Ideas for Instruction among Multilevel Students


EDU134 - Teaching ESL to Adults: A course leading to Colorado’s ABEA Certification
Red Rocks Community College, Spring 2016 (Leecy Wise, Instructor)

Discussion Prompt: Briefly comment on how you might approach teaching ESL students at the following EFLs in the same learning environment. Consider and reference the approaches you explored in Module 3. Are some better than others at reaching students at different levels?

 EFLs of Students: BEST Plus: 400 and below (SPL 0–1), BEST Literacy: 76-78 (SPL 6), and Casas Total Listening and Speaking: 422-440.


Maria Soto

Teaching a multi-level ESL class is a challenge. I’m currently facing that challenge with a group of 15-20 students. The way I would approach teaching this group of students is by using a variety of techniques and with the help of one or two volunteers.

This is how I'm currently managing my multi-level class:  We start each class with an ice breaker.  The lower level students say a few words about the topic and the more advanced students expand on whatever topic we are discussing. 

Then, each class is topic-based and at times, I ask the more advanced students to assist the lower level students with the assignment.

I'm lucky to have two volunteers in this class so when appropriate, I divide the class into two groups and assign one of the volunteers to work with one of the groups, while I work with the other group.  It gets easier as the students feel more comfortable with each other.

Regarding the different teaching techniques I would use with the different levels discussed in this module, I would use the direct approach with the SPL 0-1 students, because it uses objects and visuals to make input comprehensible. However, with the Best Literacy SPL 6 students, I would use the communicative approach, which focuses on developing communicative competence. Regarding the CASAS 422-440 listening and speaking, I would use the grammar-translation method to help them develop their reading skills.

Sheryl Michael

My experience working with English Language Learners in classrooms is that I do not do any of my students justice in classrooms with both early literate students and advanced students. I find that the kinds of instructional activities that work best for these students is too vastly different and that my early literate students demand more of my time as they have not yet developed the English proficiency skills needed to be independent learners.

Fortunately, I am in a position where I can coordinate different classes for my early literate students. Thus, for EFL students with Best Plus scores at 400 or below, I create a different class and offer these students up to 90 hours of teacher contact/instructional time. This is well beyond the CDE requirements, but my experience has shown me that my early literate students progress more slowly than students placing into at least level 3 on the CASAS. I can also focus on developing vocabulary skills through visual ques (recognizing or drawing pictures and gestures) and can give my students the time needed without being unfair to other students.

While I use the participatory observation approach as my primary method of instruction, I do blend in other approaches but use them more as strategies than approaches to learning. I always include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic instructional strategies. I am a huge fan of Bruner's scaffolding techniques and employ tools like total physical response and communicative learning strategies to celebrate successes and to help students through challenges. I also encourage peer-to-peer communication and try to make my classroom student-centered from the perspective that the students are doing most of the work in both identifying new words and providing feedback to other students. In addition to vocabulary development, I also focus on stating simple sentences (i.e. I jump., He jumps., I am jumping., He is jumping.) with my early literate students. Pronunciation is a huge part of all of my classes, including ABE classes with native English learners. Over a two hour 45 minute class period, we focus at least an hour on pronunciation for my early literate students.

While I try to have beginning, intermediate, and advanced classses for my EFL classes, more often than not, I work with multilevel classes spanning CASAS levels 3 to 6. This includes Best Literacy students scoring a 76-78 as well as those CASAS Total Listening and Speaking students scoring between 422 and 440.

For these classes, I also use communicative learning strategies but ask different students to model behaviors. Many of my students have secondary/post-secondary education or workplace-oriented goals. We begin class reviewing a writing prompt from the day before. These writing activities are completed on notecards and are short but let me easily assess the progress my students are making as both a class and as individuals. I begin by showing examples of student work on an overhead or projector - whichever is available to me - and ask a student to read selected responses. I then ask students to point out something the writer did well as well as something that he/she should focus on changing. This is usually 30-40 minutes of class time, and I remain silent until my students start directing conversation. I will answer clarification questions, but this time is directed by my students and usually offers rich experiences for articulating misunderstandings or more thorough understandings of both English conventions and the prompt itself. During this time, my students strengthen critical thinking skills and I can assess student understanding of given topics.

I always follow this initial student -directed talk time with another short written notecard prompt. Very rarely do I know what this prompt is at the beginning of class. I usually structure this prompt based on the earlier student conversation. Sometimes I will write two prompts and ask different students to respond to specific questions. This generally takes about 5 minutes.

The remaining two hours of class time varies between multi-level student team problem solving, pronunciation, grammar practice, . . .  For the multi-level student team problem solving, students are placed into groups, presented with a workplace-based challenge, given a list of available resources, and are asked to find the best solution that is communicated through a specific product or products (i.e. MEMO, email, summary/response brief, creation of an agenda focusing on key initiatives/priorities, KWL sheet, presentation board,  . . . .).

I never use direct instructional strategies in which I am at the front of the classroom lecturing. My students respond very well to instruction that is movement-based. For example, for grammar development, I use an approach where students work with other students to master a concept. They then articulate this concept to other students. This communicative process usually takes 45 minutes to an hour, and I focus on several of the the seven grammar sins of college students at each session. Students are either learning or reviewing three to four grammar concepts each class period. Again, students are doing most of the work, and I jump inn to clarify misunderstandings or to offer words of encouragement.

I use literacy circles for reading instruction and students choose vocabulary words that are new to them through class and individual readings. Again, this is very student centered in that students are doing most of the talking, writing, explaining.

I love the Freirian style of teaching and try to create as close to this style as possible. I am energized when students engage with each other over a concept or idea, and we spend much time talking about how to respectfully disagree in a US classroom. This leads to awesome learning experiences about how the same gesture or body language means different things in different cultures, but what it means when working/studying in an English-speaking western country. I learn just as much as my students. 


Sarah Folzenlogan

I do think technology can be a great asset to a mixed level class when used appropriately. Student might be working together on the same "program" though their pace and individual tasks are different.  It can also make it easier for the instructor to e facilitate if additional volunteers are not available.

We've been using a online program with my mixed ABE/GED learners called Course Skills Mastery (CSM). It's math and literacy program that fosters important workforce skills such as problem solve and critical thinking. It also uses a lot of repetition of content so that students master the skills.

Guess which learners have progressed faster with this technology. Our lower level ABE students...and they have gone on to assist their  classmates. Students have a lot of different skill sets and aptitudes that are not necessarily academic. Comfort and familiarity with technology can be one of them, and can be identifies as a strength for an individual learner.

I also think that many activities could be scaffolded to accommodate different learning levels. For example, with the grocery store topic, the introductory vocabulary lesson could be facilitated as an entire group, but broken into different tasks:


David Henderson

This teaching task, if I’m interpreting it correctly, seems extremely challenging to me.  I’ll take an initial shot at how I might approach it but I solicit any feedback if anybody believes I’ve strayed from the path.

If these three EFL literacy levels define the skill sets of students in the same ESL class, I think I would start by establishing two specific subsets or groups of students.  I would segregate the Beginning ESL and Low Beginning ESL students together in one major group and then divide this major group into individual teams of between 3 and 5 members.  Each team would consist of at least 1 Low Beginning ESL level student and no fewer than 2 Beginning ESL students. In this way I’d hope to give the students with the lowest skill set the opportunity to rely on each other for help in each team.  

I think I would separate all of the Advanced ESL students into one group unless there were more than 5 of them in which case I would also divide them into teams.

This configuration makes sense to me at least at the start of instruction because the specific learning tasks will be radically different for the 2 supergroup divisions.  The challenge to sustain an encouraging and positive learning experience for all students in this class would be daunting.  How do you challenge the widely different skill sets without intimidating students in the lower ESL skill set group?

I would endeavor to eventually leverage the skill sets and, presumably, the goodwill of the Advanced ESL students to help teach the lower ESL teams. This would have to be in addition to the Advanced ESL students keeping up with their own learning tasks. 


Mary-Lynn Goberis

In a multi-level classroom, I would combine TPR with cooperative grouping. I am choosing a topic, Starting a Computer lesson. Class starts with a TPR lesson focusing on the actions & vocabulary needed. This would be a kinesthetic activity as a warm up to actively involve students in the lesson.

Vocabulary needed with word spelled out on flash card:


Both hands, palms facing out fingers spread apart and middle fingers bent down, circle both palms simultaneously counter clock wise twice


Motion flipping up/on a switch after actually flipping a switch OR   Raise one arm, bent at elbow, in front of your chest horizontally palm  down; move the other arm bent at the elbow perpendicular to that arm in a chopping position touching elbow to fingertip; then move that 2nd  arm over the first one as if on a clock face 12 → 3 (or 12 → 9)


Motion flipping down/off a switch after actually flipping a switch OR the reverse of on


Motion of placing palms of hands together vertically, then spreading them apart


Motion of open palms to bringing them back together


Action of moving fingers erratically on an imaginary surface (desktop) as in a tapping motion


Saying “click” with a one finger tap on a hard surface

Double click

Saying “click, click” with a one finger 2 taps on a hard surface


One hand is in a fist, fingers toward shoulder, the other hand in the shape of a horizontal letter “V” in front of it; tap the “V” 2x’s.


Start with arm bent at elbow horizontal, palm down, in front of chest; other hand using pointing finger slides quickly from the flattened hand’s wrist outward towards shoulder


One hand’s pointer finger curves to touch thumb; touch chest 3x’s, once below neck, once mid-chest, and once waist level


Point to computer’s monitor 

Key Pad

Same as type, moving fingers erratically on an imaginary surface as in a tapping motion

After practicing and checking for student understanding a computer task would be assigned by level of computer literacy or Educational Functioning Levels.

Pair students, one BEST Literacy (mid-level) student with one BEST Plus 400 & below (low-level) student to actually turn on a computer, click on a “button” (preset to open a flash card file of the vocabulary) with practice activities matching word to illustration, word to the American Sign Language used, a word scramble to practice spelling, a hangman activity, or more matching activities. Paired BEST Literacy (higher) level students who are used to computers to do an actual computer task. The entire class is involved with the learning of the vocabulary, but the actual task based assignment would be separated by EFL or computer proficiency levels.


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