Teaching Higher Levels

This post was written in the process of preparing for a session on the topic. The audience is going to be mixed: there will be teachers of English, German and French, and their level of English will vary (between A2 and C2). Their experience and qualifications will be different. There are similarities, however: all the teachers share the same L1 (and L2 – in our context, it is Russian and Ukrainian), and all of them have close educational background (MA or BA in TESOL, Applied Linguistics, Translation/Interpreting, or Psychology)

The activity I am sharing in this post is aiming at several purposes during the session: getting to know the audience, learning about their teaching philosophy and beliefs regarding the subject, and ‘probing’ their reflective skills. In order to invite some discussion, I will let the participants read the statements below (in a form of Gallery Walk, most likely) and share their views on it (their and their students’)

mountain-ashes 2

[Note: All of the statements are about/by the students of higher levels. By ‘higher levels’ I personally mean the proficiency levels starting at B2 according to Common European Framework of Reference)]

  1. The lesson pace is unpredictable (something takes longer than you had planned because they are engaged, and vice versa).
  2. It is hard to stop a discussion – there is so much everyone wants to say.
  3. Students don’t need any controlled practice/drills (‘it’s boring/pointless/meaningless, etc’.)
  4. They don’t want to learn grammar and only want to talk more.
  5. Learners make much slower progress than lower level students (beginners).
  6. Students don’t feel/see the progress they make.
  7. Learners don’t want to remember/use any new grammar or words (are feeling comfortable using what they already know)
  8. They don’t like to be corrected.
  9. There are no mistakes to correct.
  10. There is no need to have writing or reading lessons in class (can be done at home).
  11. There is always a mix of levels in one group, especially in terms of speaking accuracy, fluency and confidence.
  12. The focus is on developing communication and culture skills rather than on purely language skills (e. g. presenting skills, polite interruption skill, etc.)
  13. Students are more sensitive and critical to teachers’ choices (whereas at the lower levels they ‘eat’ what you give them)
  14. Sometimes they ask for words or structures that the teacher does not know. 
  15. ___________________________________________________

The activity will appear earlier in the session, and will be followed by a discussion of possible strategies and techniques of working with higher level students.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and questions (and opinions!) about the statements above. Which one(s) describe the language learners in your context? In your classroom? Which of the beliefs do you personally share (as a language learner, and as a teacher)? What else have you heard/observed/noticed about how higher level students’ attitude to learning changes? 

Looking forward to reading your comments! 🙂

mountain-ashes 1

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Teaching Higher Levels

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    These are interesting statements, Zhenya. They quite accurately describe my higher level classes. You know what? I’m going to give the questions to my B2 students and find out how they see it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clare says:

    “Learners don’t feel or see the progress they make.” This is a concern for me with my higher level learners. As they can already get by more than sufficiently, sometimes the motivation to continue to improve isn’t there. I’m in the process of setting up exit tickets with these groups so they can reflect on what they have learnt and share it in the subsequent lessons. I hope to include mid and end of course exit ticket reviews where they can evaluate their own learning. Hopefully they will go some way to raising awareness of their learning and develop the habit of goal setting in their learning.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Clare
      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I am very curious about the Exit Ticket idea (technique?): it sounds like a very reflective task and should promote learner autonomy/awareness a lot. I also wonder how being aware/explicit about the reasons for attending a course might help (as a part of the exit ticket activity?). Sometimes I hear students saying: ‘I am here to simply keep my level of English on the same level’ or ‘not to lose what I already know’. I agree that goal setting (and goal review) is a useful part of any learning, especially for adults.
      Thanks again for helping me think further!


  3. gemmalunn says:

    Here (Switzerland) it depends on the context, I’ve had some general English classes where students aren’t too worried about progressing (C1) they just want to maintain their level and not forget any English whilst maybe picking up some new phrases along the way. Then some academic classes that are very ambitious and want to do grammar exercises even though they rarely make grammar mistakes! These classes tend to focus more on skills as you mentioned as well as business vocab. I have to say that number 8 is never an issue her (in my experience) as students are quite modest!


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Gemma, thank you for reading and stopping by to comment! I agree that the generalizations/assumptions in the post a quite generic: a lot depends on the group, the people, and the purpose/needs of the learners. 8 was something I observed a couple of times (once a student refusing to be corrected openly, and once admitting in a private conversation that it is not a pleasant experience; both can be food for reflective teacher thought).

      Thanks again for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    I see some of my B2-C1 learners in each of the statements, although it seems to me that 1, 2, 8 and 11 could also apply to lower levels.

    I have recently – and by this I mean over the last couple of years – started to notice that one of the things higher level learners (at least in my context of undergrads in Croatia) seem to struggle with is style consistency, especially when it comes to writing. Generally when we aim for formal writing – and I use the term loosely to cover anything more formal than a fb message to a friend – there are various features more typical of spoken language in there. So this is what I have tended to focus on recently.

    I think I’m also more comfortable with my role as instructor not always implying that there _has_ to be a mistake that needs correcting – previously I used to worry that if there was nothing to correct I was somehow failing my students or was unnecessary. If they continue to come to class – particularly adult learners – I can now happily accept that they are probably getting something out of it, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be progress in the sense of eliminating minor errors.

    Good luck with the session!


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana

      Thank you for the comment! It actually feels as if we are co-planning the session – thinking, sharing ideas and examples. Yes, very much agree that some/most of these statements might be true about lower level students (or any students, really). They are also quite context-specific, as I realized (after someone mentioned on Twitter that ‘too much talking’ is a dream situation in Japan, for example)

      Thank you for adding this great thought about style consistency and awareness of (in) formality (both in speaking and writing, but definitely more visible in writing). I really enjoyed Marc’s post on iTDI and his idea of dealing with this (in speaking, I think): http://itdi.pro/blog/2016/11/03/beyond-meat-and-potatoes/.

      Finally, your thoughts about teacher’s attitude to correcting and addressing errors is very helpful. I think it is one of the places for us to pause during the session, and reflect on being a learner, rather than a teacher. Changing hats, so to say. Might be insightful!

      Thank you for the encouragement – hope for a follow up post next week!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. eilyantares says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    For statements 7, 8 and 9 in particular, maybe the focus with higher level students moves from “correcting” to “improving”, “upgrading” or simply saying the same thing differently.
    The controlled practice and drills you mention in point 3 can take this form instead – ideally, students will enjoy playing with complex stuctures at higher levels.

    I guess it means more of a hit and miss approach for the teacher, with a million different language points which can come up during class. Perhaps that’s why I see most progress at this level with students who have a certain degree of autonomy in note-keeping and sourcing their own materials.

    Have a great session – will be interesting to hear how it went!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi eilyantares,

      Thank you for the comment! I love the idea about a different perception/attitude to students’ language accuracy and appropriacy: “improving”or “upgrading” make much more sense.
      I also agree that helping students see the value in adding new structures/lexis to their repertoire is a good strategy. Another strategy you mentioned (and I anticipate we will talk a lot) is learner autonomy and responsibility for one’s progress. If treated as a joyous process, usually a lot of fun!

      Thank you once again for stopping by!


  6. @Sarah_TTrainer says:

    Hi Zhenya. Great Qs to get teachers thinking about the joys, challenges & needs of teaching higher level ss.

    I’m in Italy and thinking about my C2 conversation class I can say that with this class points 1 & 2 are connected – my chatty Italians have so much to say and need v.little encouragment from me so a simple ‘discuss for 2 mins’ can quite easily become 10-12 mins – discuss, brief group feedback & comparing answers, bit of rephrasing their ideas into something more natural and less formal etc.

    Point 8 & 9 – my ss do want to be corrected and it’s often issues with vocab. e.g. the wrong collocation .

    Finally, point 14 – yes, I’m often put on the spot when I hear them say something that doesn’t sound quite right to me but I can’t think why straight away e.g.’ I’m keen on sausages.’ was said last week in class …..

    I do a quick reflection activity at the end of the lessons with some sentence starters for them to complete – just to make sure the ss are happy/learning sthg and in case they have any ideas for the next class e.g. 1. Today I enjoyed the bit when we …. 2. It was (quite ) hard when we had to …because … 3. 2 words/phrases I really like are … because … 4. Next lesson ……

    Will be good to hear how your sessions goes and what the teachers say!


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Sarah

      Thank you your comment! In fact, I like your title for the session and post: ‘the joys, challenges & needs of teaching higher level students’ 🙂

      I understand about the chatty culture (and C2 is a great level to keep talking!). Do you ever time them to keep on track? I do that sometimes on a training course, but it is not a fav idea.

      Re 14: I like the idea of having a ‘parking lot’ for something I don’t have the (an?) answer right away. Your sausage example fits there perfectly!

      I love the idea of 1-4 statement starters to get feedback (can be in writing, or in a pair work discussion?)

      Your group seems to be a pleasure to be working with – sending them my cheers from Ukraine! 🙂


  7. @Sarah_TTrainer says:

    Hi Zhenya

    I give the class time-limits for some (spkg) tasks and give a warning to let them know when they should be wrapping up and coming to an end. If I see they’ve still got plenty to say then I’m happy to extend and give more time – it’s their lesson after all 🙂 . I do the same in training courses too. Why do you say it’s not a fave idea for you? Just curious ….!

    Parking lot is a great idea for those ‘Give me a moment, Qs !

    Great to chat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Sarah

      Yes, love the chat too!
      By ‘not a favorite idea’ I meant setting a timer (e.g., during a feedback session) in order to make sure we have enough time for each teacher. If the earlier ones are very talkative then the timing gets tricky for the others. I like being more flexible, and do not like the ‘strict’ part, although sometimes it is the ‘hat’ I need to wear, at least temporary.

      Let’s have a good Sunday!


  8. Pingback: Reflecting on Blogging: Part 2, Writing | Wednesday Seminars

  9. Pingback: Facilitator-less Sessions | Wednesday Seminars

Eager to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s