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What is the best way to teach mixed age groups?

Teaching a group of mixed age students can be challenging. But there are many ways that you can work with this situation and have a fun and successful time for all of the students involved. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Communicate clearly with parents
Let parents know what the goals for the class are and what assistance you will need from them. With mixed age classes, students may be working with different materials, such as textbooks or worksheets. If that’s the case, you as the teacher won’t have as much time to spend helping students as you normally would, so you’ll need the parents to help out. Be specific in letting parents know what you would like them to do outside of class time.

Allow the older students to lead
If the lessons are created around activities that appeal more towards the younger learners, there is a good chance the older learners will start to tune out, even if they are helping out a lot. If you plan your lessons with the older students in mind, some of the activities will be too difficult for the others, but the younger children generally look up to their older friends/siblings. They watch what they do and try to emulate them. This also gives the older learners a chance to help the younger learners, and that’s a great opportunity for the older learners to reinforce what they are learning.

Give everyone a chance to participate
When you do activities more appropriate for the younger learners, have the older kids act as the teachers or as teacher’s helpers. This will give them the chance to practice their skills in another way.

Use stories and songs
Both picture books and songs are great for reaching kids of a variety of ages. Because of the illustrations, all the students should be able to follow along with a picture book. The great thing about books is that they speak to each of us in different ways depending on where we are in our lives. As you read, you can interact with each of the students by asking them questions that are appropriate for their level. If you have students who are readers, have them help you read.

By using songs that are simple enough for very young, emerging speakers, but fun enough for older learners of all levels, all of the students can join in. We have many songs to choose from.

Always remember the importance of models in our lives
There may be times when you are doing an activity that the older learners “get” or can do but the younger learners can’t. It may be disappointing that everyone couldn’t participate as you would have liked, but it’s really powerful for the younger learners to see their older friends/siblings doing something they can’t yet do. It gives them someone to look up to, and something to aspire to. Your 7-year olds are probably writing and reading more than your 3- and 4-year olds. Let the younger kids see that.

Use flexible teaching materials
Think of ways you can make simple vocabulary building activities for the younger learners into reading activities for the older learners. For example, if you use flashcards to introduce or review vocabulary in class, make them so that they have both the picture and the word on the card. When you attempt to elicit the word from an older learner, just reveal the word part of the card first. When you use the same card with the younger learner you may show the picture part of the card first (just as an example…maybe your 3 year-old reads better than the older kids :-).

Play games like Concentration in teams with one older kid and one younger kid paired together. Have the students match picture cards to word cards. The older student can help read the word cards while the younger student can name the picture cards.

Make Crafts
Adding a craft to your lesson, even if it’s just once every few classes, can really help. Make something simple, such as a Mother’s Day card with construction paper, and grade it up for the older learners by having them write a message on it. Everyone gets to learn by following your directions, and the older learners can help the younger ones. Even if you keep the craft very, very simple, each student will be able to make something that suits their level of maturity. See our Super Simple Pinterest Boards for lots of classroom craft ideas.