Monday, October 17, 2016

Multi-Level Teaching - Madness or Marvel

Multi-Level Teaching - Madness or Marvel?

It can be easily argued that any class is a multilevel class.  After all, are learners are individuals.  They all come with varied...
  • strengths/challenges in manipulating the content and language of the class
  • goals/reasons for being there in the first place
  • preferences/needs in regards to lesson delivery, participation, and interaction
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The fact is teaching a multilevel class can be a maddening or marvelous experience.  A budding instructor might find the whole process bewildering and overwhelming.  After all, there are real challenges we face as teachers:

  1. How do I come up with a multi-level objective that supports all learners?
  2. How do I structure my lesson to account for the multi-levels in my classroom?
  3. How do I teach in a manner that engages all learners no matter what their proficiency level?
  4. How do I manage groups in a multi-level learning environment?
  5. How do I determine what the needs of my students are?
Let's unpack these challenges one by one to see if we can uncover strategies for

setting all students up for success in a multilevel class!

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How do we approach a multi-level English language class?

TESOL Trainers K-12 Professional DevelopmentFortunately, there are many strategies that we can use when we find ourselves in a multi-level teaching situation.  These typically fall into a few broad categories:
  • Content of the class that helps all learners
  • Process which the students will go through during the lesson
  • Products that students will create with the language studied
  • Opportunities that challenge students at their levels

The trick is always deciding on a strategy that maximizes learning and minimizes preparation time.

The following questions and their accompanying reflections will hopefully highlight practical strategies for multi-level learning situations that you may choose to use.  Let's tackle the first one:

How do I come up with an objective that adds to the learning experience of all learners?

This is the first and most important step.  Considering where the students are going helps us determine how to get them there.  So when we decide on our student learning objectives, we should pay attention to how the principle objective can be altered for lower or higher-level learners.

Here are a few examples:  (Notice the similarities and differences between the levels)
  1. Task-based Objective - Returning an item in a department store
    • Lower Level:  SWBAT demonstrate the ability to return a store item by comprehending and responding to these common topics...purpose, reason, outcome.
    • Higher Level:  SWBAT demonstrate the ability to return a store item by comprehending and responding to these common topics...purpose, reason, details, outcomes, options
  2. Communicative based Objective -Asking Someone for repetition
    • Lower Level:  SWBAT ask someone for repetition (what?  Can you repeat that?  What did you say?)  
    • Higher Level: SWBAT ask someone for repetition (Could you say that again, please?  Would you mind repeating that? I'm not sure I understood, can you tell me again?)  
  3. Grammar-based Objective - Modals of advice
    • Lower Level:  SWBAT ask for advice for common ailments (headache, stomachache, backache, toothache, muscle ache) and use modals of advice (should, could) when responding ( take aspirin, see a doctor, visit a dentist, lie down, get a massage).
    • Higher Level:  SWBAT ask for advice for common ailments (headache, stomachache, backache, toothache, muscle ache) and use modals of advice (must, ought to, should, could, might want to) when responding ( take aspirin, see a doctor, visit a dentist, lie down, get a massage).
  4. ________________________________ - What other one could we place here?
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Developing accuracy 

Some guidelines for designing multi-level objectives:

  1. Notice how things can be added/subtracted to an objective to reflect the varying proficiency levels in your classroom.  Key Question - how do I increase or decrease the difficulty?
  2. Notice how the lesson's purpose cuts across proficiency levels, simple to complex.  Key Question - how is this reflected at the beginning and intermediate levels of the students I have?
  3. Notice how the objectives capture the capabilities of students and their levels.  Key Question - how do I make sure that I push them one step beyond their current capabilities?
  4. Notice how the two objectives connect to one another.  Key Question - How are these two connected to help me manage the delivery of the lesson?

Final Thoughts on Multi-level Teaching:

Developing your teaching skills to consider multi-level objectives before teaching your class allows you to prepare yourself for this marvelous challenge.

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It may seem
overwhelming in the beginning, but as you work at it, you will probably find it's easier to connect the needs of your students, the institution, and your own approach to setting students up for success.  Every time you try something, you have the opportunity to improve your approach for the next time.

Do you have any other strategies or tricks that you use when creating the objectives for your multi-level lesson?  I'd love to hear about them!!

The Next Issue:

In the next issue, we'll explore the second question in our multilevel teaching series:  How do I structure a lesson for a multi-level classroom?

If your institution would like professional development on the topic of Multi-level Teaching Strategies, please visit our website at TESOL Trainers or contact us directly.

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TESOL Trainers is an education consulting company based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  They operate around the world with K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.  Their main goal is to support excellence in teaching and learning through professional development, peer coaching, metacognitive mastery, and other support tools that lead to teaching and learning transformation.  

John Kongsvik, the director of TESOL Trainers, is a master in the principles of experiential learning and uses interactive, innovative approaches that inspire educators to change.


  1. Nesrine Ghaouar writes:

    You have spoken about mixed classes what about large classes of 150 students??? This year I find myself with 4 groups of 37 students in the linguistics session for 1h.30mn. How can I make my teaching more effective , exciting and joyful???????????????????

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