Those who teach English abroad often panic when they discover that they have to teach a multi-level class. Others are dismayed when they discover that the course they are teaching is, in fact, multi-level.
Challenges – Teaching Multi-Level ESL Classes
Multi-level classes can pose challenges for a number of reasons:
Because students are at different levels, teachers may feel they have to prepare separate lessons for each level within their class. This adds to the planning pressure that so many teachers already experience.
Teachers worry that it isn’t possible to develop a good class atmosphere because students will not be able to work together in group and pair activities.
Assessing the individual needs of each learner and keeping all students engaged can feel like a huge pressure to busy teachers.
Advantages – Teaching Multi-Level ESL Classes
Despite the anxiety that teachers may feel about dealing with multi-level classes, it’s important to remember that they can have advantages. In a multi-level classroom, students need to be able to work independently: the varied levels can lead to greater student autonomy.
Students learn to work together and gain both language and life skills by learning to deal with people with different levels of language skills.
Suggestions – Teaching Multi-Level ESL Classes
Use a theme-based approach to organize your syllabus, rather than a grammatical one. This enables you to recycle language throughout the themes and to contextualize language, which will help learners at all levels in your classroom.
Don’t feel you have to create separate lesson plans for each group. Instead, think of using the same materials, but changing the tasks. For example, use a picture story to elicit language from students- have higher level students create sentences, and lower-level students produce words. The lower level students will benefit from hearing the language provided by the higher levels.
Develop strong group cohesion in the class. Students will need to work together and be supportive of each others’ efforts throughout the course.
At the start of the course, encourage students to get to know each others’ names, and provide lots of activities that help them get to know each other. Bringing in snacks at break can help, too!
A Few Things to Consider – Teaching Multi-Level ESL Classes
In reality, every classroom is multi-level to some extent. If it wasn’t when the course started, it will be by the end as students learn at different speeds and in different ways. In the real world, people have to work with others who have different abilities and strengths. By creating a positive classroom environment for multi-level learners, we can help both our higher and lower level students become better learners in their second language.
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