How do I teach ESL? 10 Tips for Beginners


First of all, for educators new to teaching English to students who speak another language - don't despair!  Most educators who start working with English Learners have little or no training in teaching English as a Second Language.  Yes, having classes, classroom materials, supportive colleagues, and research-based resources are necessary, but you can get a start with these suggestions:

1) Create rapport (everyday)!  Learn student names and how to pronounce them.  Be willing to keep trying until you say it right.  Use greetings in your student's home languages.  Smile - often.  Learn how to be culturally appropriate and your students will be willing to learn your culture.  Play getting to know you games that don't require talking yet, like Simon Says.

2) Be an actor!  You will need to pantomime, gesture, and perform charades often!  Even your intermediate or advanced English learners will benefit from you gesturing every possible word you say and idea that you present.  For example, say, "I like apples!" (Tap your sternum, hug your body and smile, reach up to grab an apple from the tree and take a bite, smile again, and rub your tummy.)

3) Be an artist!  You don't have to be an amazing artist - stick figures will work just great.  Use the whiteboard, Smartboard, chalkboard, chart paper, easel or paper on the table and sketch everything you say and want to get across to students.  The more support you can give your students to understand the language they are hearing, the better!

4) Use visuals!  Find old magazines, cut out everyday images and laminate them.  Go on the Internet and find royalty-free pictures to project with the vocabulary you are teaching.  For example, show an image of a chair with the word chair.  Play games with picture cards like make a sentence with the card that you get.

5) Speak slowly and clearly to match the English levels of your students.  If they can't make out your words, they won't understand you.

6) Use songs and chants to help teach vocabulary and concepts.  For example, create a song about parts of the body to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

7) Simplify and enlarge difficult texts for your ELLs.  Rewrite a complicated article, paragraph, or chapter that has challenging vocabulary in simpler language and project it on the board or print out copies with larger font.

8) Make connections!  Help your ESL students by connecting ideas ("The head is part of the body and the stomach is part of the body."); lessons ("Yesterday, we learned about the parts of the body, today, we'll learn about parts of a room."); words ("Both prevent and preview start with pre.") etc.  Making connections with familiar material to new material will help students make sense of the English language and the concepts you are teaching.

9) Get students interacting!  Pair students with higher proficiency with students with intermediate proficiency for activities and games.  Direct students to practice talking and listening with one another, reading, and writing together.

10) Repeat and review (often!)  Always come back to what you just taught and rephrase it in another way, with a new visual, a new gesture etc.  Come back to a skill or piece of language that you taught yesterday, last week, or last month and give students the chance to practice it again!

Teaching students another language well can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional career and many say, the most rewarding experience of their lives.  Be brave.  Be patient. Be light on your feet.  And keep learning.  Seek out programs, colleagues, and high-quality resources for teaching ESL or ELLs.  Finally, enjoy!

Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen


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