ESL tips and ticks to be able to teach everything

How to teach everything

How to teach everything


  • Grammar
  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

When preparing a course or even just a lesson, it is important to keep in mind what our aims and outcomes are. Since teaching universal English which is suitable to every single learner is impossible, educators should opt for a personalised and student-centered approach. 

To achieve this, we usually need more background about our future learners (if they are new, of course). In particular, we should know their current level, experience, interests and needs.

Questions to ask yourself during the lesson planning

Understanding learners' needs and preferences

Before we start teaching a learner or a group of learners, needs analysis is a common thing to do in ESL.

It only makes sense to get a full picture of learners’ needs, expectations and preferences. However, some students may have requirements which are rather restrictive, such as ‘I want to practise informal English’ or ‘I want to study grammar’, while dismissing other aspects of learning a language. 

Naturally, we want our learners to be happy but it is not always possible to meet their demands without alterations.

Cooperation with such students may require delicacy and thorough reflection.

Let’s have a look at some examples and possible steps a teacher can do in order to make language learning efficient.

Let’s say your student’s goal is to master speaking. It sounds rather vague because a verbal interaction can take place in a number of contexts. It would be a good idea to offer the potential learner more specific options to choose from. 

For instance, they might need to improve speaking skills for:

  1. Travel and tourism: I want to understand other people & express myself when I travel abroad
  2. Business: I work at an international company & want to interact with my colleagues and management fluently
  3. Life in an English-speaking country: I need to improve speaking for social and cultural integration. 
  4. Academic purposes: I need to participate in discussions , presentations, workshops, etc. at school / college / university.

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Crafting specific language learning goals

It is important to talk to the learner about their specific needs and set a plan for the future course. 

Each of these contexts will require different skills, which may be various vocabulary and functional language, discourse knowledge, cultural awareness, etc. 

Moreover, you can also explain the role of listening skills, which go hand-in-hand with speaking in order for verbal communication to succeed. If you would like more guidance on planning a speaking course, more elements are described in detail in ‘How to Teach Speaking’ by S. Thornbury.

In case the learner mentions grammar as their ultimate aim, it would make sense to ask them to elaborate.

It happens though that it is the only requirement, and the student is opposed to the idea of including other aspects of learning.

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Naturally, there are some language learners who are studying grammar because it is how it has been done at schools traditionally. 

For some people, learning grammar equals learning the language.

In such situations, the teacher may need to elaborate on other learning approaches and suggest the most suitable one.

It is obvious that people with no linguistic background may not realise the complexity of language acquisition, so it is our responsibility as teachers to explain it. When the learner is aware of how grammar functions in correlation with other systems and skills, they will more likely to be more accepting of them.

The psychological aspect of such a demand is also worth mentioning.

It is no secret that the language barrier is a huge obstacle for a number of language learners.

Due to lack of confidence, doing grammar exercises becomes a comfort zone for many people used to such an approach since school. If this is the case, the teacher should take it into consideration and work on reducing the learner’s anxiety alongside teaching.

Finally, one of the most popular requests from students is English for specific purposes.

On the one hand, this request is much more obvious than the ones mentioned above. It gives us a clear idea in which direction we should move while preparing a course and lesson plans. 

On the other hand, there is a risk that the learner will have a sceptical attitude to all the material which may seem irrelevant to the topic. For example, if you teach Business English, learners are likely to question the practicality of certain topics that are not directly linked to their professional setting, for example, they may ask ‘Why are we wasting time on the present perfect?’ 

Yet, a professional educator realises that a variety of grammar structures, including present perfect, contributes significantly to successful communication within a professional context. 

Why is it important to contextualize grammar?

Bridging theory and practice

Therefore, our challenge as their teachers lies in not only delivering engaging and relevant lessons but getting across the importance of seemingly abstract components of a language.

One of the possible ways to achieve it is providing real-life examples and scenarios in which these linguistic components facilitate verbal and written communication. 

In our case, teaching the present perfect in the context of business cooperation, such as ‘Have you finished the report?’ or ‘Has the project been completed?’ can bridge the gap between theory and practical implementation.

If we aim for a truly effective, individualised teaching style, where our learners feel heard, it is essential that we are transparent with them.

There is no need to lecture them on teaching theory, of course, but sometimes it helps to explain how the material of our choice, seemingly unrelated to their primary goal, contributes to achieving it step by step and deepens their language knowledge.

At the same time a teacher's work is closely tied to trends; in order to incorporate them into our classes and make learning more interesting, we must constantly read the most recent research, experiment with new applications, and monitor worldwide trends.

Therefore, teaching everything also means being able to find the most effective and up-to-date solution to any issue.

We are seeing an increasing number of excellent cases of Virtual Reality (VR) use in ELT for role-playing and generating lifelike language experiences. Even the most impossible classroom scenarios easily come to life now thanks to recent advancements in these technologies.

ELT trends you need to know

Due to COVID–19 and increasing concern about facilitating the educational needs of immigrants we have witnessed the relocation of the classroom in an online space with digital books and platforms, endless opportunities to experiment with presenting the information. 

Therefore, it is not enough to be an experienced ESL teacher. You also have to be an experienced online ESL teacher!

While basic digital literacy skills are a must, learning about brand-new applications and AI-powered tools can inspire you for new teaching ideas as well as offer some modern solutions to common issues.

Should an ESL teacher ask the students to elaborate if grammar is an ultimate aim of the students?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS

  • Olha Lavrentieva

    Olha Lavrentieva


    CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers



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