Teaching Mixed-Ability Groups in ESL


If you have an ESL class with a lot of students, there are high chances that most of them have different abilities and slightly different language proficiency levels. Some students may have a strong vocabulary but struggle with pronunciation. Others might be cool with casual conversations but drown in reading tasks. Students can also have different learning paces; some may grasp new concepts quickly, while others may need more time.

No wonder we, teachers, struggle to create lesson plans for mixed classes that fit the needs of all our EFL students. It seems almost impossible. Is it, though? 😊

Create Varied Text Content

Let’s say you’re creating an ESL reading lesson plan or activity and want to cater to varying skill levels within the same classroom. In that case, you can provide texts on the same topic but with different levels of difficulty

You can easily do that on Twee in the “Create a Text” tool. Enter the topic of the text, choose the levels you need, and generate a few texts of different proficiency levels on the same topic. You can even make them contain the same key vocabulary.

You can do absolutely the same with a dialogue, a list of sentences, or communicative situations.

Prepare Several Sets of Questions

Create Extra Activities for Those Who Finish Faster

In mixed-ability groups, you will often find that some students finish tasks more quickly than others. In such situations, have some extra activities prepared, such as additional reading materials, games, or more challenging exercises. They are also called ESL filler activities and they help you make sure that these faster learners are occupied and that their time is put to good use while other students catch up. To get these filler activities, you can use plenty of tools and tool combinations on Twee, such as “Advantages and Disadvantages” + “Fill in the Gaps”, “Find Facts” + “Matching halves” and more.

Have Some ESL Scaffolding Templates Ready

Scaffolding techniques provide support for students who struggle with speaking or writing and can particularly benefit mixed-ability classes. Whenever necessary, have scaffolding templates such as outlining guides, or sentence starter templates handy. They help lower-level students organize their thoughts. You can make scaffolding templates on Twee by creating a text and then making gaps in it in the “Fill in the Gap” tool. 

Create Mingling Activities and Tasks to Complete in Pairs

Mingling activities can encourage interaction among students who have varying levels of English proficiency. By designing these activities, you can create opportunities for students to learn from each other in a dynamic and engaging environment.

Here are the main ESL strategies that you can use:

Peer Learning: Putting students with differing abilities in pairs will allow advanced learners to explain concepts and vocabulary, reinforcing their understanding, while less proficient students will benefit from peer support and explanation in a new setting.

Skill Complementarity: Students can be paired based on complementary skills. For instance, a student who is better at speaking might be paired with one who is good at grammar.

Anyways, working with mixed-ability ESL groups is no doubt a challenge. Following the tips above, however, can help your class (and you 😊) to feel a little more at ease.