You’ve got a problem student, let’s call them student A, has finished the worksheet before you’ve even had chance to hand it round all the class… and then there’s one pupil, student B, at the back, who isn’t exactly too sure how to tackle it at all. Not an ideal situation, but it will happen and it’s a worry for all TEFL teachers (not just new ones). So what do you do? Do you leave student A to sit there and twiddle their thumbs whilst the rest of the class catches up, or move on and leave poor old student B to keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best? I don’t think so.
It’s all a bit of a balancing act but there are ways to cope and even some positives to come from it once you know how to teach mixed ability classes.
1. Structure your lessons so that activities have more open-ended possibilities
For example, put your class into small groups and suggest an activity such as ‘write as many sentences about X, in X amount of time’. This will mean that all groups will be able to contribute to the best of their ability without feeling either inadequate or under-challenged.
2. Create ongoing activities
As there will be students who finish their work ahead of the rest of the class, why not create ongoing individual projects for students to resume once they’ve completed all set tasks? This is a great way to avoid exasperated sighs and ‘this is far too easy’ glares. E.g. get students to keep a journal.
3. Use level-specific material
Pairing work between a weaker and a stronger student will allow the two to communicate and help each other in a less public environment. The stronger student will feel like they have more responsibility and the weaker student will receive one-to-one help. However, never (never, never) make this a distinct comparison.
4. Treat the whole class equally
Remember when you were in school (yep, for some of us that was a while ago now…) when your teachers picked the same students again and again? Felt kind of irritating didn’t it? Make sure not to make this mistake in your teaching too. Always address students individually and praise them.
Knowing how to teach mixed ability classes can seem a impossible, but you can do it, and it will do wonders for your teaching skills. Not only does teaching different levels of ability keep you finely tuned-in to your students’ needs, but it provides you with a great opportunity to be more creative in the classroom. Plus, think how satisfying it will feel to know you’ve kept everyone busy/challenged/happy?
One best teacher award coming your way!