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Mixed-Level Classes

One of the first things foreign teachers in Japan learn is that, with few exceptions, students are not streamed according to level. Gifted, average, and remedial students take classes together, and teachers teach primarily to the lower-middle end of the group.

When in charge of your own classroom, how can you balance your teaching so that all the students get what they need? If you haven’t had the experience of solo teaching, it is something you should think about in advance.

A recommended technique is to combine strong and weak student groups.

Scenario 1:

Grouping stronger students with weaker ones can help a weak student get through an activity at the same pace as his or her peers. This scenario however, can prompt over-reliance on the stronger student.

Scenario 2:

Grouping stronger students with weaker ones and assigning slightly different tasks to match each level. This scenario may also not work if the weak students are unmotivated.

Making assumptions on motivation can backfire - sometimes talented students can be unmotivated, and less gifted students can be enthusiastic about learning!

The best way is to pay attention to the personalities in the class to find the best mix.

If there’s an English club at your school, it can be a great chance to meet students at their individual levels.

If your club ends up being more low-level students, you can review what they’ve been learning in class using fun games and activities.

If you have higher level students you can introduce them to native material and develop their critical thinking skills.

If the club is mixed, outside of the pressure of the classroom it can be a good chance to let the stronger students teach the weaker ones and take on some responsibility.

If you can think of techniques beforehand, you’ll be that much more prepared to take on the challenge of teaching English in Japanese schools.

In any case, you can never be over prepared for your classes regardless of student levels! Come up with more scenarios with mixed-level classes, and note down possible problems and solutions. Do that, and you can be assured that you classes will become more successful.

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