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Multilevel ESL Instruction

by Jacqueline Teasdale, Missoula 

Having a small ESL population, we have a wide range of English-speaking abilities all together in the class as one group. I prefer to keep the group together to build class community, having the whole class on same activities, but with different levels. I find that the students are curious about each other and help each other in understanding the language by providing authentic situations for communicating in English. Yet, one challenge I have in the multi-level classroom is meeting individual educational goals. To do this effectively, I have a lesson plan that has tiered tasks within the lesson, so that we are all working on a larger project. In the end, I have some quiet work that can be tailored to each level. The following is the layout of the plan: 

Focus of lesson: talking about occupations and habitual activities; simple present Ė used to for habitual activities in the past

Situational context: Pose the question: What do you do? For work? For fun? What did you do before you lived in Missoula?

Warm up: Model language: Say what you do as a teacher and things you do on a regular basis. Ask the situational context question; ask the lower level students directly (Sometimes it is ok to skip over any beginners to allow them to listen). When asking an intermediate or higher, follow up their answer by asking them to ask someone else (getting them to talk more)

Teaching points: make notes of answers; point out the correct usage, correct errors, and check listening by asking a student what another student did.

Practice: A group effort story dictation. Write a story on the board to see the language in context. Each student will contribute a sentence or two to create a short story about a fictional man and what he does/used to do.

Adapted for Lower levels

Give student a scrambled sentence to sort out. Write the words in a random order in a column on the side of the board for them to sort out. If they need help, you can then dictate too.

Adapted for Intermediate

Dictate a sentence

Adapted for Advanced

Ask them to add their own sentences-give some key ideas if needed

Once the practice of writing the story is over, read it aloud to practice pronunciation, clarify meaning and promote fluency.

Individual work: students would turn to individual written work tailored to their level.

Part II. Reflection

This lesson worked well. In fact, now I apply this format to different grammar points. The students seemed to like the warm up questions in that they liked to talk about their interests and professions (current or past) and to learn about each other. Some shared the common thread of not being able to do what they used to do. Some share the same profession.  Itís helpful to start with the more advanced students to model the language for the others.

The dictation was easy to manage with a short story in hand, dictating as we went. This required little prep time. Everyone was challenged and engaged, and we were able to practice and learn new vocabulary in a situational context.  The tricky part of this is that is helps to know your students to choose whom to write which sentences. Really low-level students do not need to come to the board if it seems premature. They are learning by listening and seeing the language modeled. Writing some words on the board helped the low-level students by giving them the written/oral connection and letting them think about word order. For the advanced students, I didnít write anything. Just gave them ideas, and let them make the sentence. Their creativity added fun to the story Ė the studentís sentence just replaced whatever I had written on my prepped short story with the same information in their voice. With the intermediate, I did something in-between, I wrote a few key words on the board, and built the sentences. It was nice to have everybody write on the board as they got out of their seats and it kept the energy in the class up, instead of everyone sitting all the time. Some were a little reluctant at first, but they all had fun once they did it. Once it was on the board, they corrected each other or made notes about pronunciation, which all levels appreciate. The group editing generated many questions. The situation and context promoted fluency for all the levels. Most students copied the dictation into their notebooks when they werenít at the board.

The quiet work at the end was a good time for students to practice writing about themselves or doing information gaps (could be some other type too), depending on the level. This is also a time in my class when other needs can be addressed, such as community resource help, testing or other educational goals.