Tag Archives: Mixed-ability

The 4 Types of Multilevel Class Activities

Heather McKay & Abigail Tom (1999, CUP, Teaching Adult Second Language Learners, pp. 21-22) suggest teachers differentiate among four types of mixed-ability activity.  Unless the text is in quotation marks, it is my own interpretation.

same input, same task

What is different in this situation is the level of your students’ language proficiency. What makes it possible for the students to do the task is their collaborative effort. You have to divide your class of students into pairs or groups so that weaker students get to work with stronger ones. The tasks that are best suited in this case are those that require problem-solving skills, e.g.  games, puzzles, mazes, quests, trivia quizzes and the like. In other words, the focus is not on English but on the task, which should require the students to draw on their knowledge of the world and life or work experience as opposed to their knowledge of grammar rules or lexis. You should design the activity so that it would not look, feel or sound like a language practice activity.

same input, modified task

A good example of such an activity would be a multilevel dictation.  The more proficient students would have to write everything, the less able ones would have to fill in the gaps, and those you consider a pain in the neck could be asked to tick the options they hear.  Once you have finished dictating, everyone should have the same text.

Another example is multilevel listening. Stronger students may be instructed to listen without reading the script while the audio is being played, and weaker ones could be permitted to consult the script as they listen.

By and large, weaker students are provided with more scaffolding.

different input, same task

This type of mixed-ability activity requires weaker students to use the input you provide “as is” and stronger students to do something with the initial input in order to do the main task. For instance,  you can choose to give the more proficient students in your class cues and the less proficient ones ready-made questions when you do a mingling activity such as “Find Someone Who”.

same task, different performance level

This last type is very much like project work. What makes it special is that the teacher doesn’t give out any materials, but just sets the task.  The students work alone or in small groups, and the language they produce will vary according to their level.  I imagine all sorts of “create a poster” type of tasks will fit in this category.

Large Class Sizes & Low-Tech Classrooms

What’s the magic formula I wonder? You are given  a mixed-ability class of ca 20 students, whose average level is pre-intermediate, and an upper-intermediate level multi-page coursebook to cover in ca. 50 90-minute lectures. How on earth is it possible to cover everything and to ensure that all the students have achieved the desired level of proficiency by the end of the course? How to focus on fluency if there is literally no time? How to work miracles if the only equipment available is a chalkboard and there is no CD-player? I should be grateful that it is possible to do some photocopying, though; nevertheless, the prospects are really bleak. To make matters worse, about half the students are technophobes or have no access to computers/the Internet or do not have good dictionaries.  Whatever they say, teachers can do very little without proper teaching aids in large mixed-ability classes, ie GIGO – it is unwise to expect great results if the initial input you can provide is meagre.

What a mix!

I am teaching elementaries this year – this is very unlike me for I find this level somewhat tedious to teach.  To make matters worse, instead of two nationalities, I’ve got four – it is a real challenge, for I do understand what sort of problems Russians and Estonians might encounter in terms vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation, but I am at a loss when it comes to teaching Italians or the Polish:( They seem to be struggling with English sounds a lot more and I have to incorporate loads of pronunciation practice activities into my lessons as a result to cater for their needs.  Obviously, it does not hurt when we work on individual sounds and intonation more,  but that is a completely new  aspect of teaching – I have never devoted so much time to it before.  Another thing is that I have to use flashcards and other paraphernalia every now and then, which is something I am not very keen on either as that means becoming a backpacker again . The good thing is that the dynamics of the group are almost perfect, they are all very nice, smiley people, do their homework most of the time, hardly ever miss classes, are willing to collaborate and have all the oomph I could wish for, and that’s very rewarding.