Young learner classes at our school are mostly organised by age. This means there can be quite a range of abilities, and differentiation* is an important part of planning. I generally find that our materials can be a bit on the tough side for my class, so I’m used to providing more support rather than extension tasks.
Here’s an example of how I supported my young learners in class last week. We were studying celebrations. I produced lots of short reading texts about different festivals/events and displayed these around the room. I’d made a couple of words in each text bold. Students did a vocabulary matching task, here’s part of it…
Note the HELP box. If students felt they needed more help they could move the box. There was a clue underneath telling them which text the word appeared in (e.g. ‘Text A’). This meant their choice was narrowed down to two words.
For students who wanted more challenge I provided the text without the words in bold. It wasn’t a lot more planning and there was always support for them around the room if needed. I have a couple of REALLY strong learners – they needed an extension task. For them I made sure there were some extra (distractor) words in bold in the texts – they wrote/discuss meanings for these or looked them up in a dictionary if they weren’t sure.
I do this type of activity for reviews too. When I ask students to recall vocabulary I often put clues around the room – sometimes in envelopes or just a folded piece of paper. If learners (normally working in pairs or groups) feel they need help they can read the clue.
Why did I do things this way?
It’s not just about supporting or extending learners. Ideally, I want my students to become more self-aware – to recognise what they can do, take support if they feel they need it, and to decide what is the right challenge for them. By letting them choose their level of challenge they take more control and reflect on their own ability.
Does it work in practice?
Honestly? Well, it didn’t at the start of the year, but it works better now. My learners did need quite a bit of training and encouragement to do this. They tended to approach tasks thinking more about the goal than the process, so at first they would always opt for support to race through things! This was my fault I think for not helping them understand why this ‘choice of challenge’ was important. As the year has gone on, and after plenty of reflection and guidance, I think they’ve got it. Just about…
Feature image: Florida International University