Lesson 2: The Physical Classroom

How Many Students per Class?

According to the Emory College classroom guide, which Emory classrooms would be unacceptable as language classrooms? Assuming that classrooms should be filled to capacity, most language teachers would conclude immediately that only the seminar and conference rooms are acceptable for language teaching--the rest are too large in terms of their capacity. And if the one large table precludes mobility, we are left with the seminar room as our only option.

Room size and furnishings are, of course, secondary in importance when it comes to the ideal numbers of students in the language classroom--the main consideration is the opportunity for active participation and interaction, which is critical for successful learning.

Given the goals of a standards-based language program (i.e., the development of students' communicative competence), there must be opportunity for frequent and meaningful student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction, monitored practice, and individual feedback during instructional time. This warrants attention to a class size that remains as small as possible.

-ACTFL position statement on class size, May 2006

What is, then, the ideal number of students in a language classroom? How small is too small, how large is too large?

From the Literature on Class Size

Based on their experience, our participating language teachers suggested that the ideal class size is between 10-12 students. Locastro in her article "Large Size Classes: The Situation in Japan" (1989) reported the responses of students and instructors on the topic.

Some of the questions included in Locastro's questionnaire:

  • What size of class would you consider uncomfortably small?
  • What size of class would you consider impossibly small?
  • What size of class would you consider ideal?
  • What size of class would you consider uncomfortably large?
  • What size of class would you consider impossibly large?

The article posited that students preferred classes of 10-20 students, and instructors suggested that the ideal class would have 19 students. Instructors reported that at 39 students problems began to arise, and that a class of 51 students was impossible. They also reported that an uncomfortably small class begins at 7 students, and an impossibly small class has 4 or less. The issue continues to be debated, informed by a broad set of parameters from budgets and availability of physical space and instructors to the methods of instruction used in the classroom. An upper limit that is often suggested as a reasonable compromise is 25 students.

What is it that affects our perceptions regarding the number of students in the classroom?