Teaching English to adults of mixed abilities

english students doing an interview in class
30 May Shelley Vernon 1 Comment

As an English teacher one can be hard pushed to find activities that involve all learners in a multi-level classroom situation. One doesn't want the beginners to be overwhelmed, and at the same time, it's unforgivable to penalize advanced learners because there are others attending the class who do not have the same level of English. It's so unfair, they are giving up their precious time to attend the class, and they deserve to learn as much as anyone else.


Buddy Grammar Work

Start by giving the beginners a written task to do in class. Take this time to teach the advanced students something relevant to them, excluding the beginners. This is their dedicated teacher time. Next, each beginner with an advanced student, who corrects their work and goes through any mistakes with the beginner. That helps both of them. Circulate and if you spot an error, tell the advanced student to find it. It's up to them to search, think and find the error for themselves, don't spoon-feed them.


Creative Interviews for speaking fluency

You could also have a beginner and advanced student work together to prepare an interview. The beginner asks the questions, the advanced students answers them. Questions can be closed and open ended. The open-ended questions will require the advanced student to expand on his or her ideas. The advanced student can help the beginner with the questions. It's fine if the beginner reads off the questions, but the advanced student should answer without written notes. The students should pick the topic themselves, something they find interesting. Each pair will prepare a different interview. Once they have had time to rehearse, ten minutes over a series of four lessons, so they can become fluent (and you do something else in the rest of the lesson), the pairs can perform their interviews to the class.

two english students of mixed age

You can ask the class to think of criteria for the interview.

- the class has to learn three new things that are useful

- the questions have to be grammatically correct - the advanced student is responsible for coaching the beginner.

- there should be at 5-10 questions

- one of these three words has to be included: yoghurt, encyclopedia, stapler. (This part adds a touch of fun.)


More ideas to involve all class members:

light bulb to denote ideas

1. Have one of the students video the interviews and give students a copy of theirs. It's good to give this task to a shy student or a beginner - it's a way of getting them involved in the group.

2. In small mixed ability groups, have the advanced listeners explain anything in the interview that the beginners did not understand. If the beginners did not understand anything, the advanced learner should paraphrase the content of the interview.

3. Have students vote on the most interesting interview, the most fluent, the funniest, and the most surprising. This is a way to have everyone listen and pay attention since asking for feedback makes learners more involved than if they were just there to listen.

4. Put students in groups and ask each group to think of one interesting question to ask the interviewee. This gets students thinking and being creative. It also gives the advanced student being interviewed an additional challenge.


If any beginners complain that the class is too hard for them, give them these tips to study English on their own so they can advance as quickly as possible in their language learning.


See my activities book for teens and adults for an abundance of ideas to help make your teaching easier and more fun.

See also my skits and roleplays for teens - good for mixed abilities.


thanks a lot for your great ideas

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