General Strategies for Managing a Multilevel Classroom

Many adult ESL classes are multi-level. Classes in the community often serve the entire local population and, hence, have students of widely differing English proficiencies and backgrounds. For an instructor, this can be a challenging sitation.

NICE's classes are fully divided by level, but the students within each level may have widely differing abilities. One student in a class may have very strong speaking and listening skills while struggling with reading and writing, while another student in the same class writes and reads with ease but is very reluctant to speak. 

Fear not! There are many researched and tried and true approaches to managing a multi-level classroom so that the needs and educational goals of all students are met. The multi-level class does not need to be intimidating - these resources are here to provide support for you as you navigate the classroom!

Facilitating MultiLevel Classrooms

Below is a video from Cambridge University Press, the creators of the Ventures curriculum that we use, about how to facilitate a multi-level classroom.

ESL MultiLevel Model #1

This model can easily be applied in the setting of NICE's ELL classes. It is intended for a traditional classroom setting where the teacher may be working out of a textbook. 

Students will be divided into two groups based on their English proficiency levels. The lesson topic is the same for both groups, but the individual objectives for each group are crafted to the proficiency level of the group.


For example:


Lesson Topic: Buying food in a grocery store

Lesson Objective:

  • Beginning level group - Students will be able to name five items they buy at the supermarket and match the words with pictures.
  • Intermediate level group - Students will be able to describe the location of seven items in the supermarket and ask the prices.

ESL MultiLevel Model #2

This model is intended for use in a project-based class session. Each group of students will be working on their own project, which may just be a short activity pulled from the textbook. Groups may be determined by student English proficiency levels, and also by students' interest in the specific projects. The topic of the project is the same for all student groups, though each group will have a separate focus.


For example:


General Project Topic: Buying food in a grocery store


Specific Group Project Foci:

  • Group One - Compare pricing and nutritional information of items to be purchased in the grocery store.
  • Group Two - Create a budget for weekly purchases at the grocery store.

Resources from TFLI

Below are a few articles and activities provided by the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute that provide some strategies to use in the multilevel classroom.

Teaching in the Multilevel Classroom
An article by a Pearson Education teacher trainer
Teaching in the Multilevel Classroom.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 386.2 KB
Promoting Success of Multilevel ESL Classes: What Teachers and Administrators Can Do
A brief from CAELA (Center for Adult English Language Acquisition)
Promoting Success of Multilevel ESL Clas
Adobe Acrobat Document 194.0 KB
ESL Multilevel Activities
A collection of games for teaching English in a multilevel classroom
ESL Multilevel Activities.docx
Microsoft Word Document 26.9 KB