EAP? What’s That? How to Teach English for Academic Purposes

Not everyone is a foodie, but most people know at least something about celebrity chef Alton Brown.

His quirky mix of science and cuisine made him a sensation on the Food Network and propelled him to success and fame.

I’ll admit that I’m a foodie, and I’ve watched my share of Brown’s show “Good Eats.”

And among the things I remember most from the show are how to make fall-off-the-bone ribs, how to make light-as-air authentic southern biscuits and what Brown calls the unitasker.

What’s a unitasker, you may ask?

Well, when you like to cook, it’s easy to let your kitchen get more filled with gadgets than food.

Many of these gadgets have only one purpose, one function.

Those are the things Brown calls unitaskers, and he has no room in his kitchen for tools that only do one thing.

I’ll be honest. I’ve streamlined my kitchen gadgets since I heard the term “unitasker,” though they still threaten to overtake a cabinet or two.

But that’s not the case when it comes to my bookshelf. You see, English is anything but a unitasker.

Language is full of potential and possibilities, and it’s used for an infinite number of purposes.

Still, sometimes our students have only one goal in mind.

They want a unitasker version of English.

They want one tool to accomplish one purpose.

For some, it’s using English in the business world.

Others seek to learn English for their education. That’s why English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes are so popular.

One tool for one goal.

And whether “English for Academic Purposes” is the title of your class or not, you may just be teaching EAP regardless.

What Is EAP?

EAP, or English for Academic Purposes, is pretty much what it sounds like. Students intend to use English in educational settings in the future, and that’s the type of English they seek to learn in EAP classes.

EAP classes are a bit different from your typical, general ESL classes in that the students in EAP classes have specific goals in mind. They’re learning English to function in specific academic situations in the future, and they intend to use the English it takes to succeed in that context.

Since they have a specific goal, they aren’t necessarily seeking native-speaker-like fluency or complete knowledge of the English language. They aren’t looking to take general English classes or comprehensive English classes.

For teachers, this means that EAP classes should focus on specific skills, the skills students will need in their academic futures.

These skills might include:

  • Taking language exams such as the TOEFL and the TOEIC to get into college
  • Taking college entrance exams
  • Listening to college lectures
  • Being able to read a college text
  • Writing papers for university classes

In some cases, students might intend to complete a degree fully online, in which case they might only be interested in reading and writing in English and the skills they need to use it via the internet.

What Are EAP Students Like?

Since your EAP students have specific goals, their personalities might be a bit different from your typical ESL students. They may be less interested in games and overall English fluency or feel like they don’t have time for these things.

They are often adults or at least high school students. And they often have some experience with the English language already. That is to say, they aren’t beginners when it comes to English. Most likely, they’ll be in your class to continue a language education rather than start one, to take what they know to the next level.

What Should an EAP Class Look Like?

EAP classes should have three characteristics:

  • First, they should use material that is not designed or modified for ESL students.
  • Second, EAP classes should have goals that will serve a purpose in students’ academic futures.
  • Thirdly, students should be able to choose, to some measure, what they study in class.

So how does the ESL teacher go about designing and running their EAP classes? Here are some suggestions for making English for Academic Purposes just right for your students.

5 Tips to Successfully Teach English for Academic Purposes

1. Use authentic materials.

Choose articles for your students that come from newspapers rather than an ESL site. For example, you can subscribe for full access to The New York Times and draw from the variety of articles published there. With sections like science, health, business and travel, you’ll definitely be able to find content that corresponds to your students’ desired fields of study.

If you use print or digital publications often enough in your class, you may also want to consider subscriptions through Magazine Line. This is also a great source to recommend to your students, as they offer big discounts on a wide variety of magazines that may be relevant to your students’ chosen career paths (plus possible additional discounts for college students).

Have students read short stories written for native speakers.

Listen to songs sung in English.

Try a podcast on a topic that interests your students.

2. Use authentic classroom materials.

The Art of Public Speaking (Communication) Standalone Book

When you’re choosing material for your classes such as textbooks, choose those that are not designed for ESL students, that is, not written or developed for language studies.

Your EAP students won’t get specially-designed textbooks when they attend college, so now is the time to get them ready. Consider using a freshman English text rather than an ESL writing book or choosing a popular college textbook, such as “The Art of Public Speaking” by Stephen E. Lucas.

A good place for you or your students to find and explore college textbooks at low risk and low cost is VitalSource, a site that specializes in e-textbooks. Purchases can be accessed on the convenient Bookshelf app, and you can both buy and rent books.

3. Use real college lectures in class.

Your students are going to be attending college, and that means sitting in college lectures.

Give them a heads-up by practicing with actual lectures while they’re still in your EAP class. You can find plenty of lectures on YouTube from actual professors such as this intro to psychology class.

Open Culture offers links to over 1200 online courses students can listen to for free.

You can even access free lectures from well-known universities like Yale and Harvard online. Play them for your students and then use them to practice taking notes, for listening comprehension and for research assignments.

4. Give assignments similar to those students will receive in college.

It’s never too early to start giving college-like assignments to EAP students. Whenever possible, give them assignments similar to those they’ll receive in their educations to come.

Have students write research papers, read entire novels or complete projects in student groups. After students have practiced with assignments in their EAP classes, they’ll be more successful when they receive the same types of assignments in their college courses.

5. Let students direct their own learning.

Give students some freedom to make their own educational goals.

You might have them decide what topics you cover in class, what types of assignments they’ll do or how they’ll study to accomplish those assignments. This means that every EAP class you teach will be slightly different from every other, but all of your students are slightly different from every other, too. By giving them a choice in what and how they learn, you’ll be meeting your students’ needs in greater depth.


EAP students often have very little time to accomplish all their goals before moving on to higher education.

That means that the more practical you make your classes, the more prepared they’ll be for successful academic futures.

And when you teach EAP classes, you’ll see something you may not see as often in general ESL classes. Since students are so invested in preparing for their futures, you’ll see a great sense of personal achievement and accomplishment in your students when they reach their goals.

So think back to your own college experience and try to recreate that for your EAP students.

By preparing your students for their goals, you can have a huge impact on the rest of their lives.

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