The Five Secrets of Successful Adult ESL Instruction

The Five Secrets of Successful Adult ESL Instruction

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 28,208 views

ESL education is unique in that many ESL students are adults. They might be pursuing English for business reasons or because they want to further their educations.

They might even be studying language because they are looking for a challenge. Whatever the reason they are studying, adults have different expectations than children do when it comes to school. Here are five secrets that any instructors of adult students should know. They will keep your students happy and you, the teacher, feeling good about what you do.

The 5 Secrets Any Instructors of Adult Students Should Know

  1. 1

    Don’t Waste Time

    No one wants to feel like what they are doing is pointless, and adult ESL students value their time just as much as anyone else. Many adult ESL students have taken time away from their jobs, families or education at home to pursue language studies. Their time is valuable, and they want to know that every day they are making progress. While children and adolescent may enjoy a day of games without purpose, adults want to know that what they are doing is moving them toward better language proficiency. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in class. Just make sure that no matter what you do, especially if you play games or do creative activities, has a clear language learning purpose and that your students are aware of that. Something as simple as writing each day’s language goals on the board at the start of your day can make a difference between engaged adult students and those who are frustrated about their lost time.

  2. 2

    Make Variety a Priority

    Do you remember that high school teacher whose class had a habit of sleeping through lectures? Adults are even more critical when it comes to teaching styles. Very few people want to sit for an entire class period and listen to a lecture. In addition, adults have different learning styles just like kids do, so the most effective adult ESL instructors will make a point of teaching to as many different learning styles as possible. To make sure your instruction is well rounded, include activities that focus on visual, aural, oral, physical, logical, social and solitary styles. If you can include all of these on a weekly basis, you can be sure each of your students will connect with your language instruction.

  3. 3

    Acknowledge and Appreciate their Experience

    Adult English learners have a lot of experience in their pockets. They aren’t kids how have to imagine situations for various English language learning activities. Let your students know that you appreciate what they bring to the table when it comes to their experience. Making your dialogues, role plays and assignments practical and realistic will show your students that you appreciate their past experience and want to give them practical language use for their futures. Additionally, encouraging your students to share what they know through presentations, instruction manuals and discussions will help them feel appreciated.

  4. 4

    Abolish Anxiety

    Most adult ESL students are successful. They have good jobs, advanced educations and are often respected members of their fields. When they travel to learn English, however, it may feel like being an awkward teenager all over again. Language is such an integral piece of our daily lives that struggling to speak a foreign language can put even the most confident adults on edge. Understand that your students are attempting a difficult task. Learning a language is difficult, and learning a foreign language as an adult is even more challenging. Make intentional efforts to put your students at ease in the classroom and when they communicate with the language that they do know, and you will both have a better language instruction experience.

  5. 5

    Make it Practical

    Busy work. It is frustrating to most students, and adult students will be even more irritated if they feel the work they are doing serves no purpose. Keep your in class activities and homework practical and hands on rather than theoretical. Give your students information they can apply directly to their ultimate language learning purpose (for example, writing a cover letter rather than a letter to Santa Clause) to keep them interested and engaged.

Teaching adult English as a second language classes is a challenge, but it is also a great reward.

You will see your students succeed because of their self-motivation and greater purpose in language learning.

Do you teach adult ESL? In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits it offers?

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