Creative Methods of Teaching Adults ESL

Creative Methods of Teaching Adults ESL

By Melissa Hellmann




Experiencing the rapid development of language acquisition in children can be incredible; young children are at the most receptive stage of learning a new language, according to the critical period hypothesis. Although the best ages to learn a second language are debatable, most researchers agree that after puberty it is more difficult to learn a new language with perfect fluency or without an accent. For this reason, teaching adults can be much more challenging and frustrating; vocabulary often needs to be consistently repeated before it is understood and development can seem minimal.

However, teaching adults can be a very rewarding and enriching experience. While teaching adults, classroom management and behavioral issues are not as prevalent as with children. Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to adults can also evolve into a unique relationship based on cultural exchange and a mutual respect for education. Adults who are learning a second language are usually enrolled in a class on their own volition so their enthusiasm and determination is often apparent; but there is also a greater chance of truancy due to the noncompulsory attendance.

Since teaching adults tends to revolve around participatory learning it is important to understand the demography of the learners. It may not be relevant to teach stay-at-home mothers about business English, or to teach a single man about parenting vocabulary. Adult learners are most interested in learning about topics that pertain to them. Any topic can become a tool for language instruction. Gather a list of subjects that the students would be interested in learning about at the beginning of the class and create lessons based on these topics.

Discussion classes are always an effective way of piquing the students’ interest. Create some interesting discussion questions based on a topic and ask the students to separate into small groups and then return to the larger group to share their findings. There is a multitude of literature available for adult learners of English as a Second Language on sophisticated topics such as home life and business management. Encourage students to read outside of class and to discuss with other students at the beginning of the lesson. Teaching idioms can also be an interesting way to explore a topic. After reviewing popular idioms ask the students to develop their own!

As many teachers of ESL have a different cultural background from their students, it is also important to celebrate and highlight the diversity in the classroom. Encourage the students to bring in an item that is unique to their culture and to discuss it or to write about an interesting experience that they’ve had. Create a comic book with your students using pictures and captions to share an interesting story in a student’s life. When teaching adults English it is essential to be patient and to accept that your students and yourself will mistakes sometimes. Be open to errors, improvement and the yummy food from other countries that your students will share with you!


EF English First is looking for dynamic, student-oriented English teachers who are serious about motivating students and having an impact on their lives. Positions are currently available in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou & Shenzhen to teach either adults or young learners.