Are Mixed Ability Classes Better? (Including 9 pros and pros!)

Mixed Ability Classes

As an ESL teacher, grouping my students is one of the toughest tasks I have faced. It is no secret that every student does not have the same proficiency level.

Some are quick learners and adapt to language changes easily, while others may suffer due to improper grammar usage.

If you’re an ESL teacher or tutor, you may have also wondered, “are mixed-ability classes better”? Mixed ability classes offer tremendous benefits, including discussing and getting others’ perspectives and diversity of opinions. In addition, Mixed ability classes help students to increase interaction among students who may not have the opportunity to interact otherwise.

Fortunately, you no longer have to ponder about this. Here are all the details you require about mixed-ability classes and their role in a student’s life.

You might also enjoy reading: How Difficult Is The ESL Supplemental Test?

What Are Mixed-Ability Classes?

Mixed ability grouping is the system of education where students with different proficiencies and abilities are grouped on the same level. These groupings are mostly popular in ESL teaching atmospheres. Therefore, mixed ability groupings are also called heterogeneous learning atmospheres.

For example, a group of students may want to learn Spanish, but not every person will be on the same proficiency level. Some may be on a beginner level, while others may fall in the intermediate and advanced categories. Putting these students in the same classes can help them improve and learn better.

However, there are also some disadvantages of this education system that may affect your decision to follow this grouping for your classes or not.

See also: 9 Creative Ways to Teach English For Instant Improved Class Participation.

9 Mixed-Ability Grouping Advantages And Disadvantages

Let’s now explore four advantages and four disadvantages of mixed ability groupings for both students and English teachers:

First, let’s explore a few mixed-ability grouping advantages:

1- Supportive Environment

A primary aspect of mixed-ability classes is that you will get to create a supportive environment for your students. The peers can help each other during projects and for exam preparation. It will also allow the students to discuss ideas and decide about specific things easily.

The students on the advanced level can help their peers on the beginner level and gain more confidence in their abilities while revising the basics.

When they help others, their foundation in the language becomes stronger, which may make them enthusiastic and motivated to attend classes.

2- Mixed-Ability Grouping Enables Team Building

Online ESL tutoring may seem easy, but it can be tough if your students don’t cooperate with each other. That is where the team-building benefit of mixed-ability classes comes into play. Advanced students can help their juniors do various tasks easily.

This allows different students to connect with each other while helping one another out. So you can improve team building by enabling kids of different levels to interact with each other. The students can become friends easily after talking to one another.

It is no secret that some students fail to socialize with others because they fear what to talk about. So education material can be a common icebreaker for various students.

3- Mixed-Ability Grouping Helps Get More Attendance

As a successful ESL teacher, you must ensure that your class attendance is good. This is particularly true if you teach students at a physical institute instead of an online company. The best part is that mixed-ability classes can improve attendance.

When students help each other, their foundation in the language becomes stronger, which may make them enthusiastic and motivated to attend classes. So you can raise the percentage of attendance by using these lessons to encourage beginner and advanced students to attend classes.

Making new friends and getting to talk to them almost every day because of classes is also a good motivation for most ESL learners.

4- Mixed-Ability Grouping Makes Lessons More Interactive

Lastly, as all the students in the class are not homogenous and have different backgrounds, ages, experiences, maturity, and knowledge, it is a perfect place for discussing a new topic and getting the unique perspectives of others

Everyone brings something new and unique to the class. In such an environment, everyone understands and accepts each other, contributing to personality development and open-mindedness.

Furthermore, as a teacher, you can interact with students and learn various things from their life experiences, so you can teach and learn simultaneously.

5- Mixed-Ability Grouping Promotes Leaderships

To succeed in real life, students need to develop skills required in real life. Skills like leadership, time management, self-motivation, and working with others are required to succeed in real life.

Within mixed-ability groups, students can learn to lead and take the initiative. Another good thing about mixed-ability grouping is that it inspires confidence and delivers appropriately challenging experiences in the classroom. 

Now, let’s touch on mixed-ability grouping disadvantages.

6- Difficulty In Giving Attention

As mixed ability groups consist of people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, linguistic abilities, and experiences, it may become tough for you to keep up with each student

You may find it extremely challenging to give individual attention and monitor the students effectively, which may hinder effective learning.

Each student also has their own learning pace and a different way of learning, so some things can shatter the confidence of some students as they may feel they are not being understood or feel out of place. 

This is why you must adapt as an ESL teacher quickly to solve your students’ problems and cater to their needs. Of course, this may be hard for you because of the different routes.

7- Mixed-Ability Grouping Can Reduce Confidence

This limitation mainly affects students because a high number of people in one class can be overwhelming for some. So the overall confidence of some students can decrease easily because of issues such as stage fright and giving wrong answers to other people.

The language barrier and differences in knowledge and experience can make some people very shy and afraid.

You will have to maintain the class count considering various factors. Be sure not to put too many students in one classroom for better ventilation and communication.

8- Mixed-Ability Grouping May Lead To a Lack Of Interest

Some students may not feel interested in the topic because it may not relate to their life, they may not know the language well, or they may feel it does not go with their personality. Advanced students may feel bored and feel like the teacher’s tasks are not challenging and interesting enough

Sometimes some students, particularly weaker students, may feel like they are not given enough chance to speak as other classmates constantly take turns or the teacher speaks too much. Therefore, you must know the student’s interests and abilities and organize the study and activities accordingly. 

It is your duty must also to ensure everyone participates in the class and should design the course as interactively as possible. If you cannot recognize a lack of interest, you may be in for a shock when students stop attending your classes.

9- Difficulty In Managing The Class

Lastly, it may also become extremely challenging to manage a mixed grouping class because students on an advanced level might feel uninterested in doing simple tasks or may finish them quickly

So they may misbehave with the students on a beginner level as they take time to finish the tasks or be unable to finish them, which may cause frustration in the weaker students and lead them to give up on learning the language altogether

In such an environment, bringing everyone on the same page is difficult, and it can often result in chaos, which is stressful for the students and exhausting for a lot of ESL teachers.

See also: What Can You Do With A Masters in ESL? 9 Career Options.

Are Mixed-Ability Classes Better?

Mixed-ability classes lead to better learning outcomes. Teachers in blended and personalized mixed-ability grouping often use small group instruction as a strategy for providing targeted, differentiated instruction to students at a similar level (Source: InternationalJournal of Educational Psychology)

For example, grouping students with others with more or less advanced academic skills can help students develop growth mindsets around learning and higher self-efficacy in their academic and non-academic skills. 

After weighing all the benefits and limitations, mixed classes are better. This is because most of the drawbacks are easy to eliminate by improving your skills and making lessons more interactive. 

You can also use different techniques to encourage some competition between advanced and beginner students. It will allow you to prevent higher-level kids from looking down on their juniors. This will also motivate beginners to do better and participate in discussions more.

Best Tips For Handling Mixed-Ability Classes:

  • Make time to get to know your students
  • Prepare personalized learning objectives
  • Allow students to use their first language (when needed)
  • Mix individual, group, and pair work
  • Plan extra activities for high-ability students. 

See also: Top 11 Benefits of ESL Classes: The Facts Explained.

Final Words

Overall, mixed-ability classes can be better when handled properly. As a teacher, you need to find the proper balance.

In this guide, we discuss the pros and cons of mixed-ability grouping; as you can see, the advantages overweight the disadvantages.

The classes are worthwhile if you can maintain a healthy environment that encourages every student to learn.


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

Recent Posts