Advice for Teaching Adults EFL

When I first started private teaching, I did not prepare for lessons beforehand. I simply showed up to the lesson to “shoot the shit” with my students. We talked about current events, every day life and experiences. While discussing, I taught them new expressions, corrected their grammar (to improve clarity) and helped with pronunciation. This was in 2006–7.

I recently started teaching privately again. I think my current lessons are better than the “general conversation” ones I used to do. Now my lessons seem to pass by smoothly and the students seem more satisfied. Though it may seem like common sense to veteran private EFL teachers, here is some advice for teaching adults.

Get Students’ Expectations

Are they studying for TOEIC? For work? For school? For travel? As a hobby? If you know your students’ goals, it’s a lot easier to guide them in the right direction. Be explicit about what you will/won’t teach. In my experience, students who are studying English as a hobby can be harder to teach, because they are not as motivated as students with a specific purpose. Though it’s not always like this, it’s something to consider. A motivated student is a pleasure (and easy) to teach.

Make Contract

Though not necessary, this can simplify the details, e.g., payment, time, place, cancellation deadlines. I prefer direct deposit to my bank account by the end of the month. No penalty for cancellation if lesson is cancelled a day in advance. Clarity is something both the teacher and the students can benefit from.

Visuals for Weaker Students

Bring props, e.g., magazines with lots of pictures, and practice describing what you see. Level up and discuss more abstract topics.

Select Materials in Advance

Get your students’ email addresses! Assign homework and link them to articles and essays this way. I always try to assign at least one reading task for homework then follow up the next lesson. For reading assignments I very rarely use hardcopies, i.e., handouts. Email is the way to go.

Diversify Tasks

A good combination of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Only conversation is not good. I’ve had positive feedback from students with writing assignments. This is the best way to teach grammar and improve your students’ sentence structure. Reading assignments for homework that you discuss the following lesson work well, too. The next lesson you can check their general comprehension then do Q & A, written or orally.

Establish Routine

Having a routine gives structure to your lessons, and a familiar environment can facilitate the learning process for your students. Proceeding randomly is not the way to go. With most of my students, I always show them my lesson plan before we start. My 60 min. lesson plan usually looks something like this:

  • warm up (catch up & small talk) [5 min.]
  • quickly review last week’s main points (if necessary) [1–2 min.]
  • check writing assignment [10 min.]
  • review, Q & A and discussion of reading assignment [15 min.]
  • new topic; teach and practice new language [20 min.]
  • assign and explain homework [5 min.]
  • wrap up [5 min.]

I hope this helps you in your teaching. If you have any advice you’d like to add for teaching EFL to adults, please comment.


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