Teaching English to large, multi-level classes is the norm in Hong Kong. When you are in charge of teaching a large group of ESL students, one major aspect that you must consider is that it is highly unlikely that all of your students will be at the same place in their English learning, so it is very important to recognize and address the varying abilities in your classroom. Students who aren’t working at their appropriate level struggle to learn the material, are easily distracted from the task at hand, and may become disruptive for the whole class.
If you are teaching English in Hong Kong, it is important to prepare materials that suit the mix levels and abilities. In this OnTESOL graduate blog, you will find 6 classroom management tips for teaching large multi-level classes in Hong Kong.
Erin completed the 120-hour Advanced TESOL Certificate recognized by TESL Canada and TESL Ontario
Working with a Co-Teacher vs Teaching on Your Own
The first thing to consider when dealing with a multi-level class is the physical arrangement of the students. There are generally two ways to seat students, each with its own benefits.
If there are two teachers in the classroom, it is possible to separate the lower ability students from the higher ability students. Each teacher can deal with a particular group and give them material and activities that are suitable for their level.
Alternatively, if you are teaching on your own, students can be seated in mixed ability groups. This way, the higher ability students can help teach the lower ability students in their group, and students who may not feel comfortable speaking in front of the whole class can practice speaking with a small group of their peers.
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Get Familiar with Students!
A second way of dealing with a multi-level class is by providing leveled questions for students to answer throughout the lesson. When checking for comprehension you can provide three types of spoken questions: multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and open-ended.
The multiple-choice questions cater to the lowest ability students in the classroom, the fill-in-the-blank questions target the core students, and the open-ended questions cater to the higher ability students. Once you are familiar with your students and their abilities, it is easy to ask individual students questions that are appropriate to their level.
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Finally, you can cater to learner diversity in the classroom by creating leveled materials for your students. While it may seem like a daunting task to create leveled material, it is easily done by roughly dividing students into lower ability, core, and higher ability groups. In my lessons, students have been assigned stars (lower ability), moon (core), and sun (higher ability).
By giving each group a creative name, you ensure that students remember the group they are in and this makes it much easier when distributing materials. While all of the worksheets will achieve the same goal (i.e. writing an animal riddle), the difficulty level will vary.
Typically, lower ability worksheets will involve circling the correct answer and filling in a word or two. Core students will be given language templates and examples to follow and will have to write the sentences on their own. Higher-ability students will be given an example but should be encouraged to be creative and write their work on their own. In this way, students are all learning the same target material while ensuring that they aren’t working at a level that is too easy or difficult for them.
Assessing Students’ Level
It is important to have systems in place to manage whole-class behavior before you enter the classroom. The first thing you need to be aware of is the lesson plan and content; if the lesson material is not appropriate to the students’ level, then they will likely get bored (if the content is too easy) or distracted (if the content is too difficult) and will therefore start to act out.
To avoid this, assess the students’ levels in the first lesson and create engaging and level-appropriate material to keep them focused on the tasks so they are not misbehaving.
Another way to manage the behavior of a large class is to provide an incentive scheme so that students are rewarded for positive behavior. For example, have the class divided into groups so that when they answer questions they can earn points for their group. At the end of the lesson/week/month etc., the group with the most points can get a prize. This kind of incentive scheme not only encourages good behavior but also encourages teamwork and whole-class cooperation.
Finally, in order to regain control in a rowdy classroom, it is often necessary to implement physical silence cues. Some such examples are having students place their hands on their heads before they can answer a question, using a clap that students must repeat after you, saying “one, two, three, eyes on me,” and having students respond with “one, two, eyes on you,” or silently counting down from ten on your fingers and rewarding students who are ready at the end of the countdown.
Physical cues are especially useful with younger students as they find them fun and engaging and are thus eager to participate. While these whole-class management techniques will help with the majority of students, there are sometimes disruptive individuals who may require more attention in the classroom. These students are usually either very high or very low ability and act out because they aren’t following the lesson.
If you have extra planning time, it could be beneficial to their behavior to create lesson material specific to them and the learning level that can be given to them individually to keep them engaged. Alternatively, giving disruptive students a role of responsibility (such as a teacher’s helper or a group leader) often drastically improves their behavior as they feel like they are doing something important.
Finally, it is extremely important to get to know your students outside of the classroom; if you get to know your students on an individual level you will create a sense of mutual respect and they will be much more likely to cooperate with you and follow your instructions in the classroom.
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