Published 11th September 2018

Teaching English as a foreign language

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Wherever you go to teach English as a foreign language you are going to come across mixed abilities from the students in your classes. How do you make sure that the more able students stay engaged and focused and the weaker ones don’t lose their enthusiasm for learning?

Tips for teaching English as a foreign language in a mixed ability class

Teaching English as a foreign language: Fast Learners

  • Put them in a group and give them some new vocabulary for the next lesson. Ask them to write up the vocabulary on the board with definitions. The weaker ones can copy from the board and you can explain it to them as they are written up.
  • If you have been reading a text, ask the fast learners to make up some questions from the text or get them to write the text in another tense.
  • Present a picture and ask the fast learners to name the drawings. This can be used with young learners to teach food, animals or body parts. Get them to find the correct words by looking through their class book, they can do this in pairs.
  • In a listening activity with yes or no answers get the fast learners to answer the question with a further explanation. So, they need to tell you why the answer is yes, or no. Weaker learners can stick to the yes or no answers.

Teaching English as a foreign language: Weaker Learners

  • Adapting handouts – If you have worksheets these can be adapted to make the work easier for weaker students. For example, give them multiple choice answers or a choice from two answers. For example, you can ask your fast learners: What colour is the girl’s coat? but for weaker students you can adapt the question to read Is the girl’s coat red or blue?
  • Present a picture, but rather than asking the students to find the names of drawings themselves, print the names underneath each animal, food or body part and ask the students to copy the name.
  • In a writing task, weaker learners can be asked to write a reduced word count. If they need help with vocabulary write some words for them on the board.

You can also put your students into pairs and mix the abilities. But, when you’re teaching English as a foreign language, keep an eye for a weaker student that may let the stronger student do all the work. If they don’t participate your student will get bored. If this happens then pair them up with another weaker student so that they have to work as a team.