Thursday, July 17, 2014

How do I teach in a manner that engages all learners

Multi-level Teaching

How Do I teach in a manner that engages all learners?

So, you've got a multi-level class that has varying levels of proficiency and want to teach in a way that involves all of the students and encourages all of them to take their learning to the next level. 

You've got a handle on the lesson design (covered in the last blog) and are looking for some tips on how to teach in a multi-level class.

Contact John Kongsvik, Director of TESOL Trainers for information on professional development for K-23 educators.
Getting Students to Show What They Know
There are a number of factors that an effective multi-level teacher needs to manage in order to set him/herself and the students up for success.  While it may seem mind boggling to think of how to juggle everything, here are four key aspects:
  • Managing Engagement 
  • Managing Groups
  • Managing Input
  • Managing Output

Teaching a multi-level lesson that engages all learners and challenges them at the right level can be frustrating or fruitful.  The outcome rests, in part, with managing multi-level learners from the beginning to the end of a lesson.

Let's check out the first one:  managing engagement in the multi-level class

Teaching a Multi-Level Language Class

Managing Engagement in the Multi-level classes

So, we got all of these students who are at different levels and we want to make sure they are all engaged.  We need to consider how to keep everyone interested and interacting with the language, content, and with one another.  Here are two simple things we can do.

Eliciting:  As teachers, we need to determine what it is the students know and what it is they don't know.  Accomplishing this in a multi-level class can be challenging as the higher-level learners may always provide the answers while the lower level learners
Contact John Kongsvik, Director of TESOL Trainers for information on professional development for K-23 educators.
Peer teaching
  • Non-verbal responses - encourage all learners to respond and creates a space for the lower level learners to 'respond' without stifling the higher-level learners.  Using fingers, thumbs, physical movement, and written cues can keep all learners engaged.
  • Comprehension Checks - just because one student says something doesn't mean the others understand.  When a higher level learner gives a response, ask a lower-level learner the same question or ask the lower level learner to repeat what was just said.
  • Think Time - rather than having students shout out a response, give students 5 seconds of think time.  This can keep students engaged while expanding the number of students who respond afterward.
  1. Thumbs up or Thumbs Down
  2. Using fingers to match a word with its synonym 
  3. Writing down the response first
  4. For younger learners - Put on Your Think Caps
  5. What did she just say?

Pair Share:  Sharing in pairs in an excellent way to keep students engaged and on task.  It also has the benefit of recycling information and creating opportunities to interact with the language and with one another.  In terms of multi-level classes, consider whether the pairs will be equal or mixed levels.


  • Use it frequently - At any given point in a lesson have students turn to a partner and interact with a peer.  Whenever you sense confusion, feel they need the practice, or want to consolidate a point, a pair share can be used.  The more meaningful opportunities we offer students, the more opportunities they get and the more comfortable they become.
  • Equal Pair Shares - Sometimes we want students with students who have similar levels.  Use it also when you need to assess where the students are. Equal pair shares can also be used when you want to give different tasks to different levels of students: 
    • Contact John Kongsvik, Director of TESOL Trainers for information on professional development for K-23 educators.
    • Green group talks about what they did (concrete);  Blue group talk about why they did it (abstract)
    • Green group comes up with 2 examples (low output); Blue group come up with 4 examples (high output).    
  • Mixed Pair Shares - Sometimes, we want students with students who have different levels.  We may choose this when we want higher-level learners to support lower-level learners.  We may opt for mixed pair shares when it's something quick, and the task for all students is the same. Mixed pair shares are great for moments when the purpose is bringing everyone to the same level of understanding.  
  1. Tell your partner what this word means.
  2. Use these words in a sentence (low level - 1 sentence;  high level - 3 sentences)
  3. Ask your partner this question 
  4. Tell your partner what you think the answer is 
  5. With your partner, come up with one example of...

Working in a Multi-level learning situation can be frustrating, but it can also be fun.  

Considering how to keep students engaged even when they aren't doing an activity or between activities is key.  There are a lot of things we can do;  eliciting and pair sharing are two simple and effective ways to keep everyone on the same page.

In the next issue, we'll explore the next point in our multilevel teaching series:  How do I manage groups in a meaningful way?

TESOL Trainers provides experiential approaches to professional development that set everyone up for success. Contact us for more information on how we can help you promote excellence in teaching and excellence in learning.  If you are seeking teacher training workshops in SIOP, TESOL, Vocabulary, or Engaging Students Online, visit TESOL Trainers to learn about our traditional and remote training opportunities.

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