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Tips to Teach ESL to Adults

The most important thing to remember when you teach ESL to adults is that the class is not about you. It's about your students.

Spend to much time talking about yourself and you'll end up talking to yourself - you will lose your students. This law is so simple, and yet, so many teachers spend most of their time beginning sentences with "I". I am, I want, I did, I like... Wrong!

Build confidence

This is the most important aspect of your work, wether you teach ESL to adults or kids. Without confidence in themselves, your students won't have the ability to learn anything, and they won't have the courage to talk to you or other students in class. Everything you do should be focused on helping your students build their confidence.

And how do you build confidence? Praise, praise, praise and focus more on the good stuff then the mistakes they make. You should enthusiastically say things like "very good", or "that was a very nice sentence" or "interesting opinion" after your students talk. I remember that I would feel very good when my Chinese teachers would have that kind of positive attitude with me in Chinese class.

Even the smartest students won't be able to have a basic conversation unless they have confidence in themselves. So help them to build it.

Don't focus on grammar

Grammar has its place in an ESL class for adults, but it shouldn't take too much space. Most students hate grammar. Unless you can teach it in a very interesting and original way, you will lose their interest. The best way I know to practice grammar concepts with ESL adult students is to use sentence patterns.

For example, if I ask a student: "Where did you go last weekend?" I would also show him how to formulate his answer. I'd write on the board "Last weekend, I went to..." and ask him to complete the sentence.

When we teach English to adults, we often think "My students have no opinions, they don't know what to say." It's not that they don't know what to say... They usually don't know how to begin to say it. Giving them sentence patterns to formulate their ideas makes a big difference, and it does improve their grammar skills at the same time.

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Make your class interactive

Teaching ESL to adults shouldn't be a one-way thing. You have to see yourself more like an animator than a teacher. Make them stand up, play games, and ask them to pair-up for some activities. If your students stay on their chairs for the whole class, they will get bored.

Ask questions

Many of your students are actually studying English because their lives are boring. Maybe they are there for the simple purpose of making new friends, exchanging new ideas, and being heard. Ask them questions. Make them feel involved. Make them feel important. Ask them to tell you about their lives and show them that you are genuinely interested in what they are sharing with you. Be a good listener.

Know your students names

I know it sounds stupid to even mention this point, but you'd be surprised to know how many ESL teachers don't even know half of their students' names. Find a way to remember each student's name during the very first class.

Let them ask you questions

I know I said that when you teach ESL to adults, the class shouldn't be about you, but there are still some moments when it's appropriate to encourage your students to ask you questions. They will feel more comfortable with you if they know who you are, where you're from, and what you think about some issues. I always make it a point to let them know that (like in the Kill Bill movie) "no subject will ever be taboo!"

What about shy students?

One of the most difficult tasks you'll encounter when you will teach ESL to adults will be to make shy students feel comfortable and talk. One thing that can be intimidating for them is to see that other students are talking a lot and that everything seems easy for them. What you can do is to not let the confident ones take all the space and do all the talking. Control how much time is given to each student, and do your best to make shy people talk as much as everybody else.

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