7 Tips for Teaching ESL to Complete Beginners

By Altiné Mni

Teaching beginner ESL students is one of those things that might seem very easy on the surface but is quite challenging in reality. Here are seven tips for effectively teaching ESL to complete beginners and taking your TEFL teaching to the next level. 

1 Preparation is the key

I met several ESL teachers who think they don’t need to prepare their lessons because they teach beginners. Let me tell you this: preparation is essential in succeeding and making your classes pleasant for your students. In addition, ESL beginners rely solely on you as a teacher to equip them with the proper pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. More importantly, tailor your lessons to the needs of your students. When preparing lessons, keep the following in mind: 

  • The learning objectives (what your school wants you to teach)
  • The specific skills your students need (listening, speaking, reading, writing)
  • And always be over-prepared, especially when teaching ESL beginners

2 Use a variety of activities to encourage your ESL students to talk more in class 

Building up your students’ confidence level is key, especially if they are beginners. In the beginning, use a lot of activities to encourage your students to talk more in class and help them build a bond with each other. Also, it is essential to have an interactive and fun classroom that makes your students feel welcome and safe. Make your instructions clear and super simple by using as few words as necessary, and gestures whenever you can. Ensure that your students’ talking time is higher than your teacher’s talking time. Check out this article for practical tips on cutting your teacher talking time. Here are some excellent ideas for practical classroom activities you can try in class. 

3 Encourage your students as much as possible

Beginners to ESL learning are more prone to making mistakes, and they need praise to keep them going and build their confidence. Remember, your students are beginners; therefore, your goal is to initiate them to English and show them that it is okay to make mistakes because mistakes lead to learning. Every milestone should be celebrated, including pronouncing a new word or a complete sentence. In one of my classes, every Friday, I select three students to reward. I tell them that to win they need to actively participate in class, help other students (leadership), and show improvement in their learning. 

4 Use lots of visuals and gestures

How do you explain to your students what a cat is without showing them a picture or drawing one? Well, you will need to use gestures and do some meows and use your imagination to describe a cat. You might sometimes look silly, but it will make your class more enjoyable for your students. In addition to using gestures, try to use a lot of visuals. For example, if you want your students to raise their hands, you need to raise your hands while talking. And instead of asking them to get their textbooks, show them the book. 

5 Focus on building your students’ vocabulary first 

Remember that your student’s vocabulary level is almost at zero, so you will need to focus on helping to build it up. Vocabulary is essential for a student’s language development and communication skills. After all, it is challenging to relate thoughts, ideas, and feelings about who we are and how we understand the world around us without adequate words. Here are a few tips on teaching vocabulary to ESL beginners: 

  • Teach ESL vocabulary relevant to your students’ needs
  • Categorize vocabulary – For example, you can group vocabulary into categories such as animals, directions, traveling, dining, or things related to your students’ daily lives
  • Consider your students’ culture and age

6 Commit to repeating everything you said

Committing to repeating everything you say will help your students understand the lesson and retain essential phrases and words better. Beginner ESL learners need lots of repetition, particularly as they get to discover new words, expressions, and sounds. When teaching, particularly absolute beginners, you must repeat all instructions to give your students a chance to understand what you are saying. Repeating everything you said might seem boring, but it is necessary. When practicing a new sentence, break it down into manageable units and then build it back up, working backward from the end of the sentence to the beginning helping to make it easy for your students. You can also start every lesson with a vocabulary revision game (repeating new words from the last class). 

7 Encourage your students to practice as much as possible

Practice dramatically increases the likelihood that students will permanently remember new information, according to research. When teaching ESL beginners, you shouldn’t expect your students to understand everything you say immediately. Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes and mistakes are part of the learning process. In this case, they will not feel pressured to be perfect on the first try. Here are a few ideas to help beginner ESL students:

  • Give your students enough time to practice what you have just taught them
  • You can pair them and encourage them to practice dialogue using the new words learned in class
Written by Altiné Mni for TEFL.net November 2021
Altiné is from Toronto, Canada, and currently teaches mathematics at a high school in Guangzhou, China. He has a master's degree in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Canada and is passionate about helping people worldwide through his blogs. He writes about TEFL Teaching and Health and Fitness. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, traveling, and anything that allows him to experience the beauty of nature. You can find him at altinify.com.

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