When you are in charge of teaching a large group of ESL students, one major aspect that you must consider is the students’ English levels.
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 and are easily distracted from the task at hand, so it is essential to provide them with material that suits their abilities.
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.
Get Familiar with Students! – Teaching English in Hong Kong
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.
Using Materials – Teaching Multi-Level ESL Lessons
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.