Published 5th November 2015
In an ideal teaching environment, all your students are exactly the same. In this way, all your students will be able to produce exactly the same English, they will need the exact same language and they will all make the exact same mistakes. In other words, it would be like teaching a class of 1-to-1s. Whatever you do in class would benefit everyone and everyone would proceed at the same pace.
Unfortunately this is not the way the world works and very seldom do you have a class that are very similar. Your students will probably be different ages, come from different educational, professional and social backgrounds and have different linguistic abilities. Their language skills and needs will also be different. Trying to keep an eye on all your students at the same time and make sure they are all focussed, stimulated and satisfied can be challenging, but there are a few things that you can do to teach students of different levels as best as you can.
How to get around this issue
One way you can be prepared is to make sure you have extra activities. You will find that the students with a higher level of English or who are faster learners will usually finish an activity before the others. So if you are doing a reading, those learners will finish reading long before everyone else. In this situation you don’t want to rush the other learners but you also don’t want to let the faster students sit and twiddle their thumbs for ten minutes. When they have finished, make sure you have an activity on hand to give to them to complete while they are waiting. This could be extra questions or exercises relating to the lesson, or even an extra fun activity they would be able to complete quickly.
Another option is to utilise these students. If they finish an exercise quickly, get them to write the answers on the board while the others are finishing. You could also ask them to help their partners which will effectively mean that they will work at the same pace. Especially with younger learners, you could let them help you set up the next activity if it involves handing out worksheets or preparing in some way.
In terms of handling activities, there are two ways in which you could deal with this. One way is to group all the stronger students in one group, so that they will be on the same level. Even if their discussion is above that of the other learners, it won’t matter because the groups are working within themselves and not with other groups. If it is an activity rather than a discussion, you could give these groups an extra activity to do as well. On the other hand, you could group a stronger student with a weaker student in order to let them help each other.
The thing that needs to be remembered is that faster students should not be penalised or punished for being quick. They should not have to wait doing nothing while other students finish. At the same time, weaker or slower students should not feel pressurised to hurry up because other students are finished already. Instead, think of ways you can take advantage of the fact that your students are of different levels.