Welcome to
ESL Printables, the website where English Language teachers exchange resources: worksheets, lesson plans,  activities, etc.
Our collection is growing every day with the help of many teachers. If you want to download you have to send your own contributions.





ESL Forum:

Techniques and methods in Language Teaching

Games, activities and teaching ideas

Grammar and Linguistics

Teaching material

Concerning worksheets

Concerning powerpoints

Concerning online exercises

Make suggestions, report errors

Ask for help

Message board


ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > To Brahim - Dealing with Heterogeneity in the classroom    

To Brahim - Dealing with Heterogeneity in the classroom


To Brahim - Dealing with Heterogeneity in the classroom

G SmileSmileD evening Brahim! Good evening to you all!

I m so glad you brought up this issue to the forum. Ive been a passionate defender of pedagogical differentiation for the last decade and I truly believe that the key to the success of mixed-ability classes resides in this approach.

I work in a public school that receives about 1500 students (from the 7th to the 12th grade) from different social and economic backgrounds. When students come into our school in the 7th grade, we try to put them together in a class  according to their level/ grades (24/25 students in each class or 20 if it has students with disabilities).

However, just like youve said, there is no way we can have a homogeneous class. They might even be all in the same level, but they would have different ways or rhythms of learning, for example. So how do we deal with it?

Personally, when Im given a class in the 7th year (their 1st year in our school), which will be mine till the end of compulsory education 9th year I try not only to learn as much as possible about the students interests, learning preferences and level of awareness, but also to identify students strengths and weaknesses in terms of their communicative competence in English.

After more or less 2 months, I usually have 2 or 3 groups identified in each class  - Those who are very good at English, those that are good and those that are not so good.  I have come to the conclusion that I dont need to have different activities for the VG and G students (class made by level). It is the not so good that need guidance.  These are the steps I usually follow:


- Talk to the students and make them aware of their difficulties;

- make clear what it is expected from them at this level and where they are;

- establish priorities and a period of time to achieve them;

- agree on what were going to do in class and out of class;

- agree on assessment terms.


Things we do in class:

-Sit the student next to a good one, who will become his/her tutor in the English classes. At the beginning, the tutor has the tendency to answer all the questions, but, as time goes by, he/she learns how to lead his/her mate to give the answers himself/herself. Its a process in which both of them learn something from each other.


         -The topics in class are always the same for all the students; it is the tasks

           that are/may be different.


Examples: In a reading or listening task, students that are good will have more complex exercises. Those who are not so good will have less complex ones multiple choice, True/false, answering simple questions on the text, easier references and vocabulary exercises, etc. Sometimes, they may also have a different text on the same topic.  They may work in groups and present their work to the class. Those with the more difficult text will do the same.

          In a writing task, depending on the level of the students, they can have just
          a text to complete, while the others have to write their own text. They can  
          also write a paragraph or a small text, following the guidelines I give them 
          and a model usually a text studied in class. For these students, the pre-
          writing activities are extremely important. The better they are, the better
           their text will be.  In a speaking activity, they will have more time to
          practise. At this point, fluency and verbal and non-verbal strategies are
          more important than accuracy. Communication must be established.
          Accuracy will come  later. I also make students talk more in class. For
          example, when I m doing a pre-reading/listening activity, I usually give the
          students 3 to 4 minutes to discuss sth in pairs and then present it to the
          class. That s the only way we have to make all students talk in a class 
          There has to be student-student communication.
The students are aware of every goal achieved and motivated to keep up the good work. They take regularly some extra work for the weekend and as they improve I start preparing more difficult tasks until they are able to do those done by the good and very good students. Their tests are made according to the tasks and the level of difficulty  they are used to work in class .
Of course that this whole process has to be assessed every class, by the student and by me, so that Im able to praise every little progress or use other strategies if I see that the ones I m using are not working.
Good night to you all.

11 Mar 2009      


Your excellent contribution is a fantastic consolation to me. I should admit I was indeed disappointed, yesterday, to see no feedback  at all  to my post on  heterogeneity, but maybe I did not choose the appropriate timing for the post (quite late in the evening)
I abviously can t agree more with you.  Thank you so much for taking the time
, first, to read my post and, second,  to reply to it
Have a nice day

11 Mar 2009     

United States

I have to ask. By identifying the students between good and not so good, don t you fear a negative effect due to self-fulfilling prophesy (pygmalion effect)?  How do you prevent the students from taking-on their roles too intensely ("I don t know English, let "smartie" do the work, I m too dumb for it anyway.")? Do you really have success stories or do you have more students that set themselves in the mind set of always being inferior in English?
To the topic in general, I am currently working  with a couple of small (6-9)"mixed groups" and have not yet really mastered the balance. It is definately an advantage to have more experienced students pronounce things or answer questions before the "not so good" students--the "not-so-goods" get a good opportunity to receive the information from more sources.  Other than the increased confidence, I am just not so sure about the advantages for experienced students though.

11 Mar 2009     


Good morning. I read your post Brahim and found it extremely interesting, but as it was late, I didn t answer. Mena s answer is excellent and it sounds like she really has the situation under control. My situation is very different. I am priveleged to have 5-6 students in all my classes. However, it only take two to have different levels. The first instinct is to ask the good student to answer first and I do that if I want to set a model answer. But, at other times I deliberately ask the not so good student to answer first, especially if I know they can handle it, even if they don t. This gives them confidence and also keeps them on their toes as nobody knows when they might be asked. My secret is to really motivate my students confidence by praising everything they do well and never dwelling too much on what they do not so well except to correct in a general way. I don t interrupt a student to correct as that makes them nervous and they don t continue, but when they have finished I go over their mistakes. Obviously if the pronounce something very badly I quietly give the correct form and they repeat. All students are treated the same and soon everything gels together. We ll never have the perfect class as our students are human, but I love the challenge a heterogeneous class gives.

11 Mar 2009     

United States

I agree with you about giving questions to the less skilled students that I know they can handle--I think this is very important and a key to success in mixed groups.

11 Mar 2009     


I absolutely agree with you. I m sorry if I wasn t too clear Unhappy, but I finished writing my answer after 2 a.m....
In those classes I have around 6 students in each that are not so good. Although I have 25 students in each of them, I make sure that the communication teacher -student is established with all of them in each class.
For us, It s a routine when we ask a question that the students must put their finger up to answer and then I choose one (or more) of them to answer. Whenever I see one of the not so good students with their finger up, I always give them the opportunity to answer. In fact, some of the questions are made easier by me intentionally (without them knowing) so that they can participate activiely in class. When I know the answer could be expanded, I just ask very naturally "Does anyone else want to share  their ideaswith us? ".... As for the correction of mistakes when they speak, I do just lke you arkell - if it is a mistake that prevents the message to get through, I correct it at the time. If not, in the end I ll make a summary of the student s answer and emphasise with a different  tone of voice those parts of the discourse that need correction. If I see there is a recurrent mistake, i prepare a remedial file on that topic for the weekend.
Also Douglas, when I give instructions for an activity and I see That those not so good did not get it properly, I ask some feedback from a good student, because I believe, just like you ve said, that communication between students is essential and that many times they understand better when rephrased by a classmate. This feedback for me is also one of the keys to the success of each activity we do in class. Understanding clearly the instructions is the door to a well done task, that s what my students know already by heart. That s why I never give one without drawing the students attention and have all of them, and i mean ALL, looking at me straight into my eyes.
As for the advantages for experienced students as tutors, I ve noticed through the years that when they have to explain sth in their own words to sb else, they interiorize that content much faster and, above, all, they make a significative learning (?), I mean what they have learnt becomes so well integrated in their prior knowledge that they will be able to transform it, adapting it to any context they may be faced with - i.e., more than knowledga, they ve acquired a competence. A competence for life, I would add...
I could go on for a while, but in 40 minutes I have my first class of the day and i must hurry!
Thanks a lot for your opinions. I really appreciate them. And once again thank you Brahim for bringing up this topic.

11 Mar 2009     


One slight difference with me, however, concerns those adults who sometimes are less cooperative...
As I essentially teach in a private sector the learners are very demanding, as they pay they would sometimes say when asked to be tutors "is it my job?" others "This will be  a regression, I am here to learn and progress".... It takes me some time to explain to them the benefits of such a procedure, but still a very little minoirity does not play the game

I noticed that you confused me with my compatriote HARIM but  then you corrected evreything
Again thank you so much for your contribution
In the end I far much prefer one single brilliant reply like yours to a dozen less pertinent ones

11 Mar 2009