Beyond Bells and Whistles: 5 Innovative English Teaching Methods That Get Results

Call it the white board existential crisis.

You’re up there squeaking out (you know, with squeaky markers) the conjugations of a verb: past tense in red, present tense in green…

Your hand is writing on autopilot, and suddenly it hits.

“But wait. Not even I’m paying attention to this. How can my students be?”

The thing is, you know you have to teach this stuff. And the students just need to memorize it. Not everything can be a party.

We all have those moments as teachers. Unless you’re a superhero confident person. In which case, congratulations and send us your secrets.

For the rest of us, the key is to constantly be on the lookout for new, exciting (but effective!) teaching methods. Not only will they inject some energy and creativity into your classroom, they’ll also make those traditional learning methods feel less routine and more meaningful.

We’ll show you five unique options for a fun, 21st-century classroom.

But first, what if your current teaching methods are already working?

Why Aim for Unconventional?

There are many who believe “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” And that’s respectable.

However, even if that’s your school of thought, there are a number of reasons you may want to shake it up now and again:

  • Keep students on their toes: Or, encourage neuroplasticity, as the scientists would put it. Introducing new ways of learning will prevent boredom and prepare students for real-world language use.

If students can predict what’ll happen day-in, day-out in the classroom, they’ll go on autopilot and won’t be challenged. Then, when they actually find themselves in a real foreign language situation, they’ll be surprised when they can’t adapt as easily.

  • Match students’ diverse learning styles: There may also be students in your class who just don’t vibe with the way you usually teach. Some students are visual learners, some learn by doing, etc.

Of course, you’re probably already trying to cater to all of your students, but most of us just instinctively tend towards certain styles. Finding new teaching methods will help you keep your whole classroom engaged.

  • Keep yourself present: Don’t forget about yourself! If you get complacent or locked in a routine, it’ll just signal students to tune out, too. Updating activities and routines is a great way to keep yourself motivated and present in the classroom.

5 Innovative Teaching Methods for an Energized English Classroom

Spaced Learning to Better Absorb Information

“Timing is the answer to success.”

A spaced learning plan takes advantage of the way our brains are wired to help us absorb information more quickly.

It’s a technique that was developed based on research about how memories function by neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields. The idea is to spend short but consistent periods learning and then reviewing new material to optimize the brain’s natural memory encoding process.

Experiments have already shown positive results. Spaced learning was used as the means of instruction for a national curriculum biology course and led to rapid longterm memory encoding, according to researchers.

What’s the takeaway for you as an ESL educator? Spaced learning can help you teach material much more efficiently.

With the right formula, you can teach a new vocabulary set or grammar concept over the course of an hour-long lesson and know that it’ll be encoded into students’ longterm memories. It may be hard to imagine, but below we’ll provide a sample lesson to show that it’s totally doable.

Example Spaced Learning Lesson

Say I wanted to teach a lesson on the differences between “would” and “could.” Here’s how my lesson might look:

Step 1 (15 minutes): Use the whiteboard to explain the official grammar rules.

Step 2 (5 minutes): Take a break to watch a video on the coffee culture of Seattle. (Yep, nothing to do with the grammar, just for fun.)

Step 3 (15 minutes): Review differences between “would” and “could” quickly. Take a short fill-in-the-blank quiz.

Step 4 (10 minutes): Play an easy improv game in English. (Also nothing to do with the grammar.)

Step 5 (15 minutes): Do a real-life role play situation involving “would” and “could.” You could choose a restaurant or work situation, depending on what best serves your students.

FluentU for Authentic English

We’re always looking for new materials to immerse our students in English, no matter where they live. Better yet if we can actually keep track of how much they’re learning from those materials, right?

FluentU gives you the best of both worlds in this regard.

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

Blogs for Creative Writing

You might be thinking, “but what’s the difference between blogs and regular writing assignments? Isn’t it just a different platform for the same thing?”

No. Because actually, modern blogging platforms are snazzy, interactive and customizable. But we’ll get into that later.

Here are some reasons blogging will be beneficial to your students:

  • It gives students a chance to be creative and empowers their voices.
  • Their work will have an actual audience online, which gives their English a practical, non-abstract purpose.
  • As they read one another’s blogs, they can reflect on their own learning and get ideas from others. This also supports a sense of community within your classroom.
  • And with features like blog comments or messages, students will learn how to give and receive constructive feedback.

Blogs can be a pretty motivating form of self expression, even for the students who aren’t passionate about writing.

Classroom-friendly Blogging Platforms


Edublogs is a student community platform that’s a part of the popular blogging site WordPress.

There’s a group class website, which is good for publishing calendars and assignments, as well as study resources. Students can also individually publish their work or be involved in forums.


This is a pretty typical blogging site. It’s easy to use and free. Many believe it to be easier than WordPress.

This may be a good option if students are doing more individual posts and less community classroom interaction.

Write About

Write About, like Edublogs, is a classroom writing community. It’s great for its variety of features, including space for journaling, writing assignments, student portfolios and more.

There’s also a nice “writing starters” option, which gives your students writing prompts and inspiration.

Write About also lets students post publicly or privately and get feedback from their peers and teachers.

Skype for Real Conversations

You’re probably already familiar with the popular video chat program Skype. But it’s also an excellent tool to give students real English conversation practice with native speakers.

If your school is located in an area with very few native English speakers, Skype lets them practice the skills you’ve been teaching without buying a plane ticket. You can ask some of your friends from the ESL world (or even other English-speaking friends and family) to donate an hour or two for Skype conversations with your classroom.

You can also encourage students to use Skype for individual language exchanges. Find out if your school has any relationships with other international schools, where students are learning your class’ native language and looking for speaking partners.

If not, your local university might help with connections to international schools or exchange programs.

Best of all, Skype allows students to record chats. This way, they can re-listen to material and use it to notice and correct their mistakes.

Video Games for Motivated Practice

Video games can get a bad rap. But they’re not always just mind melters. Quite the opposite, in fact!

A lot of my friends who speak English as a second language say that video games were a big help in picking up the language.

For many students, the motivation to beat the game helps them stay focused and gives them the drive to practice.

Apart from that competitive urge, video games can also be like a kind of alternative literature. They often involve a quest with a traditional narrative structure: there’s an introduction, rising action, climax, descending action and conclusion.

You can recycle your favorite book-focused exercises, like character analysis, plot analysis and writing about the world and culture of the game.

Progress journals are also an option: daily charting of what happens in the game and how many points were earned.

It’s great to read stories in class too, but video games may be more motivating to some students who like more interaction.

Great Video Games for ESL Practice

Final Fantasy

A role playing game that focuses on a group of characters who fight against an evil villain.

Atelier Iris

A game involving wandering alchemists and secrets within the city of Avenberry.

Lunar (Silver Star)

One of a series of role playing video games that take place on an uninhabitable moon, Lunar, ruled by a goddess named Athena.


A game based on the original anime series. In the original version, the idea is to collect Pokemon critters to beat other trainers and their Pokemon.

Oblivion (The Elder Scrolls IV)

Action role playing game. The objective of the game is to thwart a cult that wants to open portal gates to a demonic realm named Oblivion.


When looking at education, the important thing is to think about it multidimensionally. There’s nothing wrong with teaching in quite traditional ways, if you keep it balanced with other varied methods. Let your imagination fly and remember to keep yourself entertained, too. Enjoy!

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