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successful esl teacher teaching different levels of ELL students online

If you’ve considered teaching English from home, you’ve probably already thought about the students that will be in your class. 

What you may not have thought about is the different levels of students! 

Some students will come to you with little to no knowledge of the English language. 

They may just be ready to learn the basics while another student is already fluent and has been studying the English language for years. 

Still, you will find many of your students somewhere in the middle. There may be some understanding of English, but they need your help to learn more.

The intention is to gain more knowledge of the English language from you, but how do you teach everyone at the same time when they are at different levels?

Not only will students have different needs, but they also learn in different ways. Some will prefer to hear English words spoken aloud while others will need to see the words and phrases for them to sink in. 

This can seem like a daunting task, but rest assured, we’ve got 5 tips for you to be at your best when you meet your new students! 

You will feel prepared regardless of what ESL level the students you come into contact with are at.

  1. Group by different levels of ELL students.
  2. Buddy system by level of ESL student.
  3. Teach in different formats.
  4. Utilize closed captions for videos. 
  5. Accept voice typing. 

1. Group by Different Levels of ELL Students

There are different levels of ELL students: advanced, intermediate, and introductory. 

You can choose to group students together who are at the same level or create variations with different levels in the mix. 

Grouping students by their level of English knowledge is beneficial because it eases anxiety and challenges all students within that group.

Intermediate groups will be able to chat with other students who are at the same proficiency level as they are. 

They will also be more likely to participate because they won’t be embarrassed about their familiarity with the English language. 

When you group students by differing levels, you are really challenging students at all levels. 

The intermediate students will especially benefit because they will be able to learn from the advanced students while teaching and sharing their knowledge with the introductory students.

You may have a preference for how you desire to set up your classroom, but creating group-based activities and work time will benefit the collective growth of your students. 

2. Buddy System by Level of ESL Student

Consider creating a buddy system for the different levels!

For example, pair an introductory student with an intermediate student. 

The introductory student will learn the ropes of how things run in your class while benefiting from the intermediate student’s knowledge.

The intermediate student will benefit from this new mentorship because it will reinforce what they’ve already learned. 

After all, sharing the wisdom you’ve learned with another person is one of the best ways of cementing the information in your brain for many years to come.

3. Teach in Different Formats

Each student you encounter in your class will be unique in personality and learning preference. 

Some students will prefer to take a lot of notes to learn English. 

Others will want to take a lot of pictures or see how the words relate to physical objects. 

A common thread among many students will be the need to talk to you or another person to fully comprehend new words and phrases.

When you use different formats for teaching, you will be able to reach more of your students. 

For instance, you can show them a picture of a new word while speaking it. 

Being a fluent English speaker yourself, you should always talk to your students in English because they will benefit from the immersive experience, along with the in-class practice time. 

As another idea, consider having your students learn through writing the new words and phrases they learn. Create the creative space to practice writing words and letters that they may not have seen or used before.

A combination of various teaching modalities will promote more learning in your classroom, resulting in an increase of confidence for your students.

4. Utilize Closed Captions for Videos

When you are teaching English online, consider using closed captions for yourself and your students. 

These captions will help close the gap between reading and speaking English.

Students will be able to not only hear what you say but also see it. They will begin to connect the words they hear being spoken to the written words. It can even help them understand how to pronounce words that they’ve seen written down before.

It will also stand to benefit you as the teacher, as you will be able to see what your student is saying. 

You can easily help provide feedback by clarifying a mispronounced word. 

You could even use the chat function to type out words or sentences you want your students to pronounce. 

They will know if it is correct if the closed caption matches what you’ve typed. 

Closed captions on video calls are a simple, yet effective, method of improving a student’s grasp of the English language.

5. Accept Voice Typing

Voice typing gives students the ability to speak into their devices, as their words are being typed for them into their documents. 

It hasn’t been incorporated as part of the classroom for very long, but it is a very handy tool.

Allowing students, especially when they are starting out, to use voice typing for assignments takes out some of the anxiety of making sure words are spelled correctly. 

Students can still learn how to spell the words they want to use, but with voice typing, they will be able to see the word instead of getting frustrated by trying to figure out how to spell it on their own.

Helping students learn and excel  

These tips and techniques will not only help your students but also you, as the teacher. 

As you gain confidence in teaching the different levels of ELL, your students will be optimistic and eager to learn English from you.

So, whether you’re gearing up for your first class or trying to figure out how to help your students learn just a little bit more, these ideas will help you excel in your career as an ESL teacher.

You can do it! 

Do you have any strategies or tips for reaching different levels of ESL students? Share with us on Twitter @teachaway or leave a comment below.

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