Teaching Advanced ESL Students

Teaching Advanced ESL Students

Teaching advanced ESL students can at times be intimidating – if your students are already holding complex conversations and have a strong grasp of grammar and a large vocabulary, what do they need a teacher for?

Korean girlBut rest assured that even the most advanced ESL learners out there have a lot to gain from a good ESL teacher who knows how to teach to their level.

Teaching advanced ESL students can be easier in some ways and much more challenging in others – advanced learners are likely to be much more focused, disciplined and self-motivated. You also won’t have to struggle to communicate basic classroom rules and expectations to them.

On the other hand, though, their demands on their ESL teacher are going to be a lot greater than beginners. They will challenge you to go beyond the basic grammar pattern lessons and to truly understand the inner workings of your language.

Here are some tips and ideas for teaching to advanced ESL learners.

Use real life materials

These students are at a level where their comprehension and vocabulary are good enough that they can handle having real-world English language material thrown at them. Take advantage of all the free podcasts, documentaries, news clips, and lectures that you can find online.

Give them a chance to get used to different accents, to idioms used in regular speech, to the way that inflections and intonation affect the meaning of a word, and to the difficulty of picking things out in rapid-fire, normal conversational speed English.

Plus, using real-world, contemporary materials gives a great jumping-off point for discussions of western culture and current events.

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Conversation and debate

One of the best ways to get fluent in a language is to use it, a lot, in unscripted and spontaneous ways. Students at this level don’t need written out conversation patterns.

What they need is a subject, some vocabulary to go along with it, maybe a few useful grammar patterns, a little bit of time to get their thoughts on the subject together, and then the freedom to discuss, argue, and express their opinions.

Regular class debates, in which they formally prepare their arguments and rebuttals, are another great way to work on fluency, expressing ideas, and making an argument.

If you are incorporating real-world materials, you can tie their conversation and debate prompts in with the materials that you choose to create more cohesive lessons and to reinforce new vocabulary.

Tailor the vocabulary to their interests

Like I mentioned above, if your students are interested in pursuing a career in science, then you’ll really set them on fire if you can give them some scientific reading to do and some writing assignments based on it.

If they are interested in pursuing a career in science, focus on building up relevant vocabulary and language. Likewise, careers in law, medicine, music, business, all have their own unique subset of vocabulary that your students will want to know.

Again, this can tie in with their advanced reading materials and conversation/debate topics, as well. The more you can create lessons that give them a chance to use and re-use their new vocabulary, the more it will stick with them.

Focus on pronunciation

Even the most fluent speakers have little pronunciation glitches that they can improve on. Since it is difficult for a student of a foreign language to hear his own accent as he is speaking, a good way to practice is to encourage students to record themselves reading a passage out loud.

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When they listen to it, they can then turn their full attention to hearing their own voice and picking out common pronunciation problems that they have.

Idioms, Sayings, and Slang

How often do you stop to think about all of the seemingly non-sensical idioms that we use every day in our speech? For example, “It’s a piece of cake”, “it’s the best of both worlds”, “the ball is in your court”, “cutting corners”, “speak of the devil” – a student could understand every word individually in these phrases, and still be clueless as to what the sentence means.

There are literally hundreds of sayings and idioms, not to mention slang and accents.  You could spend years delving into the usage and history of idioms, sayings, and slang – a subject that, once you get into it, is just as fascinating as it is useful.

Use poetry and comedy

Both poetry and comedy are the ultimate test of an ESL learner’s grasp of the language. Both often use puns, wordplay, slang, unique phrasings and uncommon words. Rhythm and meter are a huge part of poetry, and timing and inflection are crucial to comedy. They also both often rely heavily on

Rhythm and meter are a huge part of poetry, and timing and inflection are crucial to comedy. They also both often rely heavily on subtle-knowledge of culture, current events, or history to have their impact.

Give advanced writing assignments

Speaking and writing a language fluently can be totally different ball games. Just as you do when choosing advanced listening materials and choosing a vocabulary list for advanced learners, find out why your students are learning English, what they hope to do with it career-wise, and tailor your assignments to that.

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Remember that there are a lot of different styles of writing that ESL students often don’t get introduced to in English until they are expected to use those styles in college or in their career.

Academic writing, analytical writing, legal writing, journalistic writing, and creative writing can all bring a new perspective, new grammar patterns, and new vocabulary to your students writing.


ESL Gold has a great collection of lesson ideas and resources covering a large variety of topics.

Brush up on your grammar over at Dave’s ESL Cafe, with an extensive index of grammar patterns and concepts.

Check out this collection of advanced and fascinating ESL articles – chances are you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as your students will.

Here are some good graded reading prompts.

This is a great collection of audio, of varying lengths and with the option to easily vary the listening speed.

And of course, your favorite podcasts, NPR, BBC, newspapers, journals, magazines, and anything else you can think of, are all killer resources for your Advanced ESL students.

Do you teach advanced level students? What were your experiences like teaching this level? Do you have anything you would like to add tho this list? Let us know in the comments section below. 






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