How to Teach Mixed Ability Classes

You’ve got a student, let’s call them student A, who has finished the worksheet before you’ve even had chance to finish handing it round to the entire class. And then there’s another student, student B, at the back, who isn’t even sure how to tackle it at all.  Not an ideal situation, right? Unfortunately, it sometimes happens and it can be 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? Neither seems great, right?

Never fear! It’s all a bit of a balancing act but there are ways to manage situations like these, and you might even find that you enjoy teaching mixed ability classes by the end of it!

Find our 5 Top Tips for managing mixed ability classes below:

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.

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3.  Use level-specific material

If the ability levels between students are very distinct, then you can include adaptations to your exercises to make them suit both levels, providing a harder and an easier option. Make sure you don’t make this distinction obvious however, as the student receiving the easier activity is likely to lose confidence in their abilities, if it’s made clear to the whole class that they aren’t at the level of the highest performing student.

4.  Communicate equally with the whole class

Remember when you were in school (yep, for some of us that was a while ago now…) and 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. Rotate the people you call on and treat every student as an individual. You can also make sure they all know their contribution to the lesson is valued, by praising each student often. Remember the ratio 1:5, for every 1 negative thing you say, you need to counteract it with 5 positives.

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5. Use positive pair-work

Pairing up weaker and a stronger student for activities 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 it obvious this is why you are doing the pair work. Be sensitive to students feelings and discreet.


Teaching mixed ability classes might feel like a minefield initially, but armed with these 5 Top Tips you’ll be breezing through it in no time, and teaching these types of classes will do wonders for your teaching skills.  Not only does teaching different levels of ability keep you finely tuned-in to your students’ needs, it also 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!

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