Have you ever struggled with having 2 students of obviously different ability level? Today I had a lesson with a low orange (mid-level beginner) student and a high red (high-level mid-range) student. The lower level student is a restaurant manager who studies for fun and has been studying with us for only 3 months; the higher level student is the president of a small company who often has to work with Chinese and Korean clients and has been studying with us for over 2 years.
I spent more time than usual preparing for this lesson and here is what I did and why it worked:
We started with One Point English “I prefer (A) to (B) because (C)”. Both students had done this One Point before and therefore were familiar with it. To make the lower level student have an easier time with it, I dropped “…because (C)”. Then I proceeded to simply say 2 nouns and allow the students to take turns saying the One Point. For example:
Coach: Tea or Coffee?
S1: I prefer coffee to tea.
S2: I prefer tea to coffee.
Simple enough for both students. Quite often the higher student would go first, which allowed the lower level student to hear the One Point and have more time to prepare for her turn. Next, I expanded with “Me too” and “Not me, I prefer (B)” and so on. Then I asked them if they could make a questions which would result in the One Point as the answer. Working together they came up with (as expected) “Which do you prefer, (A) or (B)?” At this point I asked them to ask each other this question with “Anything OK!”. They proceeded to chat for 5 minutes by themselves unprompted. Excellent!
For the lesson body I chose Routine 4, which is a story about going shopping in a convenience store and emphasizes making decisions. Again, this was a lesson that both students had studied before and therefore were familiar with. I had each student quickly listen and repeat to refresh their memories and then I had them ask each other the 10 questions in the question set, using the basic lesson story to answer. Easy so far. Again- allowing the lower level student to ask the questions first so as to hear the higher level student’s answers, before switching and the lower level student having to answer the questions. We then repeated this process but changed the location to a department store, and the person answering had to close their notebook. A third time with a clothing store (Uni-Qlo) and both students had to close their notebooks. At this point both students were so comfortable with the questions that I started the final step.
I had prepared in advance 2 sets of flashcards with all 10 questions from the question set (so in total 20 cards). I mixed these up and dumped them unceremoniously on the tabletop. I then asked the students to remind me of the One Point we had discussed at the beginning of the lesson and the question they had created. I wrote this on 2 more flashcards and added them to the mix. I explained to the students that they were together in the shopping district in Kyoto and that they should in turns draw a flashcard and ask the question on it. They proceeded to chat together using the questions [flash cards] as if they were shopping together. Fait accompli.
Why did this work so well? Why did this work for 2 students of very different levels?
1. All the material was review. This allowed both students to work with something they were comfortable with: the lower level could review and practice, the higher level could review and expand. The format of the lesson allowed for equal talk time and a casual topic (shopping) which made them confortable talking together.
2. The lesson had a good build-up and then slow removal of supports so that at the point when students become totally unsupported, they are confident with the lesson language. By starting with a simple statement “I prefer (A) to (B)” and the corresponding question they become comfortable using that language. Then practice using a familiar (previously studied) question set. This question set is practiced several times, the first time with complete support, then slowly removing support until they can stand on their own. Some ways to remove support are: changing settings, closing notebooks, changing question order, removing instructor involvement, and finally removing question order altogether. Remember to remove support slowly and ensure students are comfortable with the current level of support before removing more.
3. I did not correct either student throughout the lesson. I wanted to see how their confidence would develop if left totally on their own BUT using familiar material. Furthermore, I wanted to evaluate their self-correction abilities. What I noticed was that if a student was uncertain in their answer they would [at first] look at me for correction, and when they didn’t get support from me they would listen to the other student’s answer to the same question and the next time that question came up they would answer as the other student did. After a while, they would stop looking to me for support and start looking to each other or within themselves. Of course there is a danger in that they may learn mistakes from each other, but as long as the instructor is listening then this problem can be avoided.
The result of this experiment and this lesson plan was that both students quickly became confident and supported each other, their self-correction improved and dependance on the instructor decreased. During this 45 minute lesson, coach talk time was probably less than 5% and there was almost no dead air throughout. I was so amazed with the results that I had to share them. Try it for yourself and let me know if you get the same results!
Edward, SSE Ohtsu
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