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Managing differentiated learning in traditional language skills activities
All students are different from each other. We are all different from each other: different personalities, different tastes, different hobbies, different backgrounds, different dreams or different learning styles.
However, when we enter our classroom, we tend to bring one size fits all activities with us. Therefore, it will be difficult to reach all our students, either from a motivational or from a language level perspective.
Frequently, we don´t deal with an issue until we notice that something is not working, but why wait until you have a problem? Isn´t it better to nip it in the bud? We need to have an ace up our sleeve.
Let´s look at some ideas in order to be prepared for the diversity that we are undoubtedly going to find in the classroom.
- Bring two similar texts to your lesson instead of one, so that they can choose between them. That little decision, although a small one, will give them the possibility of choice and, consequently, a sense of control.
- Include different types of questions. Instead of just having the typical multiple choice questions, offer other options, such as true or false, multiple choice with more or fewer items, short answers, and so on. Don't give them the same activity, take into account their level or let them choose the one they want to complete.
- If some of the students finish before the rest, you could ask them to explain their answers or to find some word classes in the text (nouns, adjectives, verbs...). Ask them to write the text in another tense or to look for synonyms or antonyms. You could even ask them to prepare more questions for their classmates, individually or in groups.
- Nowadays, many audios also have videos along with them. That visual aid is an extra help not all of them may need. Divide the class in two groups: some having access to audio and video and the others just listening to the audio. You could make the decision or perhaps they could, giving them extra autonomy and self awareness of their own learning needs.
- Additionally, thanks to new technologies, you can give some students the opportunity to hear an audio as many times as they may need, individually, and at their own pace.
- You could even consider translation and transcription in your activities.
- As with reading, the activities offered could differ from each other, trying to meet the individual needs of each of the students, regarding their English knowledge.
- Of course, you could also bring more than one audio to let them choose, or some related audios or readings to delve deeper into a subject, either by listening or reading for further information about an issue.
- This is an easy one: They don't have to write texts of the same length.
- Give them different options to write about.
- Show them some examples.
- Avoid the blank sheet syndrome by brainstorming and debating before actually writing. Tell them to rewrite a story, give them the first lines of a text in order to continue it or let them write about something that they really like, such as a TV series or an artist.
- Try collective or group writing.
- Create a classroom blog, a newspaper or a magazine. They can have different roles and they can write about different issues.
- Let them write songs, stories or poems if they want to.
- Describe images. Let them choose their theme among different titles or photos. This will again give them that sense of control mentioned above.
- Debate. Make controversial statements and let them contradict you.
- Don't correct their mistakes, put fluency first. Make notes and talk about them later, on the blackboard, all together, let them correct their own mistakes.
- Record them. Give them the chance to record themselves at home. They could choose to use either audio with video or audio only, depending on their own preferences.
- Use new technologies. Free digital tools such as Flipgrid are a must.
- Remember that, many times, speaking happens when you don't expect it. Let it flow. Don't change the subject because you have to continue with your lesson plan. English happens like that.
If some students finish before their classmates, you can always make them help the other students, correct each other or compare their answers in groups or pairs. Peer correction is strongly recommended.
The key point is understanding that differentiation occurs mainly in the activities, rather than in the text itself. It all depends on what you ask them to do with it.
Ingrid Mosquera, PhD.