Multilevel ESL Activities

By Shelley Vernon
Discover three fun multilevel ESL activities that are easy to implement with low or no prep time.

For ESL teachers with large, multilevel classrooms, trying to make sure everyone’s needs are met can be a challenge. Utilising multilevel ESL games and activities can lighten the load, as can grouping students of different levels together or pairing up more the proficient students with the beginners. This method benefits everyone, as the advanced students can learn as much by helping to teach as they can by simply completing assignments, and the teacher can concentrate on individual help for those most in need.

Class Collaboration with Buddy Reading

ESL multilevel activities such as buddy reading work particularly well in both small groups as well as larger classrooms. Students pair up, with each pair consisting of one lower level and one higher level student.

Buddy reading consists of the beginner reading and the more experienced “buddy” listening and assisting in making sure the reader is pronouncing words correctly. The buddy can also ask questions after the reading, in order to make sure the reader comprehended what they just read. Then the advanced student takes a turn reading aloud to their buddy, and again can check for comprehension from listening.

Buddy reading can be model for the group first; adults generally pick up this multilevel classroom activity rapidly as it is not so different than having a studying partner outside of class. The interesting thing about buddy reading is that common mistakes that may have become ‘fossilized’ or ingrained in higher level students can often be pointed out by lower level students. Advanced students can also read aloud to their beginner buddies and check listening comprehension levels with a predetermined list of questions.

Challenger high level students with Peer Editing

Peer editing is another multilevel ESL activity that allows each student to monitor another student’s work, helping to make corrections and offer comments at their own level. Set an assignment, and let pre-writing and rough drafts be completed independently. More proficient ESL students can be assigned a longer word count and expected to write with a higher level of grammatical complexity; beginners may be given shorter assignments with simple sentence structure. Papers are passed to a buddy for peer editing, then the comments and corrections are noted and the final draft can be written. This activity opens up a door for discussion regarding content as well as the technical aspects of grammar and punctuation.

Pre-teaching vocabulary and grammar (especially through the use of ESL games) can set the group up to participate in ESL multilevel activities at their own level, with confidence and a higher possibility of success. Multilevel classrooms that use these methods of teaching ensure that each student can work at their own level and progress at their own pace without feeling bored or pressured.

Using Articles in a multilevel class

Articles can be used in many different ways within the multilevel classroom.

Example: Your classroom includes one group of low level intermediate students, one of intermediate students, and yet another of advanced students. The material being read consists of non-fiction articles, which in general have a fairly difficult academic vocabulary.

Start with a whole group session, and read an example article to the entire class. Demonstrate the process used to preview the article. Begin by looking at the title, sub-titles, and illustrations, then ask the class for predictions about the content of the text. Finally, go over the key vocabulary ( a game can be used during this portion of the lesson).

Next, break the students into the three leveled groups. Give each group a level appropriate activity to properly assess their understanding of the article. In this scenario, the advanced group can be asked to write about their opinions of the content or debate different elements of the article in discussion groups. The intermediate group can be given a where they write ten simple content based questions, which they then give to their peers, who answer them. The teacher does not have to do any preparation for that as the class write their own questions.

The low intermediate group participate by creating and then working on a fill in the blank exercise, which can be composed in advance from sentences in the article using words they have just learned. The same article will thus be appropriate for use by students at each level.

Easy Preparation Tip

The teacher can increase class involvement by utilising the members of the class to help with preparation. This involves reading the article one day, then setting homework for all students to be completed and brought to the next class. For advanced students, this homework consists of preparing a multiple choice questionnaire about the article. Intermediates can be asked to prepare a fill in the blanks, and simple vocabulary learning sheets sent home with the beginners.

In the next lesson the multiple choice questions are answered by the intermediate students while the beginners complete the fill in the blanks. The teacher can gather the advanced students and present several thought provoking questions to kindle discussion and essay writing.

All of these ESL activities for multilevel classrooms can be used in conjunction with other ESL games and activities. In addition, there is an appropriate game for nearly every pre-teaching session, and variants of the activities listed here can be utilized for both large and small groups. Using multilevel ESL teaching methods can keep order in the classroom and allow students to participate freely at all levels.

Written by Shelley Vernon for Tefl.NET August 2010
Passionate about making teaching fun and the importance of teachers in the world, Shelley Vernon has written five best-selling books of games, stories and plays for children and adults learning English. Shelley Vernon has inspired thousands of ESL teachers with her resources.
© Tefl.NET


  • patty says:

    I think this can help a lot in my school cause we have students classified in multilevels.

  • Jeremy Taylor says:

    I like the idea of having exercises which work at different levels – I’m not sure about the buddy reading though. English is miserably unphonetic and difficult even for native speakers to read out loud. How about twisting the exercise so that the lower level student gives the other/s a spelling test by reading out some of the difficult words. The higher level students have to understand what word is being pronounced – and then have to try and spell it. This way, they are both ‘playing teacher’ which I think would work better.

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