How to Teach ESL Adult Learners

Hearing and Repeating

Just as a baby learns by hearing and repeating, you will teach your students this way. Begin by emphasizing that your students should

ESL Class

listen–and listen very

carefully. They will listen to you or a video or DVD, and use what they hear as a model to practice. Have them repeat what they hear, even though they will have a few mispronunciations and slips of the tongue. Naturally, just as a baby learns, and with the constant practice of repetition, they eventually repeat correctly.

A Listening Exercise

Try this exercise when a new student or students enter the classroom. Have your more advanced students act as assistant teachers. You set the pace, and then have them pose questions to the new student(s), assisting with the responses.

For example, the new student enters, and you greet him or her with "Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” The students in class also greet the student in the same way. The student atomically realizes that this is a greeting and will attempt to repeat it. He may already know this expression. You then have your students continue to follow a pattern of introductions. You can begin my saying “My name is…” then point to several students and ask each in turn, “What is your name?" By the time you get around to the new student, he will know how to reply, and will reply correctly, giving his name.

Using Numbers

Write the numbers from 1 to 20 on the board and refresh your students’ memory on these. Then, proceed to ask them their ages. By the time you get to the new student, he will understand what is being asked. He will reply, giving his age.

Before this new person has even spent 15 minutes in the class, he will be able to tell his name, give his age, know some numbers in the language, and, if you help him with a map posted in the classroom, he will probably be able to say where he is from.

The constant repetition aids the student in pronunciation, especially if you also play a video or DVD showing people greeting each other and sharing information about themselves.

Use Examples, Not Explanations

Try to use examples of grammatical structures rather than giving your students long or complicated explanations. One of the reasons for this is that some students react negatively to the idea of learning grammar–they want to learn English! Keep the focus on speaking, so that they will know this is how something is said without analyzing it.

Analysis of grammar can come during homework sessions, which they can do at their own pace, as their interest in the language develops. Then, they will begin to recognize certain grammatical patterns on their own. This awareness will make them proud. "Oh, that is how that is put together,” or "I can figure out other patterns with this structure!” They must develop a feel for grammar on their own without your forcing it on them.

Motivate Your Students

In order to encourage conversation and new vocabulary, get your students motivated by identifying their needs and interests. Study their personalities and plan lessons around their needs and interests. Lessons like this will keep them interested and happy,as well as remove fear, anxiety and low self-confidence. You should also approach teaching in a flexible manner.

Be Diplomatic When Correcting Mistakes

One final point: Please handle correcting students’ mistakes diplomatically. Simply repeat the word or sentence correctly, having the student repeat it after you. You can also recap his mistakes at the end of his statement, and carefully correct them. Assure your students that even though they may be embarrassed to make mistakes, mistakes are good, since they give the opportunity to reinforce the correction, and retain it more easily.


Content comes from author's own experience