Geoff Richards

Short and sweet

How to get large classes talking

Over the last 7 years of working in Thailand, I've seen numerous teaching forum threads about how to get large classes talking.

Up until this new school year, I'd always skipped most of these types of posts because I taught general English to P1 to 4, and there was little room for T to S and S to T interaction, let alone S to S.

I jumped at the opportunity to teach conversational English to M2 at a school that has an excellent reputation for teaching grammar. It works like this: highly competent Thai teachers take the students through the black and white components of grammar and experienced native English speaking teachers handle the conversational elements.

Everyone has their style, so I decided to maintain mine. It didn't need to be changed: keep it simple and keep it fun.

And the following appeared at the very beginning of the lesson plans that I was asked to submit:

To make my lessons fun and for students to enjoy learning with me.

To simplify conversational English in order for students to become more competent speakers.

For students to achieve higher test/exam results.

For students to attend their university of choice.

Hardly the stuff of rocket science, I think you'll agree. But you've got to have a clear purpose otherwise you may find yourself wandering off course.

"Get on with it, man! How do you get large classes to talk?" I hear you shout.

Play an energy burning game to get their brains working in English.

Model simple Q&A conversations on the board. Open and/or closed questions.

Practice the conversations using the traditional T to S and S to T route.

Have students copy the dialogue into their notebooks, preferably with doodles to enhance memory/recall.

And then have them stand up and practice the conversation with at least five other students. Mingle with the more advanced students when you begin this approach and then branch out to slower and less confident students.

There you go. I've said it. And all and in just the space of one A4 page!


@ Vine.

Thanks for your positive feedback.

All the best to you. :o)

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (9th June 2013)

KISS...keep it short and simple...
Thank you sir for reminding this to me...

By Vine, Phichit (8th June 2013)

@ Frank.

Yes and no.

While I do find phonics fundamental for young learners, listening and conversation does help to rescue teens.

But it's got to be in the first person and it's got to be fun.

Anything else is just boring and therefore meaningless.

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (24th September 2012)

Without a solid foundation in primary school, it's just the stars who are actively involved.

By Frank Deville, Bangers (23rd September 2012)


So start with the most basic level of English that your students can possibly understand and work your way up from there.


By Geoff Richards, Isaan (1st September 2012)

Of course, this is for students who can speak English. The biggest challenges lie with many of us who teach students who have not been taught to count past twenty, let alone how to form a complete sentence.

By Achilles, (1st September 2012)

Thanks, Geoff. I will give these a try next week. I am brain dead for the week. Can you also suggest q and a games? Sorry to be so dense. My teaching career has been all of two months now and I get a bit overwhelmed teaching a silent room.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (24th August 2012)


Yes, here are some games that I play with my classes.

Don't worry about making mistakes while you're mastering them, the students won't notice. Trust me!

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (23rd August 2012)

Hi Geoff,
Being a bear of very little brain myself, could you give me some sources for:
Play an energy burning game to get their brains working in English.

Model simple Q&A conversations on the board. Open and/or closed questions.

I found the website for Effortless English where he plays the Q&A game with students but it hasn't worked as well for me. I like it conceptually as well as your teaching English forward. I keep shocking students when the give me the long how are you doing and I just answer with OK.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (23rd August 2012)

This works!

I had to push most of my students at first 'cause they were all new to the method but they now love it.

Even the weaker ones join in.

Thanks Geoff.

By Tony Jones, Chiang Rai (17th July 2012)

"Why didn’t I learn any of this from my CELTA?"

Can you drive a car Brian? Have you ever heard the saying "you pass your driving test and then you learn how to drive"

It's the same with teaching. I'm sure there are countless situations in a classroom that training courses don't prepare you for.

By philip, (15th July 2012)


My sentiments exactly, Bryan!

But most of us live and learn...

...with the exception of not having a TEFL or a CELTA in the first place.

ON topic, I think that this guy's article perfectly sums up the situation. Funny but VERY true!

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (14th July 2012)


I've trialed your method for the last 2 weeks.


Why didn't I learn any of this from my CELTA?!!!

By Bryan Scott, Chiang Mai (14th July 2012)

Thanks, Dave.

You're pretty much hit the nail on the head when you say a "supportive environment".

It's certainly what I've always provided.

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (6th July 2012)

Good tips Geoff.

As I have noticed in my conversation classes most, but not all of the students jump at the chance to use the language they have learned.

The sad fact is many students never get the chance to try to speak English in a supportive environment that allows them to make both mistakes and discoveries.

Keep up the good work. This country needs more teachers like you.

By Dave, Not quite deepest Issan (6th July 2012)

It it always good to read reassuring articles like this, Geoff.

I sometimes find myself falling into routine ruts and need inspiration.

My M4/5 students have taken to your routine like a duck to water!

By James Marshall, Thailand (5th July 2012)

But I didn't mention anything about working at a girls' school or air con. You've blown your cover, you twit!

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (5th July 2012)

Positive or otherwise.

Simple rather than long-winded.

I'm positively positive that teaching lower mathayom girls in government schools in Thailand without air-conditioned classrooms is a job for complying and complacent flunkies and simpletons alike.

At least my tongue-in-cheek post was based on personal experience. Why not include your experiences rather than generalizations about how things are working for you?

KISS means exactly what teacher Ben has gotten so good at, which is faking real language learning for the sake of his long-term survival, and then trying to pass it off as something worthwhile or legitimate.

I quit my job with Ben and the boys, and so I no longer have to spend 40-hours a week in a dull, dreary government foreign teachers’ office pretending to prepare useless lessons and tolerating the long, passionless 8-hour days of office tedium and 19 simplistic classes for a crappy paycheck.

Your reply to my comment reminds me of what teacher Ben did one day, which was to frown at and chide me for clapping at what he said was the wrong time during a Monday morning assembly in which students from one of my classes were performing a skit.

Ben wanted to control my feeling, my passion and exuberance for my students, by dumping his narrow-minded opinion on me about when and where a man should clap for students during a skit in front of their peers when applause is something to be celebrated rather than frowned upon.

You frowned upon my fury here, my true voice, which represents my personality, who I am as both a teacher and a human being.

Sorry, you’re inhibitive opinions mean nothing to me. I’m a long-winded dandelion…hear me ROAR!

By M.E. Lilly, Bangkok (5th July 2012)

Prior to this school year, I'd never taught pure conversation before, but this simple approach is working a treat for me.

And I think that's what you need to do, M.E., SIMPLIFY things instead of making them long winded. And stay positive.

If this approach can work for me, then it can work for a lot of other people as well.

Let me know how you get on. Positive or otherwise.


By Geoff Richards, Isaan (2nd July 2012)

Looks good on paper, but does it work in real life?

Here's what real life looks like in a Thai Mathayom 1-6 all-girl's classroom to me:

1. No real power, with little or no chance of coercing the majority of bored, bromidic students below level because the points system is used and controlled by Thai teachers.

2. No real learning, with little or no chance of reaching the majority of lazy, laconic students below level because there are no consequences for their behavior.

3. No real impact, with little or no chance of stopping the majority of uninspired, indifferent students below level from arriving late to class, taking long and repeated bathroom breaks, forgetting their workbooks, refusing to open their workbooks, refusing to write or do the exercises in their workbooks, and refusing to copy and practice conversations from the whiteboard.

To talk about goals and objectives in this manner and in this kind of teaching environment is ridiculous!

Here’s how one veteran of the M 1-6 all-girl’s scene, first name Ben, does his job:

1. First, he generally arrives approximately 5 minutes late to class. This way, by the time the majority of dazed and dallying students arrive and sit in their seats at least 10 minutes of the 50-minute session have been killed.

2. Second, he begins the tedious task of trying to teach the majority of aloof, apathetic students by asking them to rearrange their desks and chairs. This kills another 5 minutes, give or take, of the dreaded 50-minute session.

3. He then begins his secret boondoggle by instructing the majority of lost, lagging students to study together in groups, which means to practice the dialogs in their workbooks and then write their own conversations based on the dialogs. This he erroneously calls practicing role plays, and in this way he avoids doing T to S and S to T practice, which is exhausting and basically futile. This also kills most of the remaining 35 minutes or so of class time.

4. While the majority of cheeky, crafty students are busy pretending to study in their groups he writes the vocabulary along with the dialogs and conversations from the textbook onto the whiteboard. This kills more time.

5. With the majority of blasé students sitting at their desks in groups and blahing away in Thai, teacher Ben does a minimal amount of monitoring before sitting down and waiting for his next exit, which is generally 5 minutes early.

By M.E. Lilly, Bangkok (29th June 2012)

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