The Key To Your ESL Students’ Success

The Key To Your ESL Students’ Success

An ESL teacher’s job is much more than just going through the lessons and making sure our students turn in their assignments; we come to care greatly about our students’ success, and often share their frustrations at slow progress, difficulty with comprehension, or fighting with the same grammar pattern for months.

And that means we are always looking for new ideas and methods to improve our teaching, because we want to give our students as much as we can. But one thing that we often overlook is that the biggest key to your ESL students’ success is actually, to a certain degree, out of your hands: Get them to practice speaking outside of the ESL classroom.

You didn’t learn English by doing worksheets. You learned it by speaking to and listening to native speakers. And that’s the best way your students will learn English, as well.

For language learners, though, this can be a pretty intimidating endeavor, so your job as a teacher is to give them the encouragement, confidence, and means to have these interactions outside of class, in the real world.

Here are a few ways to do it:

Stress language exchanges

A regular language exchange is the perfect way to learn a new language. Adult learners use these connections all of the time while learning; you find someone who speaks the language you want to learn, and who wants to learn English, and then talk with them for a set amount of time in each language. You can work on grammar, ask questions about slang you’re having trouble understanding, or just chat.

With the internet, it is extremely easy to find a language exchange partner or group, and either meet up in person or chat online. While it’s much easier for adults to find language exchange partners, you can encourage your older students to look for them, or for parents to help younger students find a suitable and trusted language exchange partner.


Arrange pen pals

Pen pals can be an easier, less intimidating way to practice English for younger students. More and more western classes are looking for pen pals in foreign countries, to help their students learn about different cultures and languages. You can give your students the resources (such as or ) to find pen pals individually, or look for a pen pal arrangement for your entire class.

Penpal Schools is a great resource for connecting classrooms.

Offer extra credit

Kids always love extra credit. So give them a chance to earn some by using the English in the real world, whether it is for meeting with a language exchange partner, writing to their pen pal, or chatting with someone in a store.

Depending on the age range, you can have various ways that they can prove it to you: take a selfie with their conversation partner, record some of the conversation, have the native English speaker write something on an
assignment paper for them, or come up with a way that works for your students.

Get parents involved

If the parents speak some English, try to have them set up an “English hour” at home, where the family speaks only English. Even though your students won’t be hearing a native accent, they will still get lots of crucial practice relying on their English to communicate in a real life situation.

If the family isn’t able to do that, have your co-teacher or administration talk to the parents about encouraging their child to start conversations with English-speakers, or to look for a language exchange partner.

Teach conversation starters

One of the biggest barriers to talking to strangers is just not feeling comfortable starting a conversation. Emphasize teaching various phrases to start and continue a simple conversation, and role-play different scenarios for using those conversation starters.

Even knowing how to say, “Excuse me, do you have a minute?” to someone can give your students the confidence they need to strike up a real conversation.

Use TV and movies to your advantage

Most of your students are probably glued to their screens for most of their free time, so take advantage of it. Even if your students aren’t directly engaging with native speakers, watching movies, TV shows, and even short viral videos in English gives them tons of great listening practice.

You can offer extra credit if they write you a brief summary in English, or just give a voluntary assignment of a movie or TV show each week and then talk about it with the students who watched it.

Make yourself available as a resource outside of class

Your students will probably feel much more comfortable talking to you than to a stranger. Offering free or discounted private conversation classes to your students can be a great start at getting them comfortable with conversational English.

Make it clear that you’re not going to be going over homework or lessons, but instead focusing on unstructured conversation.

Remember to keep your suggestions and assignments age appropriate – telling a college-aged student to start a conversation with a stranger is a great way to get them speaking, but you might want to think twice about telling a kindergartner to do the same unless their parents are present. And make sure to give your students frequent reminders to be safe and use their common sense when talking with strangers, either in person or online.

With a little common sense and confidence, your students can vastly improve their English through just a few short interactions with native speakers.

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