Teach English Abroad: 20 Great ESL Teaching Tips


1. Speak clearly, slowly and distinctly.

2. Manage your class effectively. It’s important to establish and enforce classroom rules, but remember that it’s also important to have fun with your students. If you’re having fun, they’re having fun. My students are much more responsive and willing to participate when they are having a little bit of fun in class. Try not to be too strict and remember to smile.

3. Talk about yourself. Tell your students about your family and friends. Bring in photos from home. Share personal stories with them.

4. Be funny. Students will really enjoy your class if you make them laugh. Don’t be afraid to play the fool or make fun of yourself.

5. Use lots of energy when you’re teaching. Move around your classroom. Use gestures and noises to describe things. Make lots of faces and draw pictures. Why? Providing some light entertainment keeps their attention focused on you.

6. Games are always successful, even with older students. Never underestimate what you can teach with a simple game.

7. When you are giving instructions on how to play a game, repeat your instructions and demonstrate how to play.

8. Positive reinforcement is important to new language learners of every age. Compliment your students, even if they make mistakes.

9. Music makes learning interesting and fun. There are loads of activities you can use music with. I’ve captured and held the attention of all my classes with a little music. Music takes away feelings of self-consciousness and it encourages students to open their mouths and let loose.

10. Repetition is a key tool in the ESL classroom. There are lots of games and activities that you can use in the classroom to encourage students to speak out. Make sure you teach the answer to the entire class and have them repeat it out loud before asking each students separately.


Happy students make happy teachers.

11. Introduce and teach new vocabulary every lesson.

12. Use some favorite slang terms and sayings in the classroom. People get sick of hearing the same standard responses taught throughout the public school system. “How are you? and “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” are typical examples. I find that students who have had these responses drilled into them often sound dull, monotonous and insincere. If a student asks me, “What’s up?” or answers with, “I’m OK!” or “Not much,” I’m usually pretty happy about it.

13. Try to get every student in each class to speak. Remember that pronunciation is really important. Often, students great instruction from their public school English teachers, but these teachers generally lack the ability to teach pronunciation effectively because they aren’t native English speakers.

14. Traditional Chinese school systems do not encourage students to ask questions. Encourage your students to ask you questions. Once they know it’s OK to ask or say they don’t understand, it makes for an easier learning environment.

15. Encourage your students to speak out as much as they can and never belittle their ability or correct their mistakes by saying, “You’re wrong.” Just correct the student by repeating the answer correctly. If the student is still struggling, teach it to the class again as a whole.

16. Pointing is rude. Extend your hand out with the palm up when asking a student to answer.

17. Make sure you know and understand your students learning ability.

18. Be adaptable. If a lesson or activity isn’t working, there’s nothing wrong with scrapping it quickly and trying something else.

19. Always have backup games and activities, especially if you’re introducing new material. Don’t be afraid to use your ‘tried and true golden oldies’ if you feel you’re bombing a lesson.

20. Remember that a good teacher also learns from his/her students. The lessons always work both ways.

12 thoughts on “Teach English Abroad: 20 Great ESL Teaching Tips

  1. globetrotteri

    Thank you Mircat. These are usually the tips I give to new teachers when they first arrive in Asia. As you know, it can be intimidating when you’ve never taught before. I learned a lot from all the wonderful teachers and friends that helped me out when I first arrived in Asia.

  2. jorees

    Excellent comments!

    This is a very helpful guide. It also provides insight into your philosophy of teaching which encourages fun and the arts. Happy Days!

  3. globetrotteri

    Thanks Jo. You’re right, I do like to have fun in my classroom. I believe teaching is as fun as you make it. I’ve met so many teachers over the past four years who go into their classroom and bore their students to death. It doesn’t always have to be this way. If my students are bored, then they’re not happy and they won’t try as hard. I think that’s why I’m so successful in my classroom. My students, especially the older ones, give me a lot of feedback as well, which is great, because I know that they aren’t afraid to speak their mind or ask questions.

  4. Mia

    These are great tips to use in the classroom, but I’m curious to know what ESL levels are in your classroom? I’m a first time ESL teacher over in Asia, but find it very difficult to encourage students to ask questions or provide feedback because of their minimal (and I mean MINIMAL) knowledge of the English language. They’re having fun in class when I actually have the time to put together an activity, but with such limited listening comprehension, rules and demonstrations take so long that I usually can only fit in 10 minutes of activity time.

  5. globetrotteri

    Hi Mia

    First off, all the kids in these pictures were basic beginners when I first started teaching them. They had no previous exposure to English prior to my classroom.

    Basic beginners or ‘zero beginners’ are always a challenge to teach, because you have to find other ways to get through to your students without relying on the use of English. I use a lot of energy and move around a lot when I’m in these types of situations. I rely on my body language and noises to express my pleasure or displeasure with my students.

    Games and activities have to be age and level appropriate. I don’t use any games that require a lot of explanation unless I have someone in the class to translate for me. At this level, games should be super simple and easy to play.

    If your students are basic beginners, the golden rule is repeat, repeat, repeat. There are loads of different ways you can go about doing this to make it fun and interesting. Choral and chain drills (also known as mechanical drills) are a standard technique.

    I always use repetitive songs and chants to present questions and answers. I made the tunes up. They’re stupid and silly and really really easy and they work like a charm. You can chant them and add funny little actions. No rules are required. Just a quick and easy demonstration from you is all that is needed.

    I use the same songs in every class and usually see some progress within a week or two. Sometimes I see an immediate improvement. Plus, I’ve noticed that students tend to retain information when it’s presented as a catchy little tune. I love hearing my students singing a song I’ve just taught them when they walk out the door at the end of class.

    Which tips in particular are you concerned about being able to incorporate into your classroom? Perhaps I can give you some suggestions. There are ways to adapt all these tips and still use them in your classroom.

  6. global gal

    Have you ever taught one-on-one oral English classes? I’ve been asked to do some oral English classes with a friend’s girlfriend who wants to travel to the US for university study. Her English level is okay, but she wants to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary and speaking.

    I’m an aviation English teacher right now, which means I teach basic aviation vocabulary and basic flight theory. I’m not very strong in general ESL. Plus, I only have one book – Keep Talking by Friederike Klippel, which is great for activities, but has no lesson plans. On top of all of this, I’m really rather shy.

    Any advice? Should I just have conversations with some vocabulary or more formal lessons? I think she is quite good with grammar. Any insight you can offer would be a huge help. I’ve just been reading your blog a bit and I can tell you must be a good teacher – your writing is very eloquent. Thanks!

  7. globetrotteri

    Hi Global Gal,

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I teach one-on-one English classes to students of different ages and abilities.

    Every student wants to work on their pronunciation, vocabulary and speaking. You may need to do a little digging to find out how to go about planning her lessons.

    Start by asking her what her language goals are. Why does she want to improve her English? There’s a big difference between students who are studying to pass an exam and those who simply want to keep their conversation skills up.

    Set a time line for your classes. Try a three month study period and set some goals for that time. Then re-evaluate once you’ve reached your time marker.

    If your student is an adult, she should tell you what she expects from her lessons with you.

    There are loads of ESL sites with ideas for lesson plans. The grand-daddy of them all is http://www.eslcafe.com
    You could also try http://www.bogglesworldesl.com

    Good luck!

  8. global gal

    Thanks! There is so much info out there on teaching ESL that I guess I was feeling overloaded. Your advice is very helpful! I’ve just got to remember to relax and do the best I can. Have a great time in Japan!!

  9. Afraz Ahmed

    thanks a lot for ur tips.they are very very usefull.Well i am a teacher i owned a english speakin institute so i learned a lot from ur tips nd very thankfull to u

  10. Pingback: Teaching English Overseas, part 5

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