Number one for English language teachers

Teenagers: Teaching mixed-ability teens

Many teachers complain that they have problems dealing with classes that are mixed ability. This section attempts to provide some suggestions for dealing with mixed-ability classes.


Many teachers complain that they have problems dealing with classes that are mixed ability. The characteristics of such classes are:

  • While some students follow the lesson and are able to answer questions and do well in tests, others fall behind, don’t seem to understand and do badly in tests.
  • While some students pay attention and are cooperative, others ‘misbehave’ and seem disinterested.
  • Teachers feel concerned that they are not challenging the high-achievers enough and at the same time are not giving enough help to those who are not doing as well.
  • Teachers find it hard to ‘pitch’ their lessons at a level where all students can be engaged.

In the past teachers may well have said that the problem was just that some students were cleverer or simply ‘better’, but we now understand that the situation is more complex than that. Our students are indeed mixed in many ways. They are different in terms of their levels of:

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Motivation
  • Learning styles
  • Types of intelligences
  • Physiological needs
  • Psychological needs
  • Speed
  • Maturity
  • World knowledge
  • Knowledge of and about English

And you can probably think of other areas in which they differ e.g. girls and boys who in their class may be the same age, but may behave and respond very differently, because girls generally mature more quickly than boys.

In order to give all students the chance to benefit from their lessons it is vital to take into account their differences and plan lessons or activities within the lesson accordingly. 

Tips for teaching mixed-ability teens

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