Teaching multi-level ESL class


Most ESL teachers are daunted by the thought of teaching a multi-level class. And rightly so. Teaching Multi-level classes can not only be challenging but downright stressful.

What is a multi-level classroom

By definition ‘a multi-level classroom’ is one where the students have different skill level but they are all studying in the same class. In Korea, most often these classes include students who have diverse language skills. Basically, 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 only grammar and TOEIC based English and those who have learned conversation English. Finally, the term can also be used to refer to a group of students with vast age difference studying together.

If you are teaching adults ESL classes in Korea you can definitely relate to this. Teaching adult ESL classes can be a real nightmare for many teachers. When faced with the challenge of teaching multi-level classes many teachers fret. They don’t know where to start. They stress about how to prepare and teach for a class that is so varied.

Challenges you may face in a multi-level classroom

As a teacher you may face many challenges teaching such a class. The first and foremost is the level of students. Typically, you may have a few students who can comprehend and speak pretty fluently while there may be others who can understand what you are saying yet struggle with the response. And then you may have some students whose comprehension is so low that they are totally lost.

Another problem you may encounter specially in Korea is that many students have learned grammar based English all their lives. Although, this maybe good in certain situations, in my personal experience I have found that this is more of an obstacle. Many Korean students get so hung up on grammar that they hinder their ability to speak. They are so afraid to make a grammatically wrong sentence that they don’t speak at all.

Yet another is the age gap between the students. You may walk into an adult classroom with mixed age groups. The class may have students ranging from high schoolers (16-18 yrs), university students (20-25) housewives and company or office workers (35+/50). Anyone who has lived in Korea knows ‘age hierarchy’ does exist. age is a big deal here. So when you have a multi-level classroom we are not only talking about different personality one has to deal with but also the troubles that come with ‘age hierarchy’.

Also preparing for a multi-level class can be frustrating. As a teacher, you must consider not only the different levels but also the varied age groups in your classroom and as such come up with a plan that works for everyone. There may be some conversation topics that older people find interesting for example: politics or economic issues but most high schoolers have no interest in these topics (trust me) and therefore may doze off during the lesson.

Moreover, some subject matter may be exciting even intriguing for older members in the class to talk about but the same topics may be uninteresting or may not be age appropriate for younger members of the group. Hence hashing out a lesson that works for everyone is not only time consuming but also extremely vexing.

Tips and Strategies for teaching a multi-level class

When planning for a multi- level class think about all of the skill levels that are in their class. When you plan, you have to try to meet the needs and expectations of each skill level. Here are some tips and strategies that can help you.

1. Find appropriate teaching resources and material that are suitable for all students: It is crucial to find supplemental materials and resources and, to have enough activities for each of the levels, or flexible activities, with different material for students at different levels of English acquisition.

2. Level appropriate lesson plan: Determine the most dominant level in your class. For example if you have a class where most student are intermediate level with a few low level or advanced level students. If this is the case, keep in mind when you plan that you are teaching an intermediate class. Because of this, your material and activities should generally aim for intermediate level.

3. Organize appropriate peer groups within the class: A multilevel class provides a great opportunity for peer tutoring, where high level students work in pairs, with the low level students. Students with strong skills can be paired with students with weak language skills, so they can assist the low level students.

4. Determine the individual needs of each student: Students may have a variety of personal reasons for joining the class. Some students might just be learning to speak English, while other students maybe fluent but want to work on their pronunciation, as well as students who have conversational English but need to work on academic skills. Find out what students want to learn and are interested in. If most in a class are career-oriented, for example, focus on the vocabulary needed for career success and so on.

5. Ensure that all students are challenged and interested: Since students in a multi-level class might not only have different language skill levels but may also be different ages, as such it can be very demanding. A concern with teaching the multi-level class is holding everyone’s interest and meeting everyone’s needs, no matter their level. As a teacher you should come up with materials and activities that will be not only interesting but challenging enough for every student so that they get the most out of the class regardless of their level.

6. Be flexible: When you are teaching a multi-level class, you have to expect a certain degree of uncertainty. You have to be ready for the unexpected. You may need to modify your lesson plan, change in class activities, or give an unexpected grammar lesson.

7. Variety of activities: Include a lot of group activities and role plays in your lesson plan. By focusing on communicative activities in your mixed level class, each of your students will use what they know to talk to other classmates. It also helps the teacher to pair lower level students with higher level students so that they can get the help they need and follow the class. It’s also good for team building. Regardless of their age or skill level students work together thereby improving the general harmony in the class.

Also include a variety of activities for different language skills for example: listening, reading, writing etc together with speaking activities within a class. This is a way to meet the needs of all students, from the student who needs work on basic literacy to the student who wants to work on more advanced skills.

Teaching the multilevel class can be challenging. Teachers have to be flexible to accommodate not only different levels of English learning but also different age groups and backgrounds. Meeting everyone’s needs is tough but not impossible, With a little ingenuity and creativity, teaching the multilevel class can be very rewarding.

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