One of the main problems with most lesson planning material is adapting it to the specific needs of the classroom. Over the course of several articles, we’ll list typical issues that typically cause activities to become unusable for a teacher’s specific class, and how to fix the problem by adapting the way the activity is presented. We will identify principles for adapting activities to allow almost any lesson plan to be usable, regardless of your learner profile.
Part II. The problem of the age of the students.
Here are solutions and principles to adapt the activities to the different age problems of the students:
1) Mixed groups of young students and teenagers.
The problem here is that older children get through homework faster and feel uncomfortable being paired with a younger student.
Solution: Have the younger students work in pairs for the activity, while the more competent older students work individually. This lessens the effect of younger students on slowing down activity and increases their ability to perform, as two heads are better than one. It also adds to the confidence of the younger student and can actually increase the individual output of the student as both tend to ask questions and respond to the answers. This is particularly true in the case of information sharing activities, eg surveys, role plays and problem solving.
Principle: Make younger students more capable by matching them up and improving their net skills.
2) The material meets the target language but is not appropriate for the age group.
Imagine that you are teaching prepositions to adults but you have a picture of a bedroom with toys scattered everywhere and some children playing. Presented in a childish style, it’s not what adults would normally prefer as classroom material!
Solution: Present the material in a way that is relevant to the adult world. In this case, tell them that they are the parents of the children in the image. This automatically makes the material acceptable as it is a realistic adult situation.
Principle: Make the material relevant to students by giving them an age-appropriate perspective.
3) Young students who lose attention easily and cannot concentrate on an activity.
“I can’t make them sit for more than five minutes” is a quote I’ve heard from many teachers I’ve trained, and they usually refer to students as young as 10. This is really a problem if an activity requires students to be confined to a certain area of the room for 10-20 minutes! An example of this would be an information gap exercise (where both students and student teams are separated and have to ask questions to get information from each other).
Solution: I have found that I can keep children as young as 5 in one place if I use a “den” made of tables and chairs. You don’t even need an excuse as to why you’re setting up the class this way. They will happily stay in their area and do homework while respecting the fact that ‘they’ are there and ‘we’ are here.
Principle: Use unusual classroom management techniques to make the physical environment stimulating enough for the student to want to stay where they are.
4) An activity is too complex in its execution to be able to explain to the students because they are too young.
I had a group of 10 year old students who needed to practice this simple for likes, dislikes and everyday activities in a ‘stage free’ environment (with minimal teacher interference). I found some adult material that required you to share information from role play cards, then use some kind of preference scale to find your ideal romantic partner. It was going to take a long time and be difficult to explain, and the group was multilingual, so there was no possibility of speaking in the mother tongue. So how to explain?
Solution: Whose! They say that a simple picture can save a thousand words, so don’t get caught up in explanations. I first asked them how old they were and then told them to imagine that they were actually 20 years older. They liked this. It allowed them to identify with the role play cards. So I did the activity as if I were a student. I brought 2 students to the front of the class as an example, got their information by asking questions, and then compared them on the board, using the preference scale. I chose my favorite of the two and said that I was going to be her boyfriend. The penny fell.
Principle: Do not explain complex activities to young students. Treat them like a student and let the students ‘see’ what you expect of them.