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How to Teach Classes With Mixed Ability

One common complication in teaching is finding that students of many different skill levels are placed together in our classroom. At times, the moment we pass out a reading comprehension exercise, Sergio is already finished while Juan has no idea how to begin. What can we do? Should we bore Sergio by adopting the “convoy” approach to teaching – everyone sticks with the slowest boat? Should we start checking the answers and ignore Juan’s problem by telling him to work on the paper at home? (Good luck with that, Juan.)

One suggestion I’ll give is to change your expectations. Expect and accept that there will be varied ability in every class of language learners. After all, we work with infinitely variable human beings. Let me share an idea from Mario Rinvolucri (1986) “…we do not teach a group but thirty separate people. Because of this, the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and it is the idea of teaching a unitary lesson that seems odd.”

For a classroom of younger learners, learn more about how to teach kids English.

Once you have embraced the idea of diversity, here are some ideas to consider.

• Plan different activities for different students.
• Design group tasks and assign people with mixed abilities to each group.
• Design open-ended group tasks and assist groups that need more support.

Let’s admit that these techniques are more challenging for the instructor than teaching a unitary lesson, but they are often more effective for our students. You can address individual needs – Full speed ahead!

Rinvolucri, M. (1986) Strategies for a mixed-ability group. Practical English Teaching, 7 (1).

This post was written by Laura Greenwood.

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