One of the main problems with most lesson planning material is adapting it to the specific needs of the classroom. Throughout several articles, we will list the typical problems that normally make activities unusable for a teacher’s specific class, and how to solve the problem by adapting the way the activity is presented. We will identify principles for tailoring activities to allow almost any lesson plan to be usable, regardless of your student profile.
Part II. The problem of the ages of the students.
Here are solutions and principles for adapting activities to different age problems of students:
1) Groups of young people and adolescents of mixed ages.
The problem here is that older children do homework more quickly and are uncomfortable if they are assigned a younger student.
Solution: Bring the younger students together in pairs to do the activity, while the more proficient older students work individually. This lessens the effect of younger students in slowing down activity and increases their ability to perform, since two heads are better than one. It also increases the younger learner’s confidence and can actually increase individual learner output as both tend to ask questions and respond to answers. This is particularly true in information sharing activities, for example, surveys, role plays, and problem solving.
Beginning: Make younger students more capable by matching them up and improving their networking skills.
2) The material complies with the target language but is not appropriate for the age group.
Imagine that you are teaching prepositions to adults but you have the image of a bedroom with toys scattered all over the place and some children playing. It is presented in a childish style, not like adults would normally be drawn to 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 picture. This automatically makes the material acceptable, as it is a realistic adult situation.
Beginning: 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 heard from many teachers I have trained, and they generally refer to students up to the age of 10. This is really a problem if an activity requires students to be confined to a certain area of the classroom 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 obtain information from each other).
Solution: I have found that I can keep children up to 5 years old in one place if I use a ‘den’ made of tables and chairs. You don’t even need an excuse why you are organizing the class this way. They will stay happy in their area and do their homework respecting the fact that ‘they’ are there and ‘we’ are here!
Beginning: Use unusual classroom management techniques to make the physical environment stimulating enough that the student wants to stay where they are.
4) An activity is too complex in its execution to be able to explain it to the students because they are too small.
I had a group of 10-year-old students who needed to practice the present simple for likes, dislikes, and everyday activities in a ‘free stage’ setting (with minimal teacher interference). I found adult material that needed them to share information from the role-play cards and then use a kind of preference scale to find their ideal romantic partner. It was going to take a long time and it was difficult to explain, and the group was multilingual, so there was no possibility of speaking in the mother tongue. So how to explain it?
Solution: Whose! 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 I told them to imagine that they were actually 20 years older. They liked this. It allowed them to identify themselves with the role-play cards. Then I did the activity as if I were a student. I took 2 students to the front of the class as an example, I got their information by asking questions and then I compared them on the board, using the preference scale. I chose my favorite of the two and told him I was going to be her boyfriend. The penny fell.
Beginning: Do not explain complex activities to young people. Play it like a student and let the students ‘see’ what you expect of them.