6 practical tips for teaching low achievers

Successful learners or high-performers delight their teachers. They are motivated and involved, complete all the tasks easily, achieve brilliant results, have no difficulties using grammar and vocabulary properly. But let’s face it, both school teachers and tutors deal more often with problematic students, such as low-achievers. They are people who don’t do well in class and who achieve results below average. Teaching low-performers is very challenging, especially in groups because they can hold back other students.

Why are some learners low-achievers? The reasons are the following:

  1. Lack of motivation: they don’t understand the importance of learning the language and have no reason to master it.
  2. Poor results in other subjects: they are convinced that they will fail in learning English.
  3. Bad results previously: they have learnt badly before and have lots of gaps which make it very difficult to catch up with the group.
  4. Poor learning strategies.
  5. Below average cognitive ability, lack of concentration.
  6. Stress, depression, or other emotional problems.
  7. Specific disabilities limit their functioning in some way.

Most educators are not able to diagnose specific disabilities. If you happen to notice them, address the expert or your supervisor and consult the parents. 

Some schoolchildren, who ‘gave up on’ learning, disturb the lesson. In this case, teachers need to understand why they misbehave and then choose the best strategy to make them study better. Some of the ideas below might help solve discipline problems as well.

How to deal with low-achievers? Here are some practical tips for both individual and group classes.

  1. Use success-oriented tasks. Adapt some tasks from coursebooks to make them manageable for students. There should be lots of small wins that motivate. An activity from the Oxford Day Conference can be provided as an example. The teacher holds a flashcard and says ‘a helicopter’. If it is correct, children jump. If it doesn’t, stand still. This task is super easy, but it helps low-achievers to feel that they have coped with this exercise successfully (even if they followed others).

From time to time, use exercises with no wrong answer. Students are more relaxed if the chances to make mistakes are low.

2. Give extra help. Give clear and step-by-step instructions. Use more scaffolding and give extra explanations. Provide under-achievers with lots of scaffolding tables, useful phrases, pictionaries. Pay special attention to pre-reading, pre-listening and other pre-stages to increase their comprehension. If the learners are motivated but can’t work fast, give enough time to prepare at home: to look up the words, read or listen to the text, study grammar rules etc.

3. Give praise and encouragement. As we know, approval boosts learner’s confidence. Better to praise students not for their abilities but good efforts, persisting through difficulties, using successful strategies etc. Compliments should be deserved and not be over-frequent.

Support a poor learner by admitting that studying languages is hard and many people face the same difficulties. Don’t say that the task is easy and ‘you can do it!’. Say that this exercise is challenging. Praise the efforts after completing it.

4. Respect them and make demands. Don’t treat them as failures, show respect. Display high expectations. Demand that they perform to the highest level and convince them they can succeed. Fixing self-image is very important.

5. Teach how to use some learning techniques. For example, instruct them how to memorise the words, read/listen to a text for gist, talk to a partner. As it was written above, failures often happen due to poor learning techniques.

6. Motivate. People are driven by different things. Children and teens prefer engaging content, they are interested in English-speaking culture. Adults are eager to study English because they see practical outcomes. If you are not sure what will encourage your under-achieving students to learn, experiment to see what will work better.  Reminding students about their goals will keep them more focused. Read an article on internal and external motivation here.

The tips above will not be effective for all low-achievers because the reasons for not doing well are different. We hope you can find a way with under-performers by adapting some of the above-mentioned techniques.

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.


Юлия Белоног

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