Introduction to Teaching English Online

Transform Your Teaching by Tapping into Different ESL Learning Styles

We are all individuals and we do not take new information on in the same way. ESL language learners are no different. The traditional classroom teaching techniques often leave students struggling with concepts and unable to make progress. Many students feel frustrated or that they have reached a plateau with their English language learning; and the same errors come back again and again, and nothing you do seems to iron them out! However take heart; there is a fun and simple solution. If you educate yourself about the different types of ESL learning styles, you can make learning ESL a lot easier and much more fun!

Several models of ESL learning styles have been discussed at length and now most researchers agree that there are four basic types of learning style. A good ESL program will attempt to connect with all of those types of language learners.

Understanding the differences between auditory, visual, and tactile or kinesthetic ESL learners is an important step when creating a lesson plan that will appeal to all four types. Usually you can continue with your ordinary teaching style and supplement it with some new ESL activities and materials. If you pick the games and activities well this will make ESL learning more fun for all your students and allow you to make more impact!

The following ideas are divided according to each ESL learning style; however, many of the ESL games and activities lend themselves to use with several styles at once and there will always be a mix of learning styles amongst the ESL students in your class.

These students often profit from a quieter approach. Written instructions and demonstrations will make the most sense to them, and they will retain a lot of information from videos and flash cards. Books with illustrations are appreciated by these students, too.

Simple board games based on familiar favorites, such as Grammatical Chutes and Ladders, can also help these students learn while enjoying a game. This and other boards can be easily made and kept in the classroom — just remember to make them age appropriate for your students!

Humorous comics and other pictures with captions can be rewritten to expand vocabulary — get ready for giggles! Humor in the English language can be extremely instructive; a study of puns, for instance, can help students differentiate between similar sounding words.

Worksheets and word puzzles are easily utilized by visual learners. A Reading Treasure Hunt can even get competitive as students race to find all the parts of speech in a given paragraph.

These ESL students get a lot out of spoken instructions; lectures, tapes, etc. They will learn faster with listening, recitation and story games.

Karaoke is a wonderful way to combat shyness and boost self-confidence — any study of music is a great way to break the ice and facilitate word recognition. Encourage the students to participate in singing outside the classroom, too!

Another helpful tool is a prepared tape with words left out, combined with a matching worksheet; students can use words they have just heard to reassemble the transcript. You can even set up a felt board with a word list to encourage these students to develop their visual learning skills as well.

Story building games are perhaps the most fun; students fill in the blanks in the sentences with words to complete the meaning — sometimes the results are unexpected! This can also be a team effort project. Try quizzes, too; the students can pair off.

These ESL learners are the least likely to respond to traditional methods. Tactile learners will benefit most from hands on instruction; Kinesthetic ESL learners like to use their whole bodies to complete learning exercises. Including games for both types will benefit your classroom as a whole — it has been documented that such programs are actually the self-reported preference among ESL Language Learners.

Having students identify items in a bag by feel and naming them or discussing what they could be is a good vocabulary game, and it can be expanded by asking them to describe the item’s characteristic, while the rest of the class take turns guessing. They will be encouraged to reach for more words to use as clues! Students have to explain why they think a certain item is what it is and that requires a substantial amount of vocabulary. Time limits can be set and teams can race to discover as many words as possible.

In smaller classrooms, try model building. Assembly games using Legos to create creatures following written or verbal instructions will cross into the Auditory and Visual learning styles as well. Maps are another good way to stimulate interest — again, written or verbal instruction can be given on how to draw or define their maps. Make sure you stock colored pencils!

If you have the room to experiment with activities that use the whole body, try this: give each student a card with a word or punctuation symbol, then take turns lining them up at the front of the class to make a proper sentence using as many people as possible. This game is great for EFL learners as it helps teach our sentence structure.

By using a variety of ESL language games and activities into your classroom, you greatly increase the chance of reaching all your students. Consequently English becomes easier and more fun to learn. Games are also a proven way to relax timid students and coax shy ones to join in. By tapping into different atmospheres in class, from an exciting, gently competitive one to a collaborative one in you will be able to ensure that you reach every student in a way that facilitates his or her own particular ESL learning style.

Written by Shelley Vernon for March 2008
Passionate about making teaching fun and the importance of teachers in the world, Shelley Vernon has written five best-selling books of games, stories and plays for children and adults learning English. Shelley Vernon has inspired thousands of ESL teachers with her resources.

One Comment

  • mityana vaccaro says:

    A very open-minded article. I agree with what you say about how each learner is an individual and should be catered for, especially in the language classroom. I feel that all too often teachers need to get through their syllabus regardless… I teach both adults and young children and accepting that my students have their own learning styles is so important! Best of luck and work on!

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