Effective tips on teaching English as a second language

How to teach ESL: Dos and Don'ts

How to teach ESL: Dos and Don'ts


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Let’s start with the definitions. Who is an ESL teacher?

A specialist  who teaches English to non-native speakers is known as an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor or teacher.

They teach  English in places where this language is a dominant way of communication or it is common to learn to speak more than one language. 

An ESL teacher is usually responsible for covering urgent needs and focusing on developing the ability to participate in conversations which defines the teaching approaches that are used. 

Speaking about the approaches, let’s see what it really means  “to teach ESL”. 

In this article we are going to cover the basics of teaching ESL, however, for a closer look we recommend you to consider working on teaching certification.

Everything you wanted to know about TESOL!

Lesson plans

 It helps to define the stages of the lesson, the order of the tasks, and lesson objectives. 

A lesson plan is  a place to write down your ICQs and CCQs, pin all the links that you are going to share with your students and much more. 

So, it  is a perfect way to keep your lessons  structured, clear and convenient

Let’s look at some dos and don'ts  of lesson planning now.

Plan your lesson.

Don’t conduct your lessons without a plan. 

Without it, it’s hard to track time and cope with possible unexpected situations during the lesson.

Define your aim and sub-aim.Don’t assign aimless tasks. Every task has to help reach a certain goal. 
Write down lesson stages.Don’t be chaotic. Learn how the lesson should be structured and use the knowledge to plan your lesson. 
Note the ICQs and CCQs that you are going to ask.

Don’t ask questions like “Do you understand?”

Students often can’t evaluate their knowledge objectively. 

Plan how you are going to give the feedback.Plan all the activities, ways to conduct and check them in advance.
Plan how exactly students are going to complete the task (individually, in pairs, in groups etc.)

Make your classes run smoothly!

Manage your class with our course

Learning environment & rapport

Comfortable learning environment, positive attitude and supportive community are extremely important for every ESL classroom

As the main aim of ESL teaching is to teach your students to communicate effectively, it is needless to say that an ESL teacher should keep their lessons positive, thought-provoking and motivating both by building rapport with the students and paying enough attention to any unpleasant situations between the students.

Wondering how to build rapport?

Dos Don'ts 
Try to create a positive, motivating, and encouraging atmosphere.

Don’t be too strict and don’t criticize your students all the time. 

If you do, students are likely to develop a fear of making mistakes.

Be supportive and encourage students to use English as much as possible.

Don’t ban students from using L1. 

Insist on using English as much as possible and take risks even if the students are not sure how to say something. 

Keep the atmosphere healthy rather than anxious though.

Make sure there are no conflicts or tension in your learning environment.

Don’t ignore cases of aggressive behavior, teasing, arguments, etc. 

Students are supposed to respect each other and feel safe. 

Be attentive to how your students act and feel.

Motivate students to study outside the class and bring their insight to the lessons.

Don’t make your students over-dependent on you. 

Encourage the maximum level of exposure to the language. 

Advise books, movies, and TV shows if necessary.

Contextualize material for a better level of engagement.

Don’t use repetitive tasks with no context. 

Make sure students are interested and active. 

For doing that, follow the trends and don’t be afraid to implement news and trends into your working plans. 


Clear understanding of what you are doing, what you are working on, and why and how exactly you do it is an important part of every effective classroom. 

So, here we are going to talk about establishing routines, setting rules and getting your students acquainted with their agenda.

Tips to master time managements

Establish routine.

Don’t underestimate the power of consistency and routine. 

It is extremely important for progress.

Get students acquainted with the course structure. Invest your time in answering the questions about it if any. Don’t ignore students’ need to plan their time and work, to understand what exactly you are working on and how they are going to benefit from them. 
Let students know how soon they are supposed to pass their exam, write their essays, etc.

Don’t give any unexpected tests. 

Students have to learn to plan their time and if it is done correctly, feel confident and prepared. 

Praise their work and don’t make them feel bad about their results by creating some unexpected challenges.

Set rules that are followed by both students and the teacher.

Don’t set rules that you are unable or unwilling to follow. 

You have to be a living example of the fact that rules you have set are possible to follow under any circumstances. 

Everyone should be equal. Embrace honesty and fair evaluation.

Don’t accept excuses. 

Don’t make exceptions. 

Don’t divide the classroom into the teacher’s pets and everyone else.


Modeling is something a lot of teachers forget to do due to their vast experience in working with the same types of activities. 

An ESL teacher has to remember that students have no idea where you are leading them and what they should do. 

So, demonstrating the process of completing the task is an important part of building a habit and getting used to different types of activities.

Dos Don'ts 

Show students what you expect them to do. 

Give clear instructions and personal examples.

Don’t expect students  to easily meet your expectations.

How to instruct your students properly?

Non-linguistic tools

Nowadays, with the technological progress we have, teaching can include so much more than a teacher, a student and a textbook in between. 

To teach effectively, an ESL teacher has to be fluent in non-verbal communication as well. 

Here is what it means:

Dos Don'ts 
Use apps, additional resources, create games and fun activities, show pictures, memes and videos that support the material you present.Don’t rely on your textbook and your voice as the only resources for your lesson.
Use gestures, miming, and emotions.Don’t be afraid to look funny and therefore lose respect. Students like it when teachers are passionate and excited about their topic.
Use innovative technologies. Improve digital literacy.

Don’t look for excuses to work on your digital literacy which is crucial for any modern teacher. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the tools, apps and activities to make your lessons as engaging as possible.

ICQs and CCQs

Quite frequently in the classroom, teachers will question their students, “Do you understand?” or “Is it clear?”, and if they nod, they will continue speaking. This turns the lesson into a lecture rather than a conversation between the teacher and their students. 

But how can you be certain that your students have understood what you have told them? What would prove to you that they comprehend it the way you want them to? The problems teachers often face are the following.

Firstly, students can mistakenly think they have understood something when they have not. 

Second, some students can feel embarrassed or unprepared to acknowledge that they did not comprehend anything in front of their friends.

Here are things that an ESL teacher should remember in such cases:

Check the understanding right!

Dos Don'ts 
Give short and clear instructions.

Don’t make your instructions too long and too complicated. 

Don’t use long sentences and advanced vocabulary. 

If the instruction has to be long (in case you are explaining how to play a certain game), break  your instructions into chunks and make sure students got the idea before moving to the next step.

Grade your language  especially while working with starters.
Make the first question together with the group to set an  example. 

Don’t rush and let students see what they need to do. 

Discuss the first question together with your students to demonstrate to them how the task works. 

Ask ICQs.

Don’t expect students to understand everything you say. 

Students can easily get distracted or lose some important points, so it’s necessary to check if they understand all the instructions correctly. 

Always check understanding of key concepts.

Don’t forget to ask CCQs.

Don’t use questions like “Do you understand?” – they don’t work.

Be visual. Try using slides and games to make your CCQs more diverse and memorable.

Don’t use your voice only. 

Don’t make your activities too predictable and repetitive.


Presentation of the new vocabulary or functional language is a much more complex and structured process than anyone may see. 

Often, it is an effective presentation that takes so much time to prepare while lesson planning. 

So, here are some do(s) and don’t(s) for an ESL teacher to present new material:

Looking for ESL resources inspro?

Dos Don'ts 

Make your presentation structured and well-prepared.

Plan all possible questions in advance and be prepared to explain them in a couple of ways and drill them.

For example: while teaching Present Simple to A1 students you are likely to face a lot of questions on how to use “to be” properly, when to add ending –s, and why we can’t say something like “He is play”. Plan your potential answers to all of these questions.

Don’t improvise. You need to clearly understand why certain pictures or phrases are used and what comes after each slide. 

Structure your presentation according to the correct order:

  • Task
  • Elicit
  • CCQs
  • Drill
  • Practice

Don’t miss the stages. All of them are crucial for the effective presentation of the new material. 

Make sure you know how to pursue each stage.

Make everything visual.Don’t rely only on your voice and your textbooks’ written rules and tables. Support your presentation with pictures, videos, lyrics, and make it fun and engaging to follow. 
Provide tasks for every presentation stage.Don’t miss the tasks for certain stages. Even if you feel like the vocabulary is not that difficult to pronounce, you are supposed to drill it in order to avoid further mistakes or misunderstandings.

Error correction

To correct or not to correct? That is the question we often ask. When should we correct the mistakes? What exactly should we correct? What strategies to use while correcting? Let’s see our brief review.

Dos Don'ts

Know what to correct and when to correct. 

Practice DEC (delayed error correction) rather than IEC (instant error correction).

Don’t correct every single mistake. Don’t be overly intrusive. 
Be supportive.

Don’t shame students for their mistakes. 

Don’t express irritation. 

Don’t demotivate students by pointing out too many mistakes at a time. 

Focus on the most important mistakes.

Practice different correction strategies: 

  • repeating students’ mistakes with certain intonation
  • finger correction
  • asking questions to clarify the meaning of what has been told 
  • reformulations
  • facial expressions
  • gestures

Don’t use instant error correction all the time. 

Don’t use your voice only to correct mistakes.

Introduce self-correction and peer-correction

Don’t take all the responsibility for error correction. 

Students are often able to correct their mistakes on their own. 

Moreover, peer correction is also great for a change. 

How to use delayed error correction?


To sum up, this is an extremely brief look at what a teacher should and shouldn’t know while teaching ESL. Of course, it’s an art that requires a lot of practice to master. If you are eager to become a true ESL professional stay tuned and join our community of professionals to get advice and inspiration.

Asking questions like “Is it clear?” or “Do you understand?” is a good idea.

You shouldn’t always correct the mistakes on your own.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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