7 Learning Styles: An ESL Teaching Strategy That Works

Feeling bogged down with lesson planning, paper grading and other mundane tasks?

Day-to-day ESL lessons aren’t only challenging for your students.

They’re challenging for you as well.

It’s crucial that you develop teaching strategies that will inspire and motivate your students and yourself.

If you’re not getting the results you want, how are you going to stay in good spirits and lead your classroom in a positive direction?

Here, we’re going to make sure that you’re reaching out to each and every student in your classroom.

There are seven major learning styles that students possess.

By creating lesson plans that appeal to multiple learning styles, you’re sure to see class-wide improvement.

While we don’t know how many lesson plans sit idly in your recycling bin, we do know that the result of your hard work can only be carried out with a sound ESL teaching strategy. So, before you toss out that most recent “failed” lesson plan, let’s stop a moment and think strategically.

7 Learning Styles: An ESL Teaching Strategy That Works

When we think about lesson planning, the saying, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” rings especially true.

I like to tell teachers and educators, “It’s not the lessons you planned, it’s how you planned your lessons.”

You may have created a brilliant lesson plan on paper, but if you don’t have a strategy to actually carry it out in the classroom, you are heading for some bumpy rides and unpleasant surprises!

Thankfully, a solid ESL teaching strategy remedies all that by giving you a map and a compass to navigate your ESL classroom.

The students you interact with have different personalities, learning styles and preferences. A great ESL teaching strategy is one that integrates a variety of methods and techniques — appealing to this diversity of students — while allowing you to maintain relative flexibility to adapt to various classroom situations.

Students are humans, too. They differ from each other in their preferences. When it comes to learning a new language, each student receives, processes and stores information differently. Some students may thrive using traditional papers and pencils, while others prefer collaboration and even hands-on activities. If their ideal learning styles are not recognized in the classroom, studying becomes drudgery — and students who have a hard time tend to lose their motivation.

Luckily, reaching out to different students isn’t guesswork for ESL teachers anymore.

Differences in student preferences have been loosely categorized into 7 major learning styles.

The categories are defined broadly, and it’s not uncommon to find students that fit into more than one. Sure, you may have an oddball who doesn’t seem to fit into any group — but by appealing to these major learning styles and shaking up your classroom routine, you will be well on your way to reaching more students than ever before.

We have included a comprehensive description of the seven learning styles below. Recommended classroom activities and teaching strategies are also included as a bonus to help you to be a better, strategic ESL teacher!

1. Visual (spatial)

Pictures, images and spatial understanding are the preferred learning media of visual learners. These learners love to see lessons come to life, and often sit at the front of the class to not only get a full view of their teacher’s body language and facial expressions, but also to avoid potential visual obstructions (and distractions).

Tips for Teachers:
Visual learners are your detailed note takers. They think in pictures and learn best from visual displays, slide shows, posters, clips and other visual tools. Sometimes, simple things like writing an outline of your grammar lesson on the board will also satisfy your visual learners’ desire to take notes and capture everything in their own creative and vivid manners.

2. Aural (auditory-musical)

Auditory learners rely primarily on music and sound for their learning. Information is often best acquired through verbal lectures, discussions and mini-presentations.

Tips for Teachers:
Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of words through listening to the tone, pitch, speed and other phonological nuances of your speech. Because written information may have little meaning to these students, auditory learners enjoy reading text aloud and may even bring a tape recorder to record your lecture. While your auditory learners are perfectly content with you giving a 60-minute lecture, strategically integrating audio books, songs and movies into your lesson, like those found on FluentU, will stimulate their brain and wake up your non-auditory learners.

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

3. Verbal (linguistic)

These are students who learn best through words regardless of whether they are communicated in speech or writing. When learning something new, students who belong to this category prefer hearing a detailed explanation over viewing a physical, visual demonstration.

Tips for Teachers:
Like the auditory learners, verbal learners thrive in a traditional classroom lecture. However, they are also very interpersonal and welcome opportunities to interact with words and sounds through discussions, asking questions and teaching others. In general, verbal learners make great teacher’s helpers and thrive in group activities that involve lots of interactions and words.

4. Physical (kinesthetic)

Your hyperactive students may simply be your curious kinesthetic learners who prefer using their body, hands and sense of touch to explore the world. These students tend to have trouble sitting for long periods of time, but with the right strategy you may be able to enthrall these energizer bunnies.

Tips for Teachers:
Kinesthetic students are easily distracted and are often the classroom culprit for distracting others. Instead of countering them with commands or harsh words, striking a healthy balance between quiet and hands-on activities will allow these active learners to touch, feel and experience the fullness of their lessons. In fact, ESL games such as pantomime and charades are not only great for giving your kinesthetic learners an opportunity to redirect their energy, but also for re-invigorating your half-awake class.

5. Logical (mathematical)

These students prefer using logic, reasoning and systems. You may find them to have a keen sense for numbers, sequence association and problem solving.

Tips for Teachers:
As a teacher, you can feed your logical students by including classroom activities that involve multi-step processes, data collection, and mysteries. You could break things like gender and verb conjugations into tables and charts. When relevant, create worksheets that incorporate geometry and money so your logical/mathematical students (along with the rest of the class) can have a practical ESL experience.

6. Social (interpersonal)

Group learning streamlines the learning experience of social/interpersonal learners. They are quite verbal and are always anxious to apply what they have learned in interactive settings.

Tips for Teachers:
Give your social butterfly a chance to spread their wings and fly with meaningful activities. Teach a lesson on social awareness, etiquette or cultural differences. Incorporating peer editing, peer teaching and group discussions into the curriculum will dramatically enrich the learning experience of these happy talkers.

7. Solitary (intrapersonal)

As the name suggests, these kind of students are your quiet angels who can work alone with minimal directions from the teacher. Oftentimes mistaken as the shy ones of the classroom, solitary learners can be quite extroverted when given the opportunity.

Tips for Teachers:
The desire for self-study keep solitary learners away from active, voluntary classroom participation. In a group setting, your solitary learner may seem reserved, inactive or even indifferent. To engage your solitary learners and keep them from finishing an entire group project on his/her own, teachers are encouraged to have a more structured group activity that assigns distinctive tasks and roles to every individual of the group.

Get Students Hooked on Creativity and Fun

It’s not just about learning types, it’s about giving your students a well-rounded and complete in-class learning experience. Ultimately, by shaking things up and incorporating different teaching techniques in your classrooms, you students will walk in never knowing what to expect from that day’s lessons. They will stay fresh, enthusiastic and motivated when they know that each class will have new activities and fun learning adventures in store.

This will play out a bit differently in each unique class. No classroom is the same, and every student is unique. The animated classroom you enjoy for your morning class may be drastically different from — if not directly at odds with — your evening class. Because an ESL classroom is always dynamic and evolving, it’s important for you to develop your ESL teaching strategies around your students.

Start today by observing, interacting and identifying the learning styles of your ESL students. Experiment with a myriad of teaching techniques and activities to get a comprehensive overview of your classroom culture and general learning preference. And, as always, remember to maintain a flexible ESL teaching strategy so you and your students can fully enjoy the thrill of English learning, together!

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