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If you ask English teachers who they like to teach the most, they can be divided into those who love teaching English at all levels and those who like working with higher-level students (B2 and above).
The part of those desperate people who are happy to work with "complete beginners" will be very small. And yet, we don’t usually choose our students.
Therefore, it is often necessary to teach those who speak English at the A1–A2 level. And even more often in groups, there is always someone whose level is lower.
So how to make your life easier and how to help your students?
Dealing with a mixed-ability class?
Such students are also called "lower-level learners". According to the CEFR, their level of English proficiency often corresponds to A1–A2.
How do we recognize such a learner in class? When it comes to speaking skills:
Not many teachers will love such a portrait. The desire to work with such a student or group disappears almost immediately.
But we are here to help, and here are some effective tips for working with such students.
What should a teacher do with students whose level of English is low?
Students with an A1–A2 level focus on individual words and often try to translate what you say word by word.
Remember, for example, that we often think that a foreigner will understand us better if we talk to him slowly. But this is not quite true.
The teacher who speaks too slowly may look like a mockery in the eyes of the students, and even offend them.
That is why it’s better to slow down a little bit so that your students can understand separate words.
Try to pronounce each word.
When we endeavor, we emphasize consonant sounds that make each word sound clearer. This allows students to capture individual words and synthesize each into a complete thought.
The teacher's clear speech helps lower-level students feel as if they are involved in communication.
And this, in turn, can help strengthen their confidence.
For most students with a low level of English, learning as much vocabulary as possible is a priority.
They need it to work, study, or achieve other goals. This will allow them to communicate quite simply but effectively.
After all, they will be able to convey the main message to the listener.
So it makes sense to focus on words and regular expressions that are used in everyday life, at work, or in their usual environment.
What are these words?
When talking to students with a low level of English, also try to use more common words. Then you can gradually add new ones. It also has a big impact on building their confidence in speaking English.
Teach vocabulary effectively!
This advice applies to students with any level of English, as new words or grammar must be presented in context.
What could it be?
Depending on your students’ work, you may use to-do lists, video conferencing, emails, phone calls, articles about their work, and more. These are things they face in real everyday life.
Teachers are often tempted to give students as much vocabulary as possible.
However, long wordlists demotivate learners because it is difficult for them to remember all items.
Make it a rule to present 7–10 new lexical items per lesson. This is quite an achievable number for human working memory, and such an approach also helps to build students' confidence.
The number of words can be slightly higher if these words are easy to present or have repetitions in them, for example, numbers from 20 to 100.
Allow students to make simple decisions about new words. This will help them remember those words later.
Start with simple tasks such as matching words and pictures or verbs and nouns that they could see in a short text (for example, solve a problem, have lunch, heavy rain, etc).
Next, ask students to complete the sentence using the target words. And then students write their own sentences using those words.
Personalization also helps to better memorize new vocabulary.
For example, students can compose sentences describing their work procedures. It is also important to repeat what you have learned in the following lessons.
Imagine a situation where your level of a foreign language is A1–A2, and someone tells you: “I didn’t catch what you mean”. Most likely, you will feel embarrassed.
On the other hand, the phrase “I don’t understand” is clear and simple.
True, these words may not sound very pleasant, but they may be the only words for this situation that students recognize.
By using fewer idioms and more direct wording in your teacher talk, you will be able to help lower-level students improve their communication skills.
If you still want to present idiomatic expressions to beginners, choose the topic carefully.
How to help students with mastering idioms?
This applies to your instructions and communication with students. Too polite communication does not work at a low level.
Most likely, the student will not understand you if you say "Would you be so kind and tell me more about yourself." Instead, just give the commands "type your name", "introduce yourself", and so on.
We can't pass on full thoughts to low-level students because they sound like a pun to them.
Try using short phrases or even breaking sentences into chunks if necessary.
The main thing is that we want to communicate with such students, and they want to develop their English language skills. Follow a simple rule – "one step at a time".
If you want your students to formulate some unique or detailed answers right away, take a deep breath and calm down. If they knew how to do it, their level would be higher than A1 or A2.
You can ask questions that limit the answer: when, what, how old, etc.
Also give them some hints, for example, write the beginning of the answer, and students complete it. Even for a short text. When they fill in the blanks, they create something personalized, necessary, and will be able to use it in the future.
Encourage students to not only answer orally but also to write. You can also draw for them. The rule “a picture’s worth a thousand words” works here.
Students are more receptive to information if there are visual aids, such as pictures drawn by their teacher.
Get to know more about ESL resources for teachers
This is quite possible even at the A1 level.
Students can read the dialogues aloud in pairs or groups. Your task is to give feedback by checking the stress and rhythm of any words or phrases that are difficult for them to pronounce.
Use backchaining – start pronouncing the word from the last syllable and increase it gradually, as if stringing it back and forth.
Invite students to swap roles with you and repeat tasks:
The disappearing dialogue technique also works well.
Write a short dialogue on the board so that students can practice reading it in pairs. Then delete the parts of the dialogue and ask them to repeat the task, changing roles each time. Gradually delete more words to increase complexity. Students can reconstruct the dialogue as a final task.
By the way, this is a favorite task of my students of all ages and levels.
Use role-playing games to practice speaking skills and functional language. Give students enough time to prepare and write down what they want to say.
When students role-play a phone call, put them back to back to add a challenge and an element of authenticity. It’s even better if they can call each other on cell phones from separate rooms.
Similarly, with presentations (such as "About myself"). Give students time to prepare and rehearse.
They may ask their partner to film them with the phone to continue working on their mistakes and feedback. Or they can rehearse and make a video at home and show the final version at the next lesson.
These are just a few tips for working with students with a low level of English. It is important to remember that everything should be simple, clear, and repeated regularly.
Our main task is to build students' confidence in their own language skills.
Now, let's look through a couple of questions to sum everything up.
You need to learn 20-100 new words every lesson with A2 students.
It's impossible to increase student talking time with A1 students.
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