One of the main problems with most lesson planning material is adapting it to specific classroom needs. Over several articles, we will list the typical problems which normally make activities unusable for a teacher’s specific class, and how to get around the problem by adapting the way the activity is presented. We will identify principles for adapting activities to allow nearly any lesson plan to be usable, regardless of your student profile.
Part II. The problem of student ages.
Here are solutions and principles to adapting activities to different student age problems:
1) Mixed age young learner and adolescent groups.
The problem here is that older children get the task done more quickly and feel uncomfortable if paired up with a younger student.
Solution: Put the younger students together in pairs to do the activity, whilst the more competent older students work individually. This lessens the effect of younger students on slowing the activity, and increases their ability to perform, as two heads are better than one. It also adds to the security of the younger learner and can actually increase individual student production as they both tend to ask questions and reply to answers. This is particularly true of information exchange activities e.g. surveys, role plays, and problem solving.
Principle: Make younger students more capable by pairing them up and enhancing their net abilities.
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 strewn all over the place and a few children playing. It is presented in an infantile style – not what adults would normally warm to for classroom material!
Solution: Present the material so that it is relevant to the adult world. In this case, tell them they are the parents of the children in the picture. This automatically makes the material acceptable, since it is a realistic adult situation.
Principle: Make the material relevant to the students by giving them a perspective on it that is suitable to their age.
3) Young learners who loose attention easily and can’t keep focused on an activity.
‘I can’t get them to sit down for more than five minutes’, is a quote I’ve heard from many teachers I have trained, and they usually refer to students up to the age of 10. This is truly a problem if an activity requires students to be limited to a certain classroom area for 10 to 20 minutes! An example of this would be an information gap exercise (where both students or teams of students are separated and have to ask questions to get information from each other).
Solution: I have found I can keep children as young as 5 years old to stay in one place if I use a ‘den’ made out of tables and chairs. You do not even need an excuse for why you are setting up the class in this way. They will happily remain in their area, and do the task respecting the fact that ‘they’ are over there, and ‘we’ are over here!
Principle: Use unusual classroom management techniques to make the physical surroundings stimulating enough for the student to want to stay where he/she is.
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 present simple for likes, dislikes and everyday activities in a ‘free stage’ environment (with minimal teacher interference). I found some adult material that needed them to share information from role play cards, then use a kind of scale of preference to find their ideal romantic partner. It was going to be time consuming and complicated to explain, and the group was multilingual, so there was no chance of going into the mother language. So how to explain?
Solution: Don’t! They say a simple picture can save a thousand words, so don’t get caught up in explanations. First I asked them how old they were, and then told them to imagine they were actually 20 years older. They liked this. It let them identify with the role play cards. Then I did the activity as though I were a student. I took 2 students to the front of the class as an example, got their information by asking questions, and then compared them on the blackboard, using the preference scale. I chose my favourite one of the two and said I was going to be her boyfriend. The penny dropped.
Principle: Don’t explain complex activities to young learners. Do them as though you were a student, and let the students ‘see’ what it is you are expecting of them.