- need to be very clear, in simple language, show instead of tell wherever possible
- check learners understand, for example by doing a few examples together first
- traditionally, we might sit strong and weak learners together so the stronger learners help the weaker ones, but this is probably not the most effective way, as stronger learners might not be learning much (although they might consolidate what they know by explaining) and weaker learners might never get the opportunity to feel a sense of achievement for doing anything themselves.
- so grouping stronger learners together, and weaker learners together is probably best, with an option of having one or two 'middle' group(s) too.
- you can give groups completely different tasks on the same topic eg. weaker learners match words to pictures of food and drink and practise vocabulary; middle groups put same words into dialogues in restaurants and practise role-playing and using the words; strong group discuss and write a few recipes using the basic words and more - they present what they've done to the whole group at the end
- you can give groups the same task but with differing levels of support eg. plan a dictation of a letter to apply for a job or visa with 3 different sheets: the strong group get a blank sheet of paper and have to write the whole letter, the middle group(s) get some more difficult words written on the sheet, with a lot of long gaps for them to write the rest, and the weaker group get most of the letter, with a few gaps for them to listen for easier words/phrases to add. They can re-group after the dictation to help correct each others' versions of the letter and to compose a reply.
- you can give all groups exactly the same task, but organise the task so the first parts of it are easy, and it gets more difficult (eg. a reading text with simple questions first about who? what? and when?; followed by questions that require understanding of more detail and how?; followed by more complex questions about why?). Groups will work at their own speed so weaker groups will only get as far as the first questions, and stronger groups will work on to the end.
- you can also group learners by age (ie. teenagers and young adults together, and older adults together) and give them different tasks depending on interest eg. younger learners, with food items, could plan the menus of a restaurant and a snack bar; older learners can plan some meals to celebrated a big family occasion. At the end, groups could comment on, correct errors in and evaluate each other's work.
c) Error correction
- it might not be important to correct errors at all if learners need confidence in communicating basic ideas.
- you might need to sensitively feed in some error correction to ensure learners are understood - either with pronunciation of particular sounds, or words, or with grammar or vocabulary. The most effective way is never to interrupt learners, but make a note of what they say and get learners to discuss and correct afterwards.
- if learners want to speak/need with more accuracy, you can regularly note down several errors while learners are doing speaking tasks, display the errors to the group afterwards, and guide them to correct them.
- writing usually needs to be more accurate than speaking. An effective way of correcting is to choose to focus on a different area of language for each piece of writing (eg. verbs, prepositions or spelling) and, when the learner has finished writing, underline all the errors, then get learners, in pairs, to correct and discuss each others'.