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Teaching mixed ability groups doesn’t have to be this hard

Teaching mixed ability groups doesn’t have to be this hard

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Blog

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Five key ways to engage everyone when you have differing levels within the same English class

If you are teaching groups, it’s likely you’ve faced the conundrum of teaching mixed abilities within the same group. How to select material at right level for everyone, stretching the more able while supporting the weaker class members?  There’s a risk of pleasing no-body and the mixed ability issue is a common teacher headache.

So, if you teach groups and this sounds familiar, we’ve got some suggestions to help.

Firstly, we have launched a short, Zoom course on Teaching Mixed Ability Classes (TMAC), which will give you some hands-on practice and confidence in managing leading different levels.

Below, we’ve also outlined five key ways you can help ensure everyone is engaged and learning in your mixed ability class:

1. Pitch the material to the lower end of the class but adapt the tasks
If the lower-level learners can’t follow the core reading, listening, dialogue or other material introduced, you may lose them. Hence, it can be wise to pitch material to suit lower-level students so everyone can grasp the essentials.
However, you can differentiate tasks around the material to suit the different levels. For example, you could ask higher levels to extend dialogues, answer more questions or respond with fuller, more complex responses to comprehension or discussion questions. Also, while higher levels are working through their longer tasks in pairs or groups, you could be supporting the lower levels.

2. Correct differently
You may choose not to correct lower-level learners for making a certain error, but do correct higher-level learners. In this way, you promote fluency at the lower levels and are more demanding of the better able.

3. Encourage weaker students to respond and let higher levels fly
In discussions or when eliciting a response, the British Council recommends you ask lower-level students by name for an answer. This stops higher-level students from dominating and makes space for lower levels to speak. At the same time, for more capable students, there is no harm in asking a follow-up question, prompting them to tell a short, related anecdote – even if some of the class won’t follow. It can be good to challenge higher-level students in this way and keep expectations for them high.

4. Get everyone speaking early with an easy, fun task.
Low-level learners are in no doubt about their ability and this can make them feel shy about speaking in English. Their lack of confidence only increases if the lesson time ticks on and they haven’t contributed. A simple game or warmer at the front end that gets everyone communicating in English is so helpful here. It breaks the ice and eases everyone into the class, lowering inhibitions. Whether this is a game of bingo, Simon says or another fun, low-key engagement activity, tasks like these helps build group cohesion and encourage everyone to take part.

5. Set homework differentiated homework tasks
For lower-level learners, we recommend setting tasks that consolidate and setting extension tasks for higher levels. In addition, it can be useful for lower levels to get a heads-up on the next lesson. So, why not send material in advance to lower-level learners and ask them to look up unknown phrases or vocabulary. This can build confidence and helps optimise their learning experience in the next class.

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How do you differentiate your classes?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

If you want more tutor-led explanation, learn even more techniques and to try some of these ideas out a live class, join us on our next Teaching Mixed Ability Classes Zoom course.

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