How to choose appropriate material for different level language learners in your class?
Selecting appropriate material for different level language learners can be difficult, particularly for new teachers. Even within an intermediate level class, for example, English ability can vary greatly and learners themselves may be stronger in one area of the language, in writing, for example, than in speaking. All of this can provide quite a headache for the teacher in terms of appropriate material selection.
As an illustration, imagine we have Hiroko in our upper-intermediate multi-lingual class. Hiroko is from Japan and is strong in writing and in understanding written English and grammar, but because of the way English is taught in Japan, and for cultural reasons, her spoken English ability is more limited. In essence, she is like a lot of learners we have taught from Japan, with a (roughly) pre-intermediate *(B1) level in spoken communication and an upper-intermediate (C1) written and grammatical ability. So, how do we ensure she does not struggle with speaking material when the other members of our C1 group are more fluent?
Weaker at speaking?
Firstly, if the focus of the lesson is geared to reading and writing, then Hiroko should be OK with upper-intermediate level written tasks. But when it comes to speaking, she may struggle with higher level material. In this case, we may need to ensure Hiroko has extra support. That could be through pairing her with another learner of a slightly lower level, so that they can practice at roughly the same standard. In this case she won’t be made to feel embarrassed and may be more able to try out the language, growing in confidence.
You could also give stronger pairs more speaking tasks to cover together so they are stretched, and give weaker pairs fewer.
Finding materials at various levels
A key to success in the classroom is learning what material is appropriate for various levels. One of the best resources I have found recently is the Macmillan straightforward series. It’s is well worth a look as you can review the kind of material that is appropriate for beginners right the way up to advanced learners; it is a series we suggest to trainees on our accredited TESOL courses. You can see samples of the coursebooks and listen to sample audio here:
It is also possible to use the same core material for class but give stronger or weaker learners a version of it, graded for difficulty. Breaking News English publishes a range of treated news articles which you can read and/or listen to at a variety of levels. Take a look here:
An example of a pre-intermediate speaker
Another way to approach matching material to level is to learn what different levels of students are generally capable of. This can be done by searching in Youtube for: examples of of elementary, intermediate or advanced English speakers, for instance.
You can see an example of a pre-intermediate East-European student, Tatiana, speaking in the video below. In this intermediate class I was leading Tatiana was a weaker speaker so it was great to see her being brave and speaking up in front of the other students.
It is good to remember that while we want all our learners to leave walk our lessons having learned something or being able to do something they couldn’t before, that might not be the same thing for each learner. Understanding our learners’ strengths and weaknesses, employing good classroom management techniques, having a store of appropriate material for various levels to draw on will all help our students to engage meaningfully with class content.
I hope that these ideas are helpful for you as you consider what might work in your classes. If you have further ideas yourself, please share them below.
* Discover our TESOL online courses which all cover material selection and levels
* Learn Top tips on correcting spoken English in the EFL classroom
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