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Thursday, May 20, 2010

ESL Teacher Blog: 10 Tips for Managing a Multi-Level ESL Class

Supporting lower-level students and keeping higher-level ones engaged is a real challenge of a multi-level class. With ongoing registration in ESL programs throughout the year, how exactly do you handle a roomful of new and more ‘seasoned’ students? The tips below can help you to give all your students, regardless of level, age or background, a rewarding experience.
1. Use visuals frequently. Pictures and board drawings are open to interpretations at various levels. Find a drawing talent among your students (preferably a lower-level student) to help you illustrate new vocabulary. Keep helpful phrases posted on the classroom walls for students’ reference (“How do you spell that word?”, “Could you please say it again?”). Maps, posters, flyers, flip chart notes displayed on the walls will be continually studied and consulted by learners increasing their retention levels. (Exposed to these daily, the penny will eventually drop).
2. Explicitly tell students that this is a multi-level class. Ensure you’ll always start with the basics and offer a variety of words and structures for the next level. Mention they should feel no pressure to do the same amount of work or reach the same level of difficulty as the other classmates. Everyone brings in some strengths as well as limitations, but this variety, in fact, is their strength.
3. Give your students a head start. At the end of each class hand out worksheets you plan to work on next time. Lower level students always appreciate looking at the next class material at home, checking their dictionaries and taking their time to work on the new structures. They’ll arrive better prepared and find themselves more engaged in activities next time.
4. Carefully observe your class. Some students are naturally more nurturing, sympathetic and genuinely enjoy helping others. Pair these up with the ones who lack confidence and need more support.
5. Be flexible on the “English only zone” rule. Allow some occasional translations and meaning clarifications among speakers of the same language. A quick translation can prevent you from going into elaborate explanations and ‘wasting’ class time. Instead, use that time for providing context for the new word(s).
6. Use your board efficiently. Write the most important language points (vocabulary, new structures) in one area on the board and don’t erase them until the end of the class. Everyone will have a chance to copy down the main points and you’ll be able to refer to your original explanation without writing it again. You may also want do the writing on a flip chart so that you can start your next class by reviewing the previously learned material.
7. Make sure everyone receives attention (at least each like-ability group). Students like to receive some corrections and feel they’re making progress. This will also boost your attendance levels.
8. Have classroom routines. Examples can include doing the calendar, weather, giving instructions for an exercise and exemplifying it. After an initial period of adaptation, call on the students to do these routines instead of you (e.g.: write the date on the board, explain what homework is, be in charge of a dictation). Remember, you’re also teaching study habits and cultural bits (taking an initiative, giving instructions, leading a group).
9. Build the difficulty level up. Imagine yourself teaching a fitness (yoga/Pilates) class where you have to show all the steps leading up to the desired pose. Deconstruct that target ‘pose‘ in your mind and break it down for all levels  - everyone can see where the new concept comes from and where it’s going. After all, you can do a plank  either from your toes or knees (and then followed by toes); who cares as long as it serves its purpose?
Also, adjust your language and rate of speaking to accommodate beginners and challenge the more advanced. Variation is a secret ingredient to everyone’s satisfaction.
10. Make sure to tell the obvious. The more experienced students benefit from a refresher - they too come from different backgrounds and therefore have been exposed to different teachers, textbooks etc. and may have gaps in their knowledge. Besides, you help them put their prior knowledge in words.
Most of all, encourage positive attitude and motivation. Create an atmosphere of inclusion. Teacher’s positive energy and care can transcend the mere idea of levels while challenging everyone at their level of competence.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 8:36 PM
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