A Mixed Ability Class is a class where the students have different levels and abilities in English.
To a certain extent, all classes are mixed ability and you will find stronger and weaker students in every group. However many schools, due to financial reasons, find it useful to put as many students as they can in each class and often you will find students in the class who most definitely belong in another level.
To begin with, if you have a student in your class who would be better off in another class level, then by all means raise this issue with your Director of Studies or school owner. Explain the situation and back this up with examples of how the student is not achieving their best because they are learning at the wrong level; don’t just say they are the wrong level but be prepared to prove it with test results and so on.
Sometimes you will be able to have the student transferred but often, unfortunately, you will not. The strategies below may well help.
Teaching All or Some
With mixed ability classes, there are 3 approaches you can take:
- Target the majority of the students. Activities and exercises are aimed at the general level of the class for most of the students. Stronger students will find these easy, weaker students will find these hard.
- Target the extremes. Push the level up or down so that you include the stronger or weaker students. This can often mean you “lose” the majority of the students.
- Mix the approach: target the majority of students but set extra work or more difficult work for the stronger students, or easier tasks for the weaker students. This can result in those students feeling “left out” of the main class, either feeling punished or singled out due to their skill or lack of ability. This also means more work for the teacher.
Here are some different ideas for teaching mixed ability groups.
Hands Down is a very useful technique which levels a class and creates more class participation. It will take a short while and needs consistency, but the rewards are overwhelming, especially when combined with the Mini Whiteboards technique.
Split the class: equal ability
As much as you can, divide the class into smaller groups of equal ability for different activities and then set different activities for each group. This does not mean completely different activities for each group, rather that you ask each group to come up with different results from the same activity. For example, if you are getting each group to write a short text on a particular subject, you would ask the stronger group to make it 100 words long, the majority 75 words and the weaker group 50 words.
Although you would not make a point of spelling this out to the whole class. More likely, you would set the groups, set the task and then go round to each group and explain their particular goal.
The advantage here is that you can go around the different groups and help where you are needed most.
Split the class: mixed ability
Each group has a stronger and/or weaker student. This can often encourage the stronger student to help the weaker student (this is known as Peer Teaching). Your knowledge of the students is important here so that the students you put together are compatible.
This is the area where perhaps you can make most difference. When you give out homework make sure that it is targeted towards the abilities of each student.
Thus you could easily give the stronger students a different homework to the weaker students to ensure that both groups have the right level to ensure stimulation and productivity.
This doesn’t always mean completely different homework for each student. You can easily adapt exercises for different levels. Suppose you have a gap-fill exercise you want to give. With stronger students you can create more gaps, with weaker students give them less gaps, for example.