There’s no denying that tailoring your teaching to individual students is an effective strategy. However, many teachers struggle with finding the time to include teaching moments which address an individual learner’s specific needs. So what’s the best way to create an individualized classroom? Andrew Walkley, co-author of Roadmap, explains the benefits of this approach and shares some techniques to ensure that every student gets the most out of your lessons.
The best of both worlds?
First of all, what does individualized teaching mean? It’s the concept that students will learn most effectively when the activity is specific to their needs, and the language they are using is appropriate for their level. This concept is sometimes seen in opposition to coursebooks and class-based learning, where students are all expected to follow the same syllabus. However, class syllabuses and coursebooks have the following benefits:
- Providing students with common goals
- Encouraging learners to follow an unfamiliar topic that then opens new doors of learning
- The learning opportunities in peer-to-peer explanation
When we talk about individualized teaching in the classroom, we want to exploit the benefits of learning together, while also providing opportunities for more individualized development. So how can you, as a teacher, combine the two approaches?
1. Involve students in choosing your route
All classroom groups are different, made up of people from different age groups with distinct needs and interests. Roadmap can help in two ways:
- There is a fast and slow track. The fast track focuses on language input and speaking. The slow track has additional skills lessons at the back of the book which are thematically linked to the corresponding ‘fast track’ lesson.
- Each lesson has a clear goal and final task. For shorter courses, get each student to choose three tasks they would definitely like to do. Based on the results, you can prioritize those lessons.
At the start of the course, make a point of asking about students’ learning priorities, and then plan accordingly. Once you’ve completed an input and speaking lesson, you can ask the students if they want to further explore the topic through the skills lesson.
2. Make use of tasks
Open tasks, where students exchange their own ideas in a meaningful way, are a key part of individualized lessons. In essence, they are self differentiating because each student will attempt to complete the task using whatever language they are able to use. In Roadmap each of the main lessons end in a clear task connected to a Global Scale of English (GSE) can-do statement. However, there are also lots of other speaking opportunities without a ‘speaking’ label (under vocabulary or reading etc.) as well as the conversation that typically occurs in any lesson, all of which can be treated as open tasks.
3. Give individualized feedback and then share it
In a group setting, it’s impossible to give individual feedback on every single task. However, you can give individual attention to different people over the course of the lesson. Make yourself available to give students the language they need as it arises during an activity. Then, when they’ve completed the task, write some of these examples on the board, but leave a gap for the keywords. Elicit these keywords from other members of the class. If they can’t get it, ask the student(s) you helped to explain the missing language. You might then repeat the task, but this time give attention to a new group.
4. Check what vocabulary students know
All coursebook writers and teachers make choices about what vocabulary to introduce to students. In the case of Roadmap we are guided by the GSE and teachers might like to experiment themselves using the GSE Teacher Toolkit. However, all students will have their own lexicons. You can individualize learning better by asking students to rate the words you aim to cover in a unit according to whether they know them or not. For example, 1 = it’s completely new, 2 = the meaning is familiar but I don’t use it, 3 = this is part of my productive vocabulary.
5. Get students to create their own word lists and cards
This knowledge will enable you to encourage students to focus on their individual vocabulary needs. They can reinforce learning by developing a word list or making flashcards using a web tool such as Quizlet. For new words they may have a word/collocation with an L1 translation.
With vocabulary that is already familiar, they could have cards with a keyword on one side and varied collocations or common examples on the other (also in English). It’s worth setting aside some time in class to do this at the start of a course, and if your students are engaged and motivated, it can become a regular discipline for new vocabulary.
6. Ask more open questions about usage, not just meaning
When we do vocabulary tasks from the course material in class, we can use open questions to individualize learning with the following two techniques. Firstly, as you go through the answers, rather than going in order 1 to 8, you can nominate people to give the answer which they’re most unsure of and want to check. Secondly, we can ask the rest of the class open questions which focus on how words are used. For example, take these questions from different vocabulary exercises in Roadmap B1+:
- What (other) things might you spill?
- Why might a character in a series be killed off?
- What (else) can you describe as reliable?
- What can someone do to stay calm?
You could also ask questions such as, what’s the opposite of stay calm? or what might you say if you spilled something?
When you ask these questions, you are obviously checking meaning, but more importantly you are also pushing students to reveal how well they know a word. Do they know the collocations of spill and reliable? Do they have the other language they might need to talk about the aspects of a TV series or help someone who is in a panic? You can then encourage students to choose how much of this potentially new language they want to add to their word lists.
7. Provide open homework tasks and make time to share the results
Homework is another opportunity to individualize learning. Give students a wide choice of tasks based on the material of the course or beyond, for example:
- Choose any number of exercises they want to do from workbook material
- Find and read one article they are interested in (in L1 or L2)
- Write five things they want to learn how to say in English (perhaps using Google Translate)
- Write up an interesting conversation they had in English (the conversation could be originally in L1 or L2)
Whatever task they choose, the key is to dedicate some classroom time to discussing which homework task they did and why. Encourage them to explain their answers and what they learned through the task, and whether or not they would choose to do a similar task again.
For a more detailed introduction on how your can individualize your teaching, check out Andrew’s webinar:
Personalizing your class with Roadmap
Roadmap is a new, eight-level general English course for adult learners.
The rich content and flexible organization allows teachers to personalize their lessons to give students the specific language training they need to progress. Engaging and clearly-organized with an extensive range of support materials, Roadmap makes lessons easy to prepare and fun to teach.
No other course is so focused on helping learners achieve the goals for each lesson.