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TEFL Masterclass – Teaching Lower Versus Higher Levels: Challenges & Opportunities

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Sophie Cocault – CELTA/CELT-P/CELT-S Trainer, EAL & ESOL Specialist.

Sophie has over 15 years’ teaching experience and she has been training educators for 10 years. She has taught and lived in different countries and she has been researching multilingualism and how to use learners’ mother tongues in the classroom. She runs a multilingual story club called Tongues and Tales where people come and tell stories in various languages then all discuss in English. In her free time, she collect international children’s books, swim in the cold Irish sea and doodle!

What you will learn

Do you dread teaching beginners? Do you feel more comfortable with intermediate level learners and above? If so, you’re not alone! Teaching lower level learners can seem daunting at first: what if they don’t understand a word of what I’m saying? What if they can’t say anything? This session is not about ‘what if’s…’, it is about ‘how’.

Together, we will look at how to set up tasks for low and higher level learners, how we can grade our language up or down, how we can work towards developing fluency even with beginner-level learners, and how we can use functional language to teach higher-level language to lower-level learners.

We will also discuss the role of authentic materials for low and higher level learners and finally, we will focus on correction and language upgrading techniques, and we will talk about how they can be adapted to different level learners.

This workshop will offer practical ideas and classroom activities that can be used in the low and higher level classrooms. We will refer to both face to face and online teaching.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Effective Language Teaching Strategies

The masterclass, led by Sophie, discusses various aspects of teaching English to both lower and higher level learners. The focus is on task setup, language grading, fluency development, use of functional language, authenticity of materials and correction techniques. These components are crucial for developing systematic, engaging and effective language learning environments for students at all levels.

Adapting Task Setup and Language Grading for Different Learning Levels

Task setup should be systematic and engaging, with a sense of purpose established for each task to drive higher engagement. Breaking tasks down into manageable parts and using visual demonstrations are especially useful for lower-level learners. Language grading, or adapting the language level to suit the learner, is challenging yet essential. This doesn’t mean reducing the quantity of teacher talk, but rather improving its quality to meet the learners’ needs and build their confidence.

Evaluating and Enhancing Teaching Effectiveness

Teachers can enhance their effectiveness through self-reflection and observation. Recording lessons can be a valuable tool to gauge the quality and quantity of teacher talk, thus aiding in adjustment and improvement. Simplified language, clear instructions, concise imperatives, and gestures all assist students in understanding tasks. However, as students’ proficiency increases, teacher talk transitions from being instructive to being a valuable learning tool, stimulating higher-level language production.

Navigating Challenges in Teaching Beginners and Elementary-Level Students

Teaching beginners or elementary-level students can seem tedious due to their limited language proficiency. Transitioning from controlled exercises to free practice activities requires careful scaffolding and preparation, applicable to all learning levels. The teacher should provide clear instructions, use demonstrations, and apply different activities suitable for different levels of proficiency. Preparatory and scaffolding efforts significantly aid in enhancing fluency-based activities across all student levels.

The Power of Functional Language and Authentic Materials

Functional language is a valuable tool for teaching beginners and lower elementary students, acting as a bridge between language and culture. It is taught in blocks without extensive grammar analysis. Authentic materials, while challenging for lower-level students, can be highly engaging when appropriately adapted to their skill level. Such materials should be integrated into activities to utilise students’ prior knowledge for an impactful learning process.

Mastering the Art of Correction in Language Teaching

Correction techniques vary based on the students’ proficiency level. Lower-level learners may require explicit guidance, while higher-level learners should be encouraged to self-correct or peer-correct with prompt. In the case of fluency-focused tasks, correction may be postponed to a later time unless the mistake significantly impedes understanding. Upgrading language is encouraged for higher-level students, thereby turning their passive knowledge into active use.

Overcoming Challenges and Optimising Teaching Methods for All Levels

Teaching lower and higher-level students differ in terms of teacher profile, pace, correction, and student progress. Lower-level learners may rely more on the teacher, while higher-level students can handle more complex tasks. Pace, correction techniques, and scaffolding need to be adjusted based on the student’s proficiency. Despite these differences, teaching methods should remain student-centred and communicative across all levels. Language grading and task setup emerge as the primary challenges in teaching lower-level students, demanding balance, naturalness, and empathetic conveyance in graded language.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. What can we do when lower-level learners don’t understand what we’re saying?
  2. What role can L1 play in the lower level classroom?
  3. ‘To correct, or not to correct, that is the question’. What correction techniques are better suited to lower and to higher level learners?
  4. What are the main challenges for teaching lower levels online?

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