How do you deal with Mixed Ability Classes #ELTchat 01/03/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

How do you deal with Mixed Ability Classes #ELTchat 01/03/2011

Summary of the #eltchat on Mixed Abilities

How do you deal with Mixed Ability Classes


This is the summary of the #eltchat on Wednesday 24th February. The topic was teaching Mixed ability classes


The early part of the discussion was centred on the definition of the mixed ability, with chatters suggesting things such as

–       It’s all sorts – different levels/ different needs / different mixtures

–       Different levels of achievement or different levels is a different issues

–       Also classes where some are very strong in writing while others are much stronger in speaking

–       So same level just different abilities?

–       more/less able students who are fantastic at one particular aspect of the language not so good at others

–       Mixed ability is different levels of active / passive vocab/grammar/cultural knowledge(L1 and L2)/skills

–       …but also maturity levels/concentration span/energy levels/short and long-term memory/social skills/attitudes to Eng…!

–       teaching mixed ability in the first sense is just teaching none of us are the same

–       Always important to not always think of strong and weak in terms of language – there are other things to consider

The consensus seemed to be that ‘all classes’ are mixed ability in some ways.


A large part of the chat then moved onto the topic of worksheets and whether the preparation of different workshops for different abilities was a solution.

–       Different worksheets for everyone is the standard advice in mixed level teaching orthodoxy but is it really viable?

–       Different worksheets for all just not practical in mainstream with 30 kids and so much difference

–       Also same worksheet can be used in different ways to exploit  it e.g. for YLs – write minimum 3 sentences (allows stronger to write more)

–       Can teachers really find time to make different worksheets would it be better for students to make their own?

–       Task differentiation is OK, it’s not always necessary to have different worksheets

–       Tasks should be flexible in terms of level and aims.

–       Why do we need w/sheets? Use the whiteboard for examples then ask class to work in groups, they will show you their knowledge


So what other advice was given?


It can summarised into key areas.


1. Make the stronger students the team leader of other students or helpers.  With a clear reason for helping

There was quite a discussion on the use of strong students and wherever it was motivating for them or not. Which was the best pairing a strong and weak student or pairing similar abilities?


2. Try not to work in lockstep all the time.

It was felt that lots of group work and mingles work very well for mixed abilities. This needs a variety and balance activities in a lesson as this gives all a chance to shine at something.

The content can come students so the use of a  student-centred approach is key. They can be given responsibility for creating their own tasks, choosing their own reading and so on.  Peer teaching allows a lot of support.


3. Encourage co-operation rather than competition


4. Do open ended activities


5. Project work lends itself to mixed abilities


6. Classroom management

For example pacing is important. Don’t always wait until the very last one has finished their task. Also it helps to know your class and use monitoring effectively -find out which answers which students know then call on them


7. Work on develop language learning skills to foster autonomy


8. Dictogloss, quizzes, different stories/retelling are useful activities to use with mixed ability classes


Some links and ideas:

Esl first aid wiki

Advice on adapting materials for mixed ability classes


This is a good graded song listening site, lyrics training

Jigsaw reading activities in mixed ability classes


Guardian Newspaper article

ELTBase blog  – solutions to mixed ability

One Response

  1. […] -How do you deal with Mixed Ability classes (#eltchat, March 1st, 2011) […]

Comments are closed.