Advanced students aren’t your typical ESL students.
They have been studying the language long enough that they are probably quite proficient at it by now. That presents a special challenge to you, their ESL teacher. How do you give advanced student what they need while still challenging them to learn more? It’s not impossible, but it sometimes requires a little thinking outside the box.
5 Tips for Teaching Advanced Classes Every ESL Teacher Should Know
Reading and Writing
Odds are your advanced students have been studying reading and writing longer than any other aspect of the English language, so they should be quite competent when it comes to the written English word. You’ll need to push them a little farther in these areas to keep them learning and improving. One way to do that is to ditch the ESL assignments. In other words, be sure you give them materials and assignments that are based in real life English use rather than those designed for English learners.
Ask them to read an entire novel or magazines written for native speakers. Then do exercises students might do in a college freshman English class. Have them write things that they will have to write in the real world rather than fabricated classroom activities. Consider starting a class blog and having students write the posts that you will publish. It’s easy to do on a free site such as BlogSpot. The more realistic you can make the reading and writing you do with your advanced students, the more prepared they will be to read and write outside the classroom.
Hopefully your advanced students are fairly proficient at listening comprehension. To make sure, use realia whenever possible, that is materials that were not made or modified for language instruction but rather were created with native speakers in mind. You can find realia all around you including television, TV, and the internet. Audio books make for great listening material in advanced listening classes, too, and you can do with them any exercises you might do with a traditional book.
In addition to realia, challenge your students to real life listening situations that may be more challenging for them than face to face conversations. Skype or FaceTime with people from your classroom, or call someone on the telephone. Your students won’t get the visual clues they are accustomed to through these methods, so they will provide a nice but not overwhelming challenge for students who are already pretty good and carrying on a conversation.
You can help your advanced students in many ways when it comes to their spoken English. By this point, hopefully all of your students can be easily understood by native speakers. But if they are still struggling with pronunciation or even if they just want to sound more natural with their English, you may want to work on accent reduction. The activities you do will vary based on the native language of your students, and you may find that you’ll need different exercises for each native tongue your students speak. So consider emphasizing communication over perfection when it comes to pronunciation in English. As long as you students can be understood by native speakers, they can feel confident in their pronunciation even if it’s not perfect.
You might instead challenge your students to work on reductions that native speakers make in their spoken English – using expressions like “coulda” rather than could have and others like it. Using reductions will go a long way in making your students’ spoken English sound natural, so take some time to teach those patterns to your students and help them practice using them.
Advanced students mean advanced grammar. And while you might be able to teach the difference between the simple present and the present progressive without thinking much about it, advanced grammar topics won’t be as easy to explain. Make a point of increasing your own grammar knowledge, especially when it comes to dependent clauses, inverted structure, conditional structures, and other more complicated topics. Above all, remember that at some point you are sure to run into a question you don’t know how to answer off the top of your head. Don’t just make something up. Don’t be afraid to tell your students you don’t know the answer right now but that you’ll find it out and get back to them. Then do just that.
Another thing to consider in your advanced grammar classes is syntactic diagramming, in other words diagramming sentences. Sentence diagrams can help students see the underlying logic in the structure of English as they are learning it, so it can help answer some “why” questions even if your students already know the “how” of the matter.
Vocabulary instruction at advanced levels is a whole new ballgame than it was with beginning students. Advanced students (hopefully) already have a very extensive lexicon, so it’s a good time to change not only what you teach but how you teach vocabulary. Rather than teaching specific words to your advanced students, consider teaching them how to decipher new words they encounter. In other words, give them the tools they need to figure out new vocabulary themselves. You can do this by teaching students stems and affixes.
Stems are what you might refer to as root words. Affixes include anything you add on to a word to change its meaning or function – generally prefixes and suffixes. When you teach your students what these components mean and how to break down unfamiliar words into these parts, they will be able to decipher unfamiliar words on their own. For example, if you taught your students that the root phobia means fear, they would know that agoraphobia, arachnophobia, and triskaidekaphobia are some kind of fear even if they didn’t know exactly what those fear were of. Bonus points for them if they know arach refers to spiders.
Another vocabulary area that advanced students will benefit from is with idioms. Once your advanced students move from your ESL classroom and into the real world, they will encounter idioms by the dozen. The more they can learn now, the better off they will be. Make it fun, though. Idioms lend themselves to games and other fun activities, so keep that in mind when you teach them to your students.
If all else fails, help your advanced students make the most of their English education by getting them out of the classroom whenever possible.
The more they use English in the real world, the better prepared they will be once they are out of the classroom. Change the materials you use, especially if you have students repeating your class. But most of all, encourage your advanced students to set their own goals. Ask them to write down what they want to accomplish as far as their language learning goes, and then give them the tools to accomplish those goals. They’ll be more invested in their education, and more motivated to accomplish those goals.