The Novice ESL Teacher’s Guide for How to Teach English
So, you’ve decided to become an English teacher.
Congratulations! Welcome to the world of ESL teaching.
Teaching English is an incredibly rewarding job. As a teacher, you’re in a position to help students achieve their dreams by learning a second language.
Teaching is fun and challenging all at the same time. Fortunately, whether you plan to work with young learners or adults, there are some common key components to think about as you start your journey.
Focus on These 5 Main Skills
It’s imperative that your students have a large working vocabulary. Learning new English words is an ongoing process that can take years. Start simple. Make sure your students are comfortable with the basics: colors, numbers, household items, family members and countries.
Ideally, each lesson you teach will include key vocabulary, and your students will be exposed to new English words during every single class. Learning vocabulary is the first step toward English fluency.
Think of grammar as the scaffolding of the English language. Your students need to have a firm understanding of grammar so that they can successfully build sentences with the vocabulary they’re learning.
Important English grammar concepts include parts of speech such as nouns (plural, singular, countable, uncountable), adjectives, verbs (and all the tenses!) and adverbs to begin with. Once they’ve mastered those basics, you can move onto topics such as active voice versus passive voice, simple sentences and compound sentences.
Reading is a vital skill for ESL students to conquer. Reading helps them expand their vocabulary and become familiar with proper sentence structure and phrasing.
When you teach reading, there are two areas to think about: comprehension and reading performance.
Reading comprehension involves students actually understanding what they’ve read. Check their understanding of key vocabulary words as well as the general content of the text. This can be achieved through discussion, questions or worksheets with related exercises and questions in English.
Tip: Bookmark The Teacher’s Corner Printable Worksheets website. This is a great resource that allows you to create and generate exercise worksheets for all your English classes!
Reading performance refers to students reading out loud so that they can learn the rhythms of English. They should become familiar with concepts such as line breaks, where to take breaths and the subtle differences between a comma and a period. Pace and volume are also key components of reading.
Writing is a highly valuable skill for English language students to learn. If they plan to study abroad or work for foreign companies in the future, they’ll need to know how to express themselves in English through writing.
Writing can be practiced in a number of ways and should be honed regularly. Certain writing skills such as English essay writing, report writing and email writing will be invaluable for your students and their future success.
Most ESL learners will have had exposure to English through textbooks and English teachers from their own country. In most cases, their English education will have been focused on vocabulary and grammar through reading and writing. These are important skills and build the foundation for what comes next: speaking.
Speaking is quite possibly the most important skill you, as a native English-speaking teacher, can impart on your students. Learning to speak English with clear pronunciation and natural phrasing can take years to master, but it’s imperative for students to know how to conduct themselves in general English conversations.
The Novice ESL Teacher’s Guide for How to Teach English
How to Build a Successful English Language Lesson Plan
Every successful English lesson plan must follow a clear agenda.
Determine Your Focus
When you sit down to create a lesson plan, think about the overall focus of your lesson before you do anything else. Ask yourself:
What do I want to accomplish through this lesson?
What do I want my students to know about English at the end of this lesson?
What’s the learning outcome?
Plan an Engaging Introduction
I recommend starting each lesson with an engaging warm-up activity.
There are a few different types of go-to warm-up activities. First, you could play a short game related to the topic. For example, if you’re in the middle of a chapter about English clothing words, the students could play a few rounds of Clothing Pictionary.
You could spark a few minutes of class discussion by posing a question in English. Or you could show the class a relevant video clip in English from sites such as TED Talks, FluentU or YouTube.
Whichever method you choose, make sure it relates to the lesson topic so your students will be thinking about the subject from the get-go.
Design Tasks and Exercises that Utilize Different Skill Sets
Once you’ve warmed up the class, dive into the lesson. Make sure that each task is designed to exercise a different English skill set: vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing and speaking.
If your lesson is short, you may not need to cram all five skill sets into one class period. In this case, feel free to spread them out across couple of class periods.
Organize Partner or Group Work
After the main part of the lesson, find ways for your students to work together. Pair or group work isn’t necessary for every lesson, but in English language classes, it can be a great way to ensure your students are practicing speaking.
It can be as simple as asking students to pair up and share what they wrote in class with their classmate. or to discuss questions related to the topic of the lesson.
If you’re at a loss for group work ideas, keep it simple: Ask your students to pair up to read each other their writing assignments from class. Or separate them into groups and provide them with three questions about the topic to discuss together.
Prepare an Evaluation
At the end of the lesson or unit, take time to check that your students thoroughly understand the material.
Evaluations can take the form of a quiz, test, project or presentation. It could also be as simple as saving several minutes at the end of the lesson for a group discussion where you pose questions in English to check their comprehension.
Tips for Being the Best English Teacher You Can Be
There are so many types of English teachers out there, and so many ways to teach English. Eventually, you’ll figure out what kind of ESL teacher you want to be, but in the meantime, here are some helpful tips for getting started.
Even when your students are struggling, it’s important for you to keep a positive attitude and to be encouraging.
Constructive criticism and feedback sprinkled with encouragement can help students grow and learn, and it creates a positive and safe learning environment.
Use Your Resources
There are so many wonderful books, videos, podcasts, lesson plans and other ESL materials online! Use all of your resources. Here are a couple to get you started:
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Watching videos is an entertaining method to immerse your students the way native speakers really use it, while actively building their vocabulary. Each video comes with annotated subtitles, interactive flashcards, exercises and quizzes that evolve alongside your students’ skill levels.
You may choose to simply show videos in class through your personal FluentU account. Or you can sign up for a FluentU school account so your students can watch videos and complete exercises in the computer lab or at home.
“Complete English Grammar Rules” by Farlex International
There are dozens and dozens of books about how to teach English, English grammar, English writing… basically, there’s a book on every aspect of English.
This book and the other books in the series are high-quality, reliable references for English teachers and students alike.
These are just a couple resources to get you started. If you want a bit more guidance, check out our lists of amazing apps, worksheets and software for ESL teachers.
But don’t be too fun. It’s important to know where to draw the line!
You want to engage with your students and keep your classes lively and interesting, but you never want to lose their respect.
Remember That Every Student Is Different
I can’t emphasize this enough.
All your students are unique individuals. They may learn at different speeds and in different ways. This is another reason why I recommend that you vary your English language lesson plans. This way, each type of learner has a chance to shine.
A shy, quiet student may be able to better express themselves in an essay, while a more extroverted student may prefer to give a speech. Of course, all students need to participate in all activities, but you don’t want to exclusively feature activities geared toward one type of learner.
Normally, I would think this goes without saying. But as an English teacher, especially if you’re an ESL and English culture teacher, you may feel pressure to know absolutely everything.
But that isn’t a realistic expectation.
If a student asks you something and you aren’t 100% sure about the answer, be upfront with them. For example, if a student asks, “Do they say soda or pop in New Jersey?” and you don’t happen to know off the top of your head, just be honest.
I recommend responding with something along the lines of, “What a great question! You know, I’m not sure. Let me get back to you during tomorrow’s class.”
Just like your students, you’re only human. You can’t know everything, and that’s okay. After class, go online, find the answer, then report back to your students the next day.
Always Have a Backup Lesson
As an ESL teacher, you must be prepared for anything and everything. Maybe the flu hits and you only have 30% of your students in the classroom. This makes it impossible to do your original lesson plan! Or maybe the internet is down at the school.
Make sure you always have a backup lesson for such occasions. This could be as simple as having a game of jeopardy ready to pull out, some kind of word puzzle activity stashed away in your bag or a short story on hand.
Don’t assign homework just for the sake of assigning homework. Give students just enough homework to keep English fresh in their minds.
This is especially important if you don’t see your students every day. English language learning is about consistent practice and exposure to the language.
Teaching English is a wonderfully challenging adventure.
As you teach your students, you may be surprised to realize that you’re also learning about yourself, what you can do and the impact that you can have.