Teaching in a multi-level classroom is very challenging, but there are ways to differentiate instruction and still maintain a coherent and cohesive class. One way is to vary the way you group your students. There are basically two strategies to grouping students: sorting them into same-ability groups or mixed-ability groups.

Advantage of Sorting Students into Levels:

Students in same level groups tend to participate more equally. It’s less likely one student will dominate or rush the group.

Disadvatages of Sorting Students into Levels:

When a class always sorts into the same groups, it becomes stratified and students don’t experience the benefits of working with students across skill-levels.

An Overview of How to Handle Same-level Groups

Pre-Level Above-Level
Group Size Smaller groups Larger groups
Model Language Refer to the model Work independently
of the model
Task Limited and simple Multiple and complex

Your Low-Level Groups

When it’s time for group work, keep the low-level group small. It’s less complex to work in a small group. Fewer people in a group ease the work of communicating and collaborating.

Provide a model on the board or identify the model in the book. Encourage students in this group to refer to the model for support. For example, if the task is to write a food shopping list. Make sure these students can see words for food on the board or on a vocabulary page in the book.

Assign finite tasks to these groups. Again, if the class activity is to write a shopping list, tell this group to write five things they need.

Your High-Level Groups

Make these groups larger. The more people in a group the more challenging the communication and collaboration.  Also, above-level students sometimes enjoy the opportunity to work alone.

Encourage students to work independently from the model. If the model is on the board, encourage them to turn away from it. If the model is in the book, encourage them to close it and refer to it only when necessary.

Assign an extra and more complex task. If the common task is to write a shopping list, give this above-level group the added task of sorting the food by supermarket sections (Dairy, Frozen, Produce, Meat, Dry Goods, Canned Goods).

More ways to  differentiate the levels in common classroom activities:

Activity: In pairs, practice the conversation using the substitute words.

Lower-Level Pairs Above-Level Pairs
Write one substitute word in each blank. Read the conversation aloud. Change roles and read it again. Practice the conversation with the substitutions. Close the book and write one version of the conversation together.

Activity: Completing a worksheet.

Pre-Level Pairs Above-Level Groups of Three
Complete the first few items. Complete the entire worksheet. Then read each sentence aloud and circle the subject.

Reviewing Answers

Besure to call on the low-level students for the first items and the above-level students for the later items.

Write the answers on the board as students call out their answers. This helps the lower-level students complete their worksheets with the correct answers.

More Posts about Multilevel Teaching

The Multilevel Teacher:  Creating a Common Classroom Experience http://wp.me/pMYto-b0

Multilevel Dictation Handout  http://wp.me/pMYto-8z

Conversation Cards:  A Warm-up Activity  http://wp.me/pMYto-8d

Mixing It Up!    http://wp.me/pMYto-3w

Building Better Learners:  The Teacher’s Worksheet  http://wp.me/pMYto-a8

Differentiating Instruction in a Multi-level Classroom  http://wp.me/pMYto-14

Working Across Levels in the Multi-level Classroom  http://wp.me/sMYto-61