Balancing Multi-Level Needs

written by Alysan Croydon

What is a Multi-Level Group?

Most small groups of adult ESL students are made up of people from diverse backgrounds with varying language needs. They may or may not be literate in their own language. Their levels of literacy in English will vary, as will their previous education and current exposure to spoken English.  All of these factors and many others contribute to making multi-level groups a challenge for the ESL  tutor. Therefore careful planning and sequencing of activities is required.


For any activity, decide what student grouping will best meet the needs of each level and make all students feel part of the group. Some possible groupings:

Whole Group – Decide if the activity will work with all the students participating together.

Mixed Ability Groups or Pairs – Lower level students have exposure to a greater language group.  Higher level students reinforce and demonstrate what they know in helping other students.

Equal Ability Groups or Pairs – Each group can proceed at its pace. The tutor is free to help students who need it.

Individualized work – Students can work towards specific goals and with material appropriate to their level.

Activities for Multi-Level Groups

Greetings – Small talk at the beginning of lessons. Vary the kinds of questions you ask so that students of all levels are able to participate.

How did you come here today? vs. Did you come by car today?

Dialogue Journals – These are appropriate for all levels. Low level students can give the tutor dictation and then work on reading their own words. They can record new words and phrases learned in class also. Other students can enter into a dialogue on paper with the tutor or another student. The writing is student generated and you will learn a lot aboutyour students that will help you in lesson planning. It providesa written record of students. writing progress. In respondingto students entries do not correct errors in grammar andspelling but model correct English in your responses.

Use pictures for oral and literacy practice – Show a single picture or sequence of pictures. Have students tell a story or respond to pictures. Students can write about pictures at their own level. Some may write or say single words or short phrases while other students can give more extensive answers. The tutor or another student can take dictation from non-literate students.

Tacoma Community House Training Project Spring 1999

Courtesy of LiteracyNOW


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