Teaching ESL FAQ
I have difficulty understanding some of my students. What should I do?
If you do not understand a student, ask for clarification rather than repetition. As you listen, note specific difficulties with
sounds or patterns and use these as areas of focus for further lessons.
How should I correct the students' pronunciation?
The goal is not to eliminate accents, but to help students to make themselves readily understood.
- Model clear speaking and use repetition.
- Demonstrate the mechanics of how each individual sound is produced (placement of lips, tongue, teeth.)
- Clap or count syllables and stress.
- Model inflection. Even correctly pronounced words and sentences can be misunderstood if the inflection is not consistent with standard English.
- Consider pace. Encourage students to slow the pace of their speech so that they will be more understandable.
- There are many useful pronunciation guides on the web, such as
What is the best way to approach grammar?
We recommend you address grammar using real-life, content-based material such as the
ESL newspapers, recorded television programs, student writing, role-playing conversations, etc.
Have the students identify idioms or grammar forms that are confusing to them, then use those forms to model other examples and construct exercises.
Limit your focus to one or two points per session, give ample opportunity for practice and review often. You can use this
Checklist to monitor student's progress, and refer to this online list
of grammar points to focus on.
Some of the students are obviously lost in class, but I can't hold everybody up just for them - what do I do?
Create a comfortable atmosphere for students to take the initiative in asking for clarification.
- Leave time for questions and wait longer than usual for responses to questions you ask.
- For each lesson make your aim, structure, main points and transitions clear. Preview and Summarize.
- Let students know when something is very important.
- Take the last two minutes of class and ask students to write what they learned and what they are still
unsure of, collect them and use their questions as a starting point for the next class.
My students need more opportunities to speak English outside of class. How can I help?
Exposure and practice are the keys to learning a new language. Encourage your students to set aside some family time
every day where only English is spoken, and to have more contact with other English speakers, perhaps by volunteering
in the community – in their children’s schools, or for community service agencies.
Use your creativity to devise tasks, role-plays, or field trips that require more English practice.
Working with Beginners
- Be sensitive to the many challenges facing newcomers to this country.
- Begin with oral language - listening and speaking, before moving on to reading and writing.
- Choose one way to give instructions, and stick with it.
- When introducing new vocabulary:
- Present only 4 – 6 new items at one time.
- Use repetition and visual aids, and give multiple examples.
- When teaching listening skills:
- Play “Thumbs up-Thumbs down” and have students indicate true or false to statements that you make about a picture or
some person or item. Examples: “John is a man.” “John has two eyes.” “John is fat.” “John is a girl”.
- Occasionally play spoken audio tapes so that students can hear different voices speaking English.
- Match actions to verbs whenever possible.
- When students begin speaking:
- Have everyone speak in unison – “choral repetition.”
- Use gestures to clarify meaning for “stop,” “listen,” “speak.” (For example, cup your hand to your ear as you say, “listen.”)
- To help students identify and mimic long words, phases, or sentences, clap or beat out the syllables.
- “Back chain” - repeat sections of a sentence beginning with the last word or phrase and building it up to the complete sentence.
- For help with pronunciation and inflection, we recommend. Jazz Chants by Carolyn Graham,
Oxford University Press (1979), which you will find in our library.
- In dialogue practice, first read it out loud to the class. Have students drill in 2 lines, facing each other as
partners. Have one line rotate to form new pairs. Continue until all have shifted.
- When teaching basic reading & writing:
- Remember that students’ educational backgrounds vary.
- Be certain that your students know that English is read left to right, top to bottom, that a word and a letter are
different, and that the same letter can have different shapes (upper and lower case, different typefaces).
- Begin with the alphabet, then move on to sight words and basic sentences.
- Put vocabulary words on cards, and make a set of cards with matching pictures. Use them to play “Concentration.”
- Have the students work together to organize a mixed-up set of alphabet cards (or a mixed-up set of words to form a
sentence); then have students recite them in unison.
- Try having students create picture dictionaries by cutting and pasting magazine photos of their choice and labeling
them. Help the students build sentences with their words, and have them copy those into their “dictionaries.”
- Have the students tell a story or experience. Write what the students say and have them copy what you have written.
Then have them practice reading what they have composed.
- Try written dialogues: have them write answers to simple written questions from you. Do not correct the writing but
respond just to the content of what they have written.
- Create fill-in-the-blank exercises with text that students are familiar with, such as their own writing , or song lyrics.
- Check the Reading & Writing section for lesson ideas.