| Articles for ESL Teachers: Multi-level Classes
By Ali Shenassa
Multi-level ESL classes can be a nightmare even for the most experienced teachers. Imagine having to teach four advanced students, three intermediate, and five beginners, all in the same class because two other teachers have suddenly fallen ill and the boss has put you in charge. How can you deal with this seemingly impossible situation?In her book, Teaching Multilevel Classes in ESL, considered a practical guide by many teachers, Jill Sinclair Bell provides us with a systematic approach; here are 6 tips boiled down from her ideas:
1. Start your lesson with the whole group.
You want to establish the "good happy family" feeling at the beginning of each lesson. Starting with the whole group prevents small group identity which causes students to limit their contact only to those at their own level.
2. Use a theme-based approach.
For instance, if you're working with the theme of "health," the advanced students can work through a medical article which describes ways to prevent catching the common cold and summarize the main points as one group. The beginners could work on vocabulary matching of the symptoms with pictures.
Each student in the group should have a task that builds on what they accomplished in their previous equal-ability groups. For example, the group project could be to prepare a role-play of a patient/doctor situation at a clinic.
The beginners could have the task of cutting out pictures showing symptoms and taping them on the board with the vocabulary written beside each picture. They may also be given the task of introducing the role-play and setting the scene with a few simple sentences.
The intermediate students could take on the role of patients and writing the script for describing their symptoms.
The advanced students could play the role of doctors who have to respond to their patients' questions as well as give advice on how to prevent future diseases.
In our example, each group can perform their role-play for the entire class and students can then vote on the best performance. This will give the experience of the whole class as one team having accomplished a great project!
Remember that teaching a multi-level class is challenging and often a lot of work for the teacher and not always on target for the students. Keep a positive attitude, but don't feel discouraged if you can't keep everyone happy all the time.
On the positive side, teaching a multi-level class can give you valuable experience that you'll be able to use later on in your career, because after all, isn't every class really multi-level to some extent?
Here are two good books you can consult if you want to know more deeply about teaching multi-level ESL classes. You can find both books at www.amazon.com.
Teaching Multilevel Classes in ESL by Jill Sinclair Bell
Teaching Large Multilevel Classes by Natalie Hess