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Adapting Lesson Plans To Student Ages
One of the main problems with most lesson planning materials is adapting it to specific classroom needs. In several articles, we will list the typical problems that usually make the activity unusable for a specific teacher’s class, and how to solve the problem by not adapting the way the activity is presented. We will identify principles for adapting activities to allow almost any lesson plan to be used, regardless of your student’s profile.
Part II. Problems in the age of students.
Here are solutions and principles to adapt the activities to the problems of different age groups of students:
1) Groups of teenagers and young learners of mixed ages.
The problem here is that older children do the work faster and feel uncomfortable if they are paired with a younger student.
Solution: Put the younger students in pairs to do the activity, while the more skilled older students work individually. This reduces the effect of younger students on slowing down the activity, and increases their ability to perform, because two heads are better than one. It also adds to the security of younger learners and can actually increase individual student output because they both tend to ask questions and answer the answers. This is especially true in information exchange activities such as surveys, role plays, and problem solving.
Principle: Empower younger students by pairing them up and improving their overall 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 room with toys scattered all over the place and some children playing. It is presented in a children’s style – not what adults would normally warm to classroom material!
Solution: Present the material so that it is relevant to the adult world. In this case, say they are the parents of the child in the picture. This automatically makes the material acceptable, because it is a realistic situation for adults.
Principle: Make the material relevant to students by giving them an age-appropriate perspective on it.
3) Young learners who lose attention easily and cannot stay focused on an activity.
‘I can’t get them to sit for more than five minutes’ is a quote I’ve heard from many teachers I’ve trained, and they usually 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 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 that I can keep 5 year olds in one place if I use a “den” made of tables and chairs. You don’t even need an excuse for why you’re setting up the class this way. They will happily stay in their area, and do the work respecting the fact that ‘they’ are there, and ‘we’ are here!
Principle: Use unconventional classroom management techniques to make the physical environment interesting enough that the student wants to stay where they are.
4) An activity that is too complex in its execution to be able to explain to students because they are too young.
I had a group of 10 year old students who needed to practice the simple present of likes, dislikes and everyday activities in a ‘scene free’ environment (with minimal teacher interference). I found some material for adults who needed to share information from four role-playing games, then use a kind of scale of preferences to find their ideal romantic partner. It was going to take time and complicated to explain, and the group was multilingual, so there was no chance to enter the mother tongue. So how to explain?
Solution: Do not do that! They say a simple picture can save a thousand words, so don’t get caught up in the explanation. First, I asked them how old they were, and then I told them to imagine they were actually 20 years older. They loved it. It allowed them to identify with the role-playing cards. Then I did the activity as if I were a student. I took 2 students in front of the class as an example, I got the information by asking questions, and then compared them on the chart, using the preference scale. I chose my favorite one of the two and said I will be his boyfriend. The penny dropped.
Principle: Do not explain complex activities to young learners. Treat them as if you were a student, and let the students ‘see’ what you expect from them.
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