Teaching Multi-Level Classes
What is a Multi-level ESL class?
Multi-level classrooms are as varied as the students in them. Most often, they include students who communicate in English at a variety of different levels. They may also be considered multi-level because they include students with different types of learning backgrounds, such as those who have learned orally and those who have learned mainly from a textbook. Students may also have different levels of literacy in their own native language. A classroom that contains some students who are familiar with the Roman alphabet and some students who are not may also be considered multi-level. Finally, the term multi-level can be used to refer to a group of students working together who range greatly in age.
Advantages and Challenges of Teaching Multi-level Classes
When faced with the challenge of a multi-level classroom many teachers do not know where to start. They fear that the preparation will take much longer, and that the students will be more demanding. Schools that have multi-level classes often have limited budgets, and teachers may fear that they will not be paid for what they are worth. However, it is only by looking at the advantages of the multi-level classroom and employing strategies to overcome the challenges, that teachers can achieve success.
Advantages of Multi-level classrooms
Challenges of Multi-level classrooms
Determining the Needs of your Students
One of the first things you should do when assigned to a multi-level classroom is determine the needs of the individual members. If possible, this should be done before the first class.
There are a variety of ways to conduct needs assessment, depending on the size of the class, and your access to an office and a computer. Many schools use a standardized test for new students. While this may help teachers determine the language level of the students in the multi-level class, standardized tests cannot determine the personal needs of the individual students. For small classes it is useful to invite students into the office for a quick chat to determine what your students' objectives are (ex. improving writing skills, learning conversational English, understanding of rules and grammar). Students may not know the answer to this, so it is a good idea to create a list that they can pick from. You may give the option of picking a primary and a secondary reason. Here are some examples that could be placed in a list for students to choose from:
You should also use this time to explain to your student that there will be other students with different levels of English in the class and that you will be using partnering and grouping exercises and activities in order to meet the needs of everyone. If you don't have access to an office or classroom or you have a large class, you may want to e-mail the question to your students, or have short telephone conversations with them. When none of these options are possible, you can always set aside your first class as an intake day. If possible, stagger the start times of your students by five minutes so that you can speak to each one individually. Brainstorming in a group may also work if you have a small enough class. In a circle on the board place the words, "I need English to/for..." and ask students to volunteer their answers.
Make sure to record the needs and level of each of your students in a simple way. Keep a chart for yourself, and alter it as your students' needs change. Make a conscious effort to monitor the needs of your individual students regularly. You may find that some students feel uncomfortable acting as a peer tutor, while others feel that they are focusing too much on a skill that they will never use in the real world.
Glossary of Terms
Finding a core textbook for your class may help you if you have a number of students who are at a similar level of English. You may find that you need more than one level of the same textbook series. If you require more than two levels, however, using a core textbook may only make your life more complicated, and multi-level textbooks are difficult to come by. Another option is to use a theme based approach. Keeping all of your students working on activities and lessons based on the same theme is a great way of maintaining a class-like atmosphere in a multilevel classroom. Not only will this help your students feel like they all belong in the group, it will save you prep time and make you feel more organized. Follow up activities, such as games and discussions can then be based on the theme. English Club has collected a wide range of theme based lessons to save time for teachers.
Teaching Method Strategies
Experiment with different types of groupings to find the ones that work best.
Use a simple schedule that is similar each day.
Isolate students within the class who are interested in peer tutoring.
Consider enlisting a volunteer.
How English Club Can Help
EnglishClub.com is a great place to start when looking for activities and exercises that will reduce your preparation time. The Teacher's Guide is filled with ideas and links to help save you time while planning interesting, fun, and worthwhile activities and lessons for your students. You will find many worksheets that can be used as self-access materials, and numerous activities that can be used when your multi-level group is learning together.