Very Low-Level Students
The English Gym: Approaches for Very Low-Level Students
Hello English Gym Teachers,
I was talking to some colleagues who use The English Gym and the conversation turned to how to approach the textbook for very low-level students. The English Gym was designed for low to intermediate level students, but there are a few strategies that can be employed for low and very low-level students. So, I decided to make a page on the website to address this issue.
I’ll go through each section of a unit and illustrate some ways to adjust the lesson for very low-level students.
PAGE ONE: LISTENING
Normally, students would first fill in the missing words for the interview questions. Students should choose from the words found in the vocabulary box.
However, if students find this difficult, simply refer them to the question translations found near the back of the book on pages 121 to 124. The translations add one more layer of support for the students and even very low-level students can usually complete the task.
If students still find this part difficult, then they can refer to the tapescript on the 3rd page of the unit and simply copy the words.
Next, the teacher should play the audio for the unit. Students need to listen and verify that they have the correct question and write or circle the answers that they hear. The answer part may be difficult for very low-level students. In order to help them, the teacher may want to write a few hints on the board for each question.
Finally, check the answers. Students should change books with a partner. The teacher should call on students for the answers. Students should confirm or correct their partner’s answers. This keeps them accountable for trying their best during this section.
PAGE TWO: USEFUL VOCABULARY
The teacher should go over the vocabulary with the students, pointing out difficult pronunciations or meanings. Pronunciation practice should be done as a class, with the students repeating after the teacher.
For intermediate-level classes, I usually have the students quiz each other on the vocabulary. One student has their book open to the vocabulary section, the other has their book closed. An easy quiz would be reading the English terms and the answer would be in Japanese. A more challenging quiz would be to read the Japanese definitions and the answer would in English.
For very low-level students, I simply have them do a reading aloud practice. One student reads the English terms, and their partner reads the Japanese definitions. If needed, they can then reverse roles.
I find that in every class, students have a range of abilities. I usually set three options and let the students decide how they would like to practice.
Easiest: Reading Practice. One student reads the English; the other student reads the Japanese.
Medium Difficulty: Quiz, English to Japanese. One student reads the English, the other student answers in Japanese.
Most Challenging: Quiz, Japanese to English. One student reads the Japanese, the other student answers in English.
PAGE TWO: SOMETHING’S NOT QUITE RIGHT
(in some units)
Normally, I have students work on the activity by themselves for a few minutes and then consult with a partner.
For very low-level students, I’ll have them work in groups of about 4 students. This increases the chances of someone knowing the answer and instructing the others.
Also, the teacher can write hints on the board.
Check answers as a class.
PAGE TWO: THE QUESTION GAME
or similar activity (in some units)
Usually, I will first explain the activity, then model the activity with some students. For most activities, there are a list of questions. Have the students ask the questions, one by one and choose one of the more enthusiastic students to try to guess the answer. On the website, there are examples in the answer key PDF that work well with students of all levels.
I find that The Question Game and similar activities appeal to very low-level students. For these activities, students use more body language and imagination and lower-level students seem less hesitant to express themselves in this way than more bookish students.
PAGE TWO: EXERCISES
Students need to do a variety of activities the complete the sentences. Please remind the students that these sentences are alternate responses to the initial interview questions found on the 1st page of the unit.
Low-level students may need to consult the question translations found on pages 121 to 124. If further assistance is needed, the teacher can write some hints on the board.
Check the answers as a class. Then, have the students do a pair reading aloud practice. One student reads the interview questions found on the 1st page of the unit, the other student reads the answers from the Exercises section.
PAGE THREE: TAPESCRIPT
At first glance, students may be intimidated by the long length of the tapescript. Some teachers may be too! Rest assured, the majority of students can do this activity, and when they reach the end, they feel a great deal of accomplishment. So, first of all, try to assuage students’ levels of anxiety by assuring them that, yes, they can do it!
Next, the teacher should lead students in a group pronunciation practice of the terms highlighted in red. In pairs, have the students check the meaning of the terms by having one student read the Japanese definitions and their partner reading the English terms. Usually, I simply let the students decide who will be the Japanese reader and who will be the English reader. Often students will do rock, paper, scissors to decide.
The main part of this section is reading aloud. For all of the units, the “B” student will have more to read and the vocabulary will be more challenging. The teacher should suggest that students who are better at English should take on the role of “B”, and students who are not as good at English should take on the role of “A”.
I would also suggest playing some background music during the reading aloud section. It seems to make the students less self-conscious, and they tend to relax a bit more. It also diffuses the voices of other pairs of students reading.
PAGE FOUR: CLASSMATE CONVERSATION INTERVIEW
This is the main speaking section for the unit. Students use the same initial interview questions found on the tapescript. Students should take brief notes of their partner’s answers in the spaces provided. Ideally, students should expand each question by having reactions, making comments and asking follow-up questions. Very low-level students may need a lot of encouragement and help to expand their conversations.
There are a few things that teachers can do to help very low-level students. Teachers should go around and suggest follow-up questions. Students can also refer to the tapescript for model answers and examples of follow-up questions, comments and reactions. I think that it is fine for very low-level students to model the interactions in the tapescripts. Other example answers can be found in the Exercise section on the 2nd page of each unit. Finally, the translations of the interview questions can again be referred to on pages 121 to 124.
If students are skipping the extra information sections, I would suggest them to go back and try to get that information. If some students are finishing the interview conversations too quickly, they are probably giving very short answers and not communicating enough. For fast finishers, I usually suggest that they add two more original questions, #11 and #12, in the My Questions section found at the bottom right of the page.
As an extra activity, the teacher can ask each student a question from the interview, Of course, the teacher should expand the conversation by reacting, making comments and asking follow-up questions. This serves as a good model for the students.
PAGE FOUR: OUR CONVERSATION
This is a pair writing activity. Students work in pairs and write a conversation based on the interview that they just completed. The teacher may decide to assign one question for the students to focus on, or have the students choose one question.
Basically, the students should try to write an improved version of their conversation. Now, they have a little more time to think and can use better vocabulary and try to construct a more meaningful conversation.
Students should be given about ten minutes to complete their writing. They should work together and write the same exact dialogue. If they need help, they can refer to the tapescript for ideas. Students should also try to use some phrases from the Useful Vocabulary section or Something’s Not Quite Right section. Of course, the teacher should go around and offer help and advice.
After the writing time has expired, have the students practice reading their dialogues aloud for a minute. Then, in small groups, perhaps four or six students, have each pair stand up and perform for each other. Performing in small groups reduces the pressure on students but still holds them accountable for putting in effort.
QUIZLET: VOCABULARY PRACTICE
To help your students improve their vocabulary and perform better on the quizzes, encourage them to practice using Quizlet. There is a link to the Quizlet study site on the Student Page of The English Gym website.
Many of the vocabulary cards have the exact same definitions as found on the unit quizzes. If students study using the Quizlet app, their quiz scores will definitely improve!
Adjusting the level of the lessons in The English Gym should be quick and easy to do. If you notice that your students are having difficulty with a certain section, the teacher should be able to switch to a lower level immediately, without any extra preparation. Later in the year, if the students have improved enough, the teacher can switch up to a more challenging way to approach the lesson.