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Adapting Lesson Plans To Student Ages
One of the main problems with most lesson planning materials is adapting them to the specific needs of the classroom. Over several articles, we will list the typical problems that 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 almost any lesson plan to be usable, whatever your student profile.
Part II. The problem of the age of the students.
Here are solutions and principles to adapt the activities to the different age problems of the students:
1) Mixed groups of young learners and teenagers.
The problem here is that older children complete the task faster and feel uncomfortable if paired with a younger student.
The solution: Put younger students together in pairs to do the activity, while more proficient older students work individually. This lessens the effect of slower activity on younger students and increases their ability to perform, because two heads are better than one. It also adds to the safety of the young learner and can actually increase individual student output, as they both tend to ask questions and respond to answers. This is especially true for information-sharing activities, such as surveys, role-playing and problem-solving.
Principle: Make younger students more capable by pairing them up and improving their net abilities.
2) The material responds to the target language but is not appropriate for the age group.
Imagine that you are teaching prepositions to adults but you have an image of a room with toys scattered all over the place and a few children playing. It is presented in an infant style – not what adults would normally like as classroom material!
The solution: Present the material in a way that it is relevant to the adult world. In this case, tell them that they are the parents of the children in the photo. This automatically makes the material acceptable, since it is a realistic adult situation.
Principle: Make material relevant to students by giving them an age-appropriate perspective.
3) Young learners who easily lose their attention 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 10 years old. It really is a problem if an activity requires students to be confined to a certain classroom area for 10-20 minutes! An example of this would be an information gap exercise (where students or teams of students are separated and have to ask questions to get information from each other).
The solution: I found that I could keep children as young as 5 in one place if I used a “den” made out of tables and chairs. You don’t even need an excuse as to why you are setting up the class this way. They will be happy to stay in their region and do the task while respecting the fact that “they” are there and that “we” are here!
Principle: Use unusual classroom management techniques to make the physical environment stimulating enough for the student to want to stay where they are.
4) An activity is too complex in its execution to be able to explain it to the pupils because they are too young.
I had a group of 10-year-old students who needed to practice the simple present tense for likes, dislikes, and daily activities in a “free scene” environment (with minimal teacher interference). I found adult material that needed them to share information from role-playing cards and then use some sort of preference scale to find their ideal romantic partner. It was going to be time consuming and complicated to explain, and the band was multilingual so there was no chance of getting into the native language. So how to explain?
The solution: Do not do it! They say a simple picture can save a thousand words, so don’t get caught up in explanations. I first asked them how old they were, then told them to imagine that they were actually 20 years older. They liked it. This 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, got their information by asking questions, then compared it to the blackboard, using the preference scale. I picked my favorite of the two and said I was going to be her boyfriend. The penny dropped.
Principle: Do not explain complex activities to young learners. Do them as if you were a student and let the students “see” what you expect of them.
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