Language is power, and through the work that you do as community-based ESL teachers and tutors, you are effectively changing lives.
The content on these pages has been designed with your teaching needs in mind. While most community-based ESL programs provide some training to their volunteers, new teachers still sometimes find themselves asking, “What do I do now?” Throughout this section, you will find information to guide your teaching, from “12 Questions Every Tutor Asks,” adapted from Pace Yourself: A Handbook for ESL Tutors, to sample activities, textbook and online resources, and professional development opportunities.
We wish you all the best as you strive to empower your students through learning, and we anticipate that these pages will provide valuable support in achieving your classroom goals.
12 Questions Every Tutor Asks
The content on these “Teaching Tips” pages is adapted from PACE Yourself: A Handbook for ESL Tutors (Dalle and Young, 2003, TESOL Press). PACE Yourself provides tutors of students at any age and skill level with helpful teaching advice, all solidly based in research. Each chapter in the book is based on one of the following 12 questions—questions that every tutor will encounter in their work.
What do I do first?
Gather information about your students.
Factors such as age, native language or other language literacy, length of time studying English, time spent in the United States, level of education, and special goals or problems will affect both what you teach and the way you teach it. One way to collect this information is to have the students fill out individual “student information cards.” Any tutor’s or teacher’s goal should ultimately be to serve the language learning needs of their students and knowing such information will help you to better serve those needs.
What materials should I have on hand?
Acquire frequently used tutoring tools.
Having some basic supplies on hand will equip you to teach both the lessons you have planned and more impromptu “teachable moments.” Start with some basic classroom supplies, such as a dry-erase board; notebooks and folders; index cards; lesson planner/day planner; and so on. Be sure to have a recording device available, as well as a computer and Internet access if possible; and obtain some tried-and-true reference and textbooks (see the Textbooks and Reference Materials page). You’ll find that students learn very well through the use of realia, or authentic materials, so visit your local supermarket, bank, library, government offices, etc., to pick up pamphlets, forms, and other brochures to use in your classroom. And bring along some magazines and newspapers from home, as well as popular board games to inspire communication and language building.
How should I structure my sessions?
Follow an organized format.
“Progress depends on the students’ involvement and willingness to communicate their needs to the tutor” (Dalle and Young, 2003, p. 39). Students are more likely to hold in confidence and communicate learning needs to tutors who demonstrate structure in their planning and lesson presentations. The first step is examining your tutoring environment. Ensure that it is neat and orderly and supports your professional persona. In the lessons themselves, PACE suggests following a five-step structural procedure: 1) Interview the student; 2) Review old material; 3) Introduce new material; 4) Summarize the main points of the lesson; 5) Interview the student again—How effective was the lesson? Are there any questions or any requests for the next session?
How do I know what to teach?
Assess skills and determine students’ goals.
First, perform a needs analysis by reviewing the information on the student information card (discussed in Question 1 above) and talking, if possible, with parents, teachers, and other stakeholders, to get a more complete picture of what English skills should be addressed in the tutoring. An initial assessment should also be conducted to determine the students’ proficiency levels in the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Through oral interviews, reading and comprehension checks, writing assessments, and possibly even review of previous student work (if available), you should categorize students into beginning, intermediate, and high levels. By determining student level at the beginning of tutoring, you will be able to set realistic objectives and determine the way forward for learning. Note that assessment should also be ongoing throughout the tutoring in order to uncover additional needs and to find whether activities and homework are advancing student competency.
How do I use assessment to help me teach?
Use assessment to determine tutoring goals and establish a starting point.
At first, having to decide on what to teach will seem overwhelming. Your assessment, however, should give you an idea of the student’s most important needs. Limit your goals to working on those needs. If, for example, you have a beginning-level adult student who is trying to get a job and provide for a family, design a course of study that helps this student learn to communicate basic needs. Meeting this need—for what is sometimes referred to as survival skills—is an immediate goal.
What factors can help or hinder a student’s English learning ability?
Consider personal, cultural, and linguistic factors.
Personal factors include:
Learning Styles (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic)
Cultural factors include:
Surface and Deep Culture
Linguistic factors include:
Learner Speech (Interlanguage)
How do I make a lesson plan that is appropriate for my student?
Set reasonable objectives; provide appropriate materials and activities.
A good lesson plan:
Describes the goals of a lesson and the means of accomplishing those goals
Gives purpose and organization to the lesson and serves as a record of what you have done with the student
Documents the techniques that have been successful and unsuccessful with the student
You can find ready-made lesson plans and lesson-plan formats online and in many textbooks. As a starting point, your lesson plan should contain the following:
Objectives. An objective states the skills your student will demonstrate by the end of the lesson.
Materials. A list of all the items you and the student will need in performing the activities of the lesson.
Activities. List sequentially all the activities you and the student will do to accomplish lesson objectives. These may include warm-ups or review of previously learned information, presentation of new information, practice of the new information, and summary or review of the new information.
Contingency plan. Make a backup plan in case your original plan does not work as well as you expect.
Homework. Note any work that you would like the student to do independently to show mastery of the material you have just taught.
Evaluation. This should include brief comments about how well the student performed and, possibly, activities that worked or did not work especially well with the student. Other ways to measure and record your student’s success include giving the student an exercise or test taken from a textbook in class and keeping a list of skills that are checked off as the student masters them.
How can I use the Internet in my lessons?
Search ESL websites for materials, lessons, and activities geared to the students’ age, language level, and language skill.
A number of suggested websites are included in the “Resources” section of these pages. In addition to sites specifically built around ESL, you may also want to draw from online resources such as TED Talks, NPR, YouTube, and relevant podcasts.
How do I construct lessons for people whose language I do not speak?
Use visual aids.
Many potential tutors of international students worry as to how they can communicate with and teach a person who speaks another language. Two adages answer this problem: (a) A picture is worth a thousand words, and (b) actions speak louder than words. In other words, nothing breaks down communication barriers and promotes learning as well as visual aids. When displaying actual objects is impractical or the objects are unavailable, use pictures, graphs, charts, and gestures to present and clarify lessons at all levels. The use of visual aids is stimulating, attracts and holds your student’s interest, and adds a creative dimension to your tutoring.
How do I document students’ progress and evaluate their success?
Use formal and informal means.
Evaluation has traditionally meant formal testing. Although testing is one way to evaluate, it is not the only way, and for your purposes it may not be the best way. The most effective teachers use a combination of formal and informal means of evaluation. Formal evaluation includes tests—teacher-made, provided with the teacher’s edition of texts, and standardized. Informal evaluation includes such methods as portfolios, checklists, observations, interviews, self-evaluation charts, and journals. You should decide what to use based on your student’s needs, age, and ability. Tutors generally use informal evaluation because it reveals the information the tutor needs: what and how much the student knows, not what the student does not know.
What can I do if the student shows little progress?
Identify the student’s problems; seek help for specific needs.
It is perfectly normal for students to have significantly less than 100% recall. Consider it a sign of progress if they recognize their own mistakes in grammar or pronunciation before you point them out. With that said, if you are confident that your daily lesson plans have been teaching to the objectives and you find that your student continues to struggle, you may need to reteach those skills the student has not yet mastered.
Reteaching means teaching a skill you have already taught by presenting it in a different way.
Here are some ways you can create variety:
Change and simplify the words you originally used to present the skill.
In a book, in a magazine, or on the Internet, find charts, pictures, and other visual aids you did not use the first time.
Find activities that use more than one of the five senses. In other words, find written, oral, and hands-on activities that reinforce the skill you are reteaching.
As you consider how best to reteach skills, think back to the linguistic, cultural, and personality factors that can influence a student’s learning. You may need to research language problems common to your student’s language group, research the home culture to better understand your student, and even reach out to an ESL expert for additional help as necessary.
How can I evaluate my performance as an ESL tutor/teacher?
Use simple self-assessment procedures.
Student feedback, using a student skills checklist, and using a tutor performance checklist are all means by which to assess your teaching. For example, if a student comments on the benefit (or lack thereof) of a certain activity, make note of this in your lesson plans for future reference. Keep track of student learning by observing measurable improvements in the skills you have worked on. And to be proactive in your own teaching, create a tutor checklist to help you confirm that you’re covering all the basics that will help you in working with your ESL student.
Be creative! Get your students moving around, asking questions, and using English to really communicate with each other. If you can, get out of the classroom and into the community to give students a chance to try out and to own their newly acquired language skills. The following are some suggestions for classroom activities.
Total Physical Response (TPR)
Check out this article
by Claudia Pesce. In it, she briefly describes the history of TPR and presents five ways to use it with your beginning-level students.
Most of us remember the kinds of role plays we encountered in previous language classes—e.g., “at the restaurant,” “at the post office,” “at the doctor’s office,” etc. Bringing such mini-dramas into the classroom help to break down walls of hesitation and overcome student “stage fright.” The following article by Revel Arroway presents some more unusual role-play situations for you and your students to have fun learning with.
Many of the same games that gave you practice with your first language can help your students acquire English. Consider the power of Scrabble in giving your students practice with English orthography and in growing their vocabulary. Scattergories is another fun and useful game, requiring students to think of words in multiple categories that all start with the same letter. These lists can, of course, be tailored to the content at hand. Additionally, old favorites like Memory can be adapted for vocabulary learning—using pictures and/or words.
Professional Development at IUPUI
The Department of English at IUPUI offers a variety of ways to take your teaching to the next level, with opportunities at both the theoretical and practical levels.
Auditing a Class
For tutors and teachers seeking to gain knowledge and experience without having to commit to a certificate or degree program, consider auditing a course or two. Suggested courses include Second Language Development, TESOL Methods, and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and Materials Development. Contact Dr. Ulla Connor for more information.
TESOL Academic Programs
Suggested Textbooks and Reference Materials
- Adelson-Goldstein, J. & Shapiro, N. (2009). Oxford Picture Dictionary, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Grant, L. (2017).
- Well Said. Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning
A series designed to improve the pronunciation and communication skills of beginner to advanced students from all language backgrounds.
- Pearson Education (2008). Longman Dictionary of American English (4th edition). New York, NY: Pearson Education ESL
- Podnecky, J. (1996). Contemporary’s Put English to Work: Level 1. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education
A multi-level textbook for English learners in the workplace.
- Short, D., Tinajero, J., Tatum, A., Moore, D., & Bernabei, G. (2009). Inside the U.S.A. Boston, MA: National Geographic School Publishing.
Torres, J. (2016).
- I Want to Learn English: Language Skills for the Real World. Baltimore, MD: JV Myka Publishing Company
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Corpus-based dictionary of value to both teachers and students.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for English learners.
Create customized games, quizzes, reviews, and more to bring a competitive spirit to your classroom!
Topics including vocabulary, verb tense, prepositions, irregular verbs, and more.
Dave's ESL Cafe
Including teacher materials, student materials, job postings, etc., this is a perennial favorite.
Includes news-based English learning videos, articles, and listening tracks for multiple levels of English learners. Ideal for college-level or adult students.
Keep your students informed with this educational news site. Each article can be automatically adjusted to different levels.
Engaging topics in technology, entertainment, and design.