The ABC of ELT

Helping Stronger and Weaker Students In Group Classes

Back in Ukraine I had a student called Sveta. She was pretty much the perfect student. In class she would always participate, asking questions, volunteering for role-plays and working with whomever was her partner. She always seemed to ask the question I wanted asked about a grammar point and would often be able to help explain complicated ideas to weaker students. But what really made her a great student was the work she did outside of class. When I set homework I knew she would do it and often more including the parts I hadn’t set. Other students might, at best, just do what I asked them to do but Sveta would go beyond that. She’d watch films and take notes, look up the upcoming chapters and learn about the grammar for upcoming classes.

She was a great student and she was easily the top of the class but there was a big problem. She couldn’t advance any faster.

For a bit more context we were following a syllabus and using a course book to guide the outline of the syllabus but I’m sure that the same problem would be true of a completely unplugged class. After all, she was doing at least twice as much work as the other students outside of class, she was determined to improve and she searched for speaking opportunities outside of class too.

The Problem With Group Classroom Learning

The big problem with studying in a group is there is always going to be an element of negotiation and compromise. We can’t go at the pace of the fastest students and we can’t go at the pace of the slowest students. We have to pitch it to the middle somewhere (either by mean, median or mode). As such to some degree we are never going to get things “just right” for all our students. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to maximise learning opportunities for both the weaker and stronger students.

5 Tricks to Help Weaker Students

There are many reasons some students are weaker in the class. They may have been studying for a shorter period of time, they may have less time to study or turn up irregularly, they may be unwilling to produce language in the classroom due to a variety of reasons. Whatever

  1. provide resources to help students catch up outside of class

  2. place weaker students with other weaker students to give them confidence to speak

  3. if you have a “volunteer assistant” (from another strong student) use them to aid the weaker students

  4. Think – Pair – Share is a great way to insure that the students have time to process and have the confidence to produce the right answer.

  5. think about where your students are sat, if your weaker students are closer to you then you can help deal with issues sooner rather than later.

5 Tricks to Help Stronger Students.

Helping stronger students can be an awkward for a teacher, after all you don’t want them to be so good that they are bored during the class but you don’t want them to be held back in classes either. However, ultimately we need to help the stronger students in class to make sure they learn as quickly as possible and see the value of classes.

  1. place them with stronger students to give them more opportunities to go off topic

  2. don’t grade your language as much in front of them, allow them to pick up on extra expressions from their interactions with you.

  3. prepare extra, more difficult, tasks for early finishers

  4. if they are a “volunteer teaching assistant” type then utilise them to help weaker students. Teaching is a great way to reinforce even the basics and revision is important.

  5. have an extra resource for strong students. Encourage them to read ahead or do exercises in this resource rather than a set resource you are using. You can use a more difficult resource so they will see the benefits as well.


Well those are just five quick ideas for both strong and weak students but I’m sure there are many more.

What tips do you have for helping stronger and weaker students in group classes?

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

2 Replies

  1. ilham

    Very interesting thank you so much.

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