Teaching mixed age groups

children of mixed ages in classroom
04 Jun Shelley Vernon 2 Comments

Hello, my dear Blog readers,


It can be problematical teaching mixed age groups, especially at preschool. Let's hear from an ELL teacher taking a mixed age group and see what problems she has and how we might resolve them. If you are also teaching children in a mixed age group then you might like this post.


The pupils


I am teaching in a centre which supports teaching through play. There are no desks or books, only 10 kids and a space for the lesson. There is a wide age range with children between 3 and 7 years of age. Most of the children are about 5 with the odd 7 and 3-year-old.


The problem


The problem is I can't get all of their attention at the same time. I'm used to teaching with games, but in this setup, I can't get the games started efficiently. The kids get too excited and it's chaotic! I try scolding them, but it has no effect. Lately, I have resorted to giving them crafts and painting, but that really isn't the most effective way to teach them English in one hour a week. Hmmph!


Suggestions and Tips


My games books and, in particular, my plays and skits, are ideal for this situation. The biggest challenge that you are facing is combining one or two three-year-olds with the older children. Three-year-olds, unless they are turbo-charged, exceptional beings who are invited to become members of Mensa, simply cannot learn at the same pace as children aged 7. It's unfair to expect them to be able to. And it's unfair to expect the 7 year-olds to wait around in class while the 3-year-olds learn. It's a very difficult mix as far as teaching English as a foreign language goes and if you can, split the group. It's one thing to be in an open-ended activities environment where children learn through playing with toys, sandpits, lego and so forth. But in the case of an intensive hour-long English class, it's not so easy to get fast results.


children of mixed ages in a classroomIf you have to teach such a mixed group and there are no solutions to split the group, I would be inclined to let the 3 year-olds hang in there and absorb what they can, but focus your lesson on the 5-7 year-olds. Ask very easy questions to the younger ones, such as asking them to name "red", while the others are learning white, silver and gold. This way all kids stay together on the colour theme, but you make it easier for the younger ones.


Keep the youngsters involved

You shouldn't completely ignore the youngest, but don't hold everyone up while little Johnny takes an hour to learn three words. The rest of the class will be so bored that they will soon start to mess around and you'll have chaos. At that point, you won't be able to teach anything to anyone!


children of mixed ages in a preschool classroomChallenge the faster learners

Aim the level of the class at the 5-year-olds. Give faster learners special tasks to keep them interested. For example, let the older or faster learners take a turn calling out the instructions instead of the teacher. Have them write things on the board for you. Have them decide if a sentence is correct or not. Ask them harder vocabulary words and quiz questions. Make them team leaders. Have them help younger learners complete a task. Keep the fast learners challenged so they don't become bored and go off your class. It's quite easy to do all this when you have a small group.


Use open-ended activities or workstations some of the time

Give children an open-ended activity such as sorting or playing with vocabulary items, arranging them in order of size, colour or use. Older children will finish sooner and can continue with spelling games while the younger ones finish.


Ideal multi-level tool

esl role-plays and skits for children book coverTo handle this type of group, try my plays and skits. They really are the ideal tool or curriculum for mixed ages and abilities, especially when you are lucky enough to teach small groups. The youngest can be paired up to take the same lines as an older child. They can be given actions to do in the skit, and just take the simplest lines or responses. Even if these younger kids are not saying much, they will be listening and participating, so they will be soaking up English like a sponge. It won't be a wasted class for them, especially if they are part of the team and enjoying themselves.


On the other hand, you may find it difficult to keep the three-year-olds in the group, so if you have to, let them play with some flashcards or toys for part of the lesson, while staying in the room, so they still hear English going on around them.


There is a free skit to try. Give the better pupils more lines. Let the younger ones take short lines and say them together. It's super easy, and it's from my collection of 30 easy plays and skits for children. These cover the basics for A1 and beginners English.


To prepare for the skit you need games. You need calm games if the kids are boisterous and there are plenty in my primary and preschool games books.


I hope some of you reading this post found it useful! Do leave a comment or any advice you might have in the comments box so future readers may benefit from your wisdom.


I'm here to help if you need me.


Kind regards


Shelley Ann Vernon


Some of those who are outgoing can fit within any group since a young age. As for the older ones they can feel a bit reserved as what to do surrounded by all these little ones . I think they need a push . Some times it's vice versa . It all depends on the child's confidence levels .
I'm sharing these comments that Isabel F. sent me today: You'r e absolutely right, teaching a mixed ability group is certainly a challenge for any ESL teacher. There are no magic tricks! As experienced teachers, we've all had to face a mixed ability group at one time. In addition to age differences, some students have learning disabilities making the classroom experience a true bombshell. I personally think . with young children, you have to have a large resource file of varied activities and be able to adapt them according to how the class feels on that particular day. Keep activities simple yet interesting enough for their young minds to feel engaged. One example could be a weather topic, get students to pick laminated weather cards and have them put them up on the board etc. Get the students to participte and make them feel important. Followup the lesson with simple worksheets according to age level. In the end a total response activity such as a song and a craft should help. In short with young children, patience is the key, make your students feel engaged, important . I find that awarding students for good work and behaviour is a miracle in a difficult classroom, but it should be done in consecutive manner. If all fails with a difficult child, set the child apart until he/she is calm and relaxed. If he/she is overwhelemed again reinforce positive encouragement.. Get them to do a simple activity that makes them feel important.

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