Tips For Teaching Classes Of Varying Ages And English Ability

When you have a wide range of ages and English abilities in your class, it can be tough to come up with activities and lessons that are interesting to everyone. Material tends to be much too easy for some students, while completely going over other students’ heads, making it difficult to tailor lessons so that everyone is engaged and learning.

Tim FinniganThere’s no “right way” to teach this sort of class. As with many aspects of teaching, it’s more of an art than a science, and finding what works involves knowing your students, knowing your teaching style, and going through a lot of trial and error.  These tips for teaching classes with students of varying ages and English ability will give you a good place to start, and will help you come up with lessons, activities, and teaching methods to make your class a great learning experience for all of your students.

Let the students teach each other

Letting your students teach each other is one of the best ways to handle a mixed age and mixed ability classroom. It gives you the chance to introduce or review simple concepts with the younger/beginner students, while still having a way to keep the more advanced students engaged.  You could assign students topics that they will be giving a brief lesson on, and help them develop a lesson plan.

You can also have students review or grade each other’s work.  More advanced students will gain a lot from helping edit younger students’ writing, or correcting their answers on a quiz. After all, they say that you never really understand something until you can teach it.

Use stories and songs

Some things are universal and don’t depend at all on age, making them perfect for this type of classroom.  If you incorporate songs into the class, each student will understand the song to varying degrees, but they will all get something out of it, and will enjoy learning the song. Stories are similarly universal, whether you are using simple children’s stories or famous fairy tales.

There is a broad range of activities that you can do surrounding a simple story, too, and so many opportunities to challenge all of the students.  A few ideas are to have students write a summary, let them illustrate the story, have students rewrite a different version of the story, have the students write questions for their classmates to answer, or adapt the story into a play.

Do some activities tailored to each level

While you definitely want to have plenty of lessons and activities that will be engaging and beneficial to all of the students, it’s also a good idea to set aside time for activities aimed at specific levels.  Have part of the class work on something independently–a writing assignment, readings, worksheets, etc.– while you take time to teach a lesson tailored to students at a different level.

Make crafts and art projects

A great thing about art projects is that the sky’s the limit for how creative and complex your students can be.  Pick things that don’t limit creativity but encourage it, such as making holiday cards, writing a short story, or designing a board game for their classmates to play.  If you are doing something too simple or too complicated, then either way a large part of the class is going to be lost.

Instead, pick something that can be simple, but has a lot of room for students to add complexity.  For example, make a story book, with older students writing the text, and younger students drawing the pictures.

Know your students and their English abilities

Whether it’s a very competitive student trying too hard to keep up with the more advanced students, or a student who’s fading in with the beginners because it’s easier, one common problem in mixed level classes is students not doing work appropriate for their level.  The best way to remedy this is to get to know the students and pay attention throughout the class.

Do regular informal assessments or surveys to keep track of where everyone is.  It might also help to split students up into different levels or “grades” within the class.  Regardless of what method you use, make sure you have some way to ensure that students are doing activities to the level that is best suited to their English ability.

When you have varying ages and English abilities in your classroom, you definitely have to take more time to plan your lessons, find the right activities, and make sure everyone is getting the most out of the class.  Once you find what works for you and your students, though, these classes are very enriching and well worth putting in some extra effort. 

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