Explore More

Handling Mixed-Proficiency EFL Classrooms

EFL students in a mixed proficiency classroom.

This post was written by Matthew Clark
No two learners are exactly alike. As English teachers, we should be able to identify these differences and adapt our lessons to suit the individual needs of our students. One such learner difference is proficiency. Although it is generally preferred to create homogenous groups, this can be difficult to arrange and teachers are often required to deal with mixed-proficiency EFL classrooms.

What should you do if you have EFL learners of various proficiencies in the classroom? The following are some suggestions:

  1. The first obvious suggestion is to set different tasks. With a particular group of vocabulary items, a lower proficiency English learner may draw and label a picture using the words, while the more advanced student writes an original text using the same words.
  2. Remember that there is more to knowing a word than its definition. While a new student is learning what each word means, experienced students can be thinking of opposites or creating word families. 
  3. In a listening task, have EFL students answer different questions. While one student is listening to hear if the flight is delayed, the other may be listening for why the flight is delayed or for how long.
  4. The next suggestion is based on the philosophy that we learn the most when we teach. Allow your more advanced students to explain certain concepts to the rest of the class. This process will expose less proficient learners to new language, while affirming the knowledge of more proficient learners. This will also cut down on TTT (teacher talk time).
  5. Rather than teaching, a less demanding role for more proficient English learners is to act as a model. Demonstrate a Q&A exchange with the more advanced student, and then ask that same student to repeat the interaction with the less advanced student. This will also allow your advanced student to practice those all-too-confusing interrogative structures.
  6. Peer correction is generally preferred over teacher correction, so allow the more advanced learner to listen and correct the mistakes of less proficient learners. HOWEVER, you should also discuss and model appropriate strategies for correction first before someone’s feelings get hurt.

Our diverse, global community of contributors includes experts in the field, Bridge course graduates, online and classroom-based teachers worldwide, and Bridge faculty and staff.