Top Strategies for Teaching ESL Adults

Posted by on March 21st, 2017

Teaching adult English as a Second Language (ESL) learners comes with a unique set of challenges. In addition to teaching them specific content, as an instructor you must also overcome cultural barriers and teach language usage skills for oral and written communication. There are several ways to turn these challenges into goals and opportunities.


Classroom Library – Build a classroom library with a variety of English texts. Encourage students to check out books for leisurely reading as well as materials for content skill building. Label books according to the various English levels within your classroom.


Cultural Discussion – Most people are more comfortable when sharing information about a topic they are extremely familiar with. Facilitate a classroom conversation in which students share and explain their cultural norms in English to their peers.


Dialogue and Role Play – Dialogue and role play are effective strategies for adult English Language Learners (ELL). Structure activities around day to day activities such as work, shopping and general conversations. In addition, the dialogue practice can be geared towards a specific content area.


Discussion Starters & Mini-Debates – Discussion starters and mini-debates are ways to encourage research skills, vocabulary enhancement and oral communication simultaneously. Choose topics based on historical or current events. Famous people, places and things are also topics that will boost student interest.


Keep a Diary – Require students to keep a learning diary or journal in English. Provide time at the end of each session for students to jot down what they have learned. This gives you insight on their progress with both their written language skills and understanding of the material taught.


Outside Access – ELL practice should not be limited to the classroom. Assign activities and lessons that require them to practice their English language use outside of the classroom. Examples include:

  • Conducting an interview with someone in English.
  • Dining out and using English with the wait staff.
  • Visiting a grocery store and comparing prices.


Peer Groups – English speaking peer groups allow students opportunities to practice their language skills in a less formal setting. The groups can be project based or simply assembled for language practice. The goal is to increase the amount of time that students spend in meaningful communication.


Social Media/Technology Switch – Challenge students to change their social media profiles and technology settings to English.


With careful planning you have the ability to craft learning activities that are both engaging and meaningful for your adult ESL learners. The strategies should include a mix of classroom activities and outside demonstration opportunities.


Your instructional assortment should also include teacher led and peer driven activities. The blend of these approaches will encourage students to achieve mastery of both the oral and written aspects of the English language.


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