Excuse the German word in my headline but I can’t think of a good translation that I equally like. “Methodenkoffer” (method suitcase, literally) is basically a collection of methods, in this case for teaching ESL (or really any foreign language).
What is a Grammar Buffet?
I think I don’t have to explain how a buffet works, but just in case: It’s usually an arrangement of food where everyone can just choose the food he wants. In my case, I use grammar exercises instead of food.
This method works well if you have to teach a class with a great variation in language level, but you’re still supposed to teach grammar. Everyone will need to revise a different grammar topic, some might not even know anything about the topic someone else needs to revise, while other topics might be too easy for other students.
So what do I actually do?
This method needs good preparation in advance since you have to find exercises and practice materials that don’t require a lot of explanation by the teacher. Ideal are self-study materials since they usually include a short overview and explanation of the grammar topic at hand. Make sure your materials cover topics for all of your students (e.g. different tenses that are taught at different language levels), and make enough copies of each worksheet for all of your students. You might be surprised at lower-level students who make a beeline for the advanced materials, and actually get them mostly right.
How does it work?
Set up all the worksheets on a side table and explain to your students that they can choose their own worksheet(s) for the lesson. Make it clear that they can ask you for help at any time, and that you will then come to their table and answer their questions individually. Usually, students know if they’re at different levels, but just in case, explain to them that you’re choosing this method to allow each one of them to work on the grammar topic they need most even though they are at different levels.
If your students know how to work with dictionaries, provide a few so that they don’t have to ask you for help for individual words. This will give you more time to actually address grammar questions.
Tell them that you will correct their worksheets when they are done (either do it in class if you have the time, or do it at home and give them back the next day–and make sure you have time to go over some of their mistakes with each student).
I have used this method a number of times when I had classes of students ranging from 9 to 16, learning English as a foreign language at school, during a holiday course. They usually liked it well since it allowed them to focus on something they feel they need to practise more (or even on some new grammar topic that interests them), and to work through the chosen material at their own pace.
If you try it out, I would be happy to hear back from you how it worked for you. 🙂