This post has some great mixed-ability class activities. In fact, teaching English to students of mixed abilities can create extra work for the inexperienced. 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 others are attending the class who do not have the same level of English. It’s so unfair to higher-level students because they are giving up their precious time to attend class, and they deserve to learn as much as anyone else.
So here are some great ideas for a mixed ability class to stimulate all students without running the teacher into the ground!
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 time is their dedicated teacher opportunity. Next, pair each beginner with an advanced student who goes through any mistakes with the beginner. That helps both students. Circulate and if you spot an error, tell the advanced student to find it. It’s up to them to search and find the error for themselves, don’t spoon-feed them.
Creative Interviews for speaking fluency
First, pair up beginners with advanced students. Together they prepare an interview, for example, asking and answering questions. Allow students to pick the topic themselves, something they find interesting. As a result, each pair will prepare a different interview, so listening to them will be more enjoyable for the class.
For open-ended questions, it’s best if the beginner asks and the advanced students answer. This is because the open-ended questions will require the advanced student to expand on their ideas. Of course, the advanced student can help the beginner with the questions. It’s also okay if the beginner reads the questions, but the advanced student should answer spontaneously.
Then, once they have had time to rehearse and become fluent, which may take ten minutes over several lessons (and you do something else in the rest of the class), the pairs can perform their interviews to the others.
It can be helpful to give students some criteria for the interview. For example;
– the class has to learn three new and useful things
– the questions have to be grammatically correct – the advanced student is responsible for coaching the beginner.
– there should be 5-10 questions
– to add a touch of fun, each student should include one of these three words: yoghurt, encyclopedia, stapler.
More ideas to involve all class members
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 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. Voting 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 task 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 to advance as quickly as possible in their language learning.
Great resources for teaching teens and adults of mixed abilities
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 role-plays for teens – good for mixed abilities.