at any one time, but here are some general guidelines that should help when considering how many students should be in any particular class.
Business English writing:
- 14-20 participants for elementary and pre-intermediate levels
- 8-14 participants for intermediate level and up
Business English conversation:
- 10-16 participants for elementary and pre-intermediate levels
- 6-10 participants for intermediate level
- 2-6 participants for upper-intermediate and advanced levels
- 6-8 participants in a two-hour session
- 8-10 participants in a three-hour session
As a general rule then, for learners at lower levels larger class sizes are okay as they all tend to make the same or similar mistakes, and they can learn from each other.
From the intermediate level up, class sizes should be smaller or individual students may not be getting enough attention, and their particular mistakes and problem areas may not be addressed.