6 ESL Professional Development Ideas to Learn and Grow as Teachers

Ever had one of those uh-oh moments that completely ruined your lesson?

One time when I was still training to be a teacher, I had lost my lesson plan minutes before my teaching assessment thanks to a computer outage. As a result, I was completely unprepared when I taught my lesson, and I spent the entire class in a state of panic as I tried to make up activities on the spot.

It didn’t go well.

The students could tell that I didn’t have a well-planned lesson, and my evaluators certainly weren’t impressed.

A couple of years later, a similar situation happened. Except this time, I drew upon the things I learned in various professional development courses and was able to come up with engaging activities and learning exercises on my feet.

The class went smoothly—arguably better than how it would’ve gone with my original lesson. And I learned two important things: You should always back up your lesson plans and professional development activities make you a better teacher.

The Purpose of Professional Development Activities

There’s this common misconception that being an ESL teacher abroad is like being paid to go on an international vacation.

While there’s no denying that an overseas teaching position is a great way to experience life in a different country, teaching ESL is anything but a year-long holiday. Teachers are expected to overcome language barriers and explain the most complicated parts of the English language to people are barely able to speak and understand it.

And the only way teachers can achieve that is through ongoing ESL professional development activities that teach them how to motivate and connect with their students. Professional development does more than help ESL teachers work more effectively—it helps them learn how to engage with students regardless of their age or nationality.

Continue reading to learn more about ESL professional development ideas, and how they can be used to make you a better teacher.

6 ESL Professional Development Ideas to Learn and Grow as Teachers

1. Schedule ESL Professional Development Presentations

The goal of an ESL professional development presentation should always be to help you and your colleagues become better ESL teachers. Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly presentations give different teachers a chance to talk about something related to teaching ESL. These presentations provide a great chance to have your colleagues share ideas and strategies with each other.

Good professional development presentations focus on specific pain points or weaknesses commonly found in the classroom and give actionable solutions to overcoming them.

Teachers should ask themselves, “what can people learn from my presentation?” when choosing a topic to present on. One effective way to turn presentations into professional development opportunities is to talk about trends in the ESL industry and how to seamlessly integrate these trends into the classroom.

A few other topics that might be included in a presentation are:

  • Ways to help students improve English using social media.
  • How to teach English classes online.
  • Apple and Android apps that help with teaching.

2. Share Teaching and ESL Professional Development Ideas

Another great way to encourage professional development is to put a “resource box” in the teacher’s office. The idea is to have teachers write down teaching ideas, fun activities and teaching strategies and put them in the box. You can then open the idea box once a week during a teacher’s meeting and look at all the ideas and resources submitted.

If the idea of using a physical box sounds too archaic, you can also create a document or spreadsheet using Google Docs and give your colleagues permission to edit the document. They can then use the online document as a way to type up teaching ideas, which everyone can talk about during the next staff meeting.

3. Hold Regularly Scheduled Staff Meetings

Teacher’s meetings are one of the most effective ways to make sure that everyone’s on the same page in terms of teaching goals, deadlines and teaching strategies. Unlike presentations, where everyone listens to one person talk about a specific topic, staff meetings require everyone to participate in the discussion and share their ideas and experiences.

Staff meetings work best when they’re weekly or bi-weekly. That way, all staff members are more likely to stay up-to-date with news, materials and anything else related to teaching ESL. These meetings are also a good way to get feedback on teaching material, like textbooks and software. You can also turn staff meetings into short training events that focus on learning how to use new hardware and software, in addition to exploring ways to help students learn English more efficiently.

4. Host Teacher-Training Workshops

Workshops are a common way for educators to learn new teaching strategies and improve their pedagogical skills. Ranging anywhere from a full day to a week or longer, teacher-training workshops are typically filled with a number of different lectures and activities that focus on specific areas within teaching—like creating teaching aids, using technology in the classroom or building rapport with students.

One excellent technology to bring into the classroom is FluentU, which provides engaging content for your students, no matter what age range or skill level they are.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Take a step back from the traditional textbook approach and encourage your students to learn languages in a more natural way. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it also offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find authentic content approachable and within reach.

The thing to remember about teacher-training workshops is that they’re only as good as the people presenting. If the workshops aren’t informative or well planned, most teachers will lose interest and gain very little from attending. For this reason, workshops must be engaging and cover topics that teachers actually benefit from learning about.

5. Attend Virtual Courses and Seminars on ESL Professional Development

Sometimes it’s hard for teachers to visit workshops and seminars because of schedule conflicts and travel expenses. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easier for teachers to attend professional development courses without having to travel across the country.

The TESOL International Association hosts a number of online skill-building workshops and courses throughout the year, including virtual seminars covering:

  • Cultural understanding in the ESL learning environment.
  • Bringing social issues into classroom lessons.
  • Ways to teach grammar more effectively.

The best part about TESOL’s virtual seminars and courses is that they cover more than just classroom teaching material. They cover anything and everything involving English education and students, including social and cultural factors that could influence the way students from various backgrounds learn English. These courses help teachers become more balanced and mindful of their students’ strengths and weaknesses, which in turn improves the learning experience as a whole.

6. Supply Resources Covering ESL Professional Development Ideas

The best way for you and your colleagues to grow professionally is to have access to resources designed specifically for ESL teachers. The goal is to draw from a diverse list of resources that incorporate a number of different ideas and perspectives, making it easier for teachers to think outside of the box when teaching in the classroom.

Here are some great free resources to help you continuously grow as an ESL teacher:

  • BBC Teacher Development: The BBC has a wealth of free materials for ESL educators who are looking to sharpen their teaching skills and learn new and creative ways to engage with learners.
  • Colorin Colorado Podcast: Colorin Colorado is an ESL project that focuses on immigrant families learning English in the United States. Along with teaching ideas, Colorin Colorado helps educators learn more about the needs and challenges that immigrant ESL students face on a day-to-day basis.
  • Reading Rockets Professional Development Webcast: Reading Rockets touches on ESL, but primarily focuses on teaching young learners. Its podcasts incorporate everything from pedagogy to child psychology and it’s a valuable resource to anyone teaching kindergarten and elementary school students.


Professional development is an ongoing project. It may sound cliché, but teachers refer to themselves as “lifelong learners” for a reason. Being a good teacher is more than just learning how to teach from a textbook—it also requires you to learn how to connect with students from different backgrounds and learning styles, and come up with teaching strategies that work best for each individual learner.

By participating in professional development activities, you’re able to continue to improve your teaching skills, as well as help your students reach all of their academic goals.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe