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Multilevel Groups

It can be challenging to manage multiple language levels together. Perhaps you tutor a husband and wife with differing levels, or maybe you have a whole classroom full of students diverse not only in English ability but also in culture, age, and literacy skills. If you are dealing with tension between learners due to cultural differences, try to find and emphasize any common ground between them. Where age gaps exist, usually the younger learners will make faster progress than the older ones. To preserve respect for your older students, give them a chance to answer first, or assign them helping tasks such as handing out and collecting papers or taking attendance. If some of your learners are literate in their native language and others aren't, often due to varying levels of prior formal education, the literate students will almost always make faster progress than the non-literate ones because they can process visual as well as aural cues and can take notes to study later. Therefore even if your learners begin with similar oral abilities, they will soon become multilevel as the learning gap widens. It can be effective to use peer tutoring pairing a literate student with a non-literate one as long as the 'tutor-tutee' roles are occasionally interchanged. The non-literate student should be given the chance to take the 'tutor' role with another non-literate student of lower ability or even with a literate student in a non-text-dependent activity.

In a multilevel class, it's a good idea to focus on topics rather than specific language skills, and focus on doing rather than studying. Work on specific skills as issues arise. Find long-term, hands-on projects in which all levels can participate such as a quilt, garden, collage, video, or dramatic production. Creating a survey that says "I want to learn English for..." with several options to check off and space for comments may help you discover common needs and interests in the group which you can use as a foundation for your lessons.

Multilevel classes frequently begin and end with whole-group activities to foster a sense of unity among the students. It's possible to teach the entire class session as a whole group, but many teachers choose to break into pair or group work for all or part of the main class time. Groups are often formed with similar ability levels so that students within a group can work on the same activity at about the same pace; such groups don't need to be the same size. Grouping mixed ability levels allows students to help one another as the whole class does the same activity. You can have all groups working on activities concurrently, or you may want to rotate between 2-3 groups, teaching a lesson to one while others work on a self-guided task. The latter method requires greater preparation but is better able to meet level-specific needs. Here are some ideas for pair and group work.

When working with the whole class at once, there are several strategies you can use to keep higher level students challenged while not neglecting beginners. If you give time for a task and you know advanced students will complete it quickly, give them extra activities like a writing assignment or worksheet to do while waiting for the rest of the class to finish. You can ask advanced students to explain new vocabulary words (preferably in English), take notes on the board while you teach, or model a dialog with you. When holding class discussions or checking comprehension of the lesson, ask beginners simple questions with one correct answer, saving open-ended and opinion questions for higher level students. In choosing whole-group activities, minimize reliance on texts, especially if your class includes non-literate students. Warm-ups, cassette or video clips, brainstorming, songs, and field trips are some activities well suited to multilevel participation. Try to ensure that your lessons will stimulate various learning styles as well.

After you have taught the class for a while, you may find yourself struggling with problematic issues. Don't hesitate to go to your program leaders for support and advice. Additionally, you can ask for student feedback on their class experience, and discuss any individual concerns directly with the respective students. The following are some common concerns in multilevel classes.