Teaching young adult ESL students is not the same as public school ESL classes or buxiban classes in China. Whether you’ve already done a stint overseas or this is your first time teaching adult ESL, taking these five steps will ensure greater success for you as a teacher and for your students as learners.
Intensive English Programs are unlike teaching in a public school. You’ll stare down different challenges than you did overseas. Teaching adults also presents a different set of quirks. Here’s what you need to do:
#1 Find out what their goals are.
You would never use the same incentives for students planning to take the TOEFL or IELTS as you would with students who are learning English just for communication purposes until their spouses graduate (and they return home). Right?
However, unless you are aware of their very different goals, you probably won’t be crafting your lessons to help each student see how the content is relevant to his/her goals. Play matchmaker. Match vocabulary and language strategies to their goals. Give them the purpose, and they’ll amaze, but first, find out what their goals are.
#2 Be aware of cultural obstacles!
You’re probably already rolling your eyes at the obviousness of this one, but hear me out with this example. We read a lot about how education-driven Koreans are. Did you know that many Koreans grow up never developing their own motivation and drive to succeed? Korean parents push, nag, and smooth the way. MANY Korean kids never do household chores, learn to cook anything more complicated than instant noodles, or even wake themselves up in the morning. Imagine what it’s like for these young adults when they come to the USA to learn English and go to university.
When you’ve never learned how to take care of yourself, you can imagine what a challenge it could be just to get to class, much less have the discipline it takes to learn academic English in an intensive environment without mom pushing you from behind. Now add in a completely foreign country and all that entails. Until they know how to fend for themselves, they likely need someone (you) to set firm boundaries and hold them accountable.
When you’re teaching young adult ESL students who are failing to meet their goals, find out how their culture may be their biggest obstacle. Look for ways that you can help them push through. Don’t be the person who writes them off as “young people these days are just so irresponsible.”
#3 Find out who they are.
Add them on your social media accounts (if appropriate, and you may want to make a “teacher” account). Depending on how active they are, you’ll have an unending, rich supply of information that you can use to get their attention during class.
I enjoy working into the lessons whatever they’ve been doing outside of class and on the weekends. For example, I knew one of my students had gone kayaking during the weekend. Imagine his surprise and delight when I included a sentence about that in the grammar lesson on the modal “can”.
This doesn’t just grab their attention. It’s also an easy way to spark further discussion while using whatever vocabulary or grammar concept you’re teaching. It shows them that you pay attention to them, and it helps them get to know each other better. Most of all, it makes what we do in class more relevant because they see it in action.
#4 Share yourself.
I don’t care what any researcher says about students needing to be intrinsically motivated. That’s great when it happens, but it doesn’t always happen. I’ll tell you this: I always worked harder for the teachers I liked than the ones I didn’t. And you know what? Most of our students are the same! Just as we need to see them as people and not merely students, it can be very beneficial for them to see us as people, and not only teachers. For that to happen, you have to share some of yourself.
This is another way that social media comes in handy. Share snaps of yourself with those crazy Snapchat face filters. Post some Instagram photos of your garden, what you’re eating for breakfast, and that giant mess you accidentally made in the kitchen. Tag them in funny videos and interesting news stories you find on Facebook. People yearn for connections with others. Our young adult ESL students are people first and foremost.
#5 Build relationships!
For many, there is an ocean between them and their home, their family, and their childhood friends. Granted, thanks to any number of apps, they can keep in touch with their loved ones much better than anyone could in the past. But despite these technological advances, we still need human contact. We still need someone who cares, who is willing to show the way.
You could settle for just teaching young adult ESL students about the active and passive voice, or you could also teach them about life. So, go out there and make an impact on your students. It will enrich your life as well.
What do you think has been the most rewarding aspect of teaching young adult ESL students from other countries?
Read more about teaching young adult ESL students!
If you are teaching young adult ESL students, you have probably had at least a few who haven’t had the same educational opportunities in their youth as you have. Maybe they need a hand.
- Study Habits: Supercharge Their Effectiveness with One Question & One Strategy
- The Profound Impact of Reflective Writing in the Adult ESL Classroom
- Teaching Adult ESL: Practical Materials Designed for IEPs That You’ll Love!
Check out Conversations with Educators for a role play resource that helps students understand how to discuss grades with their teachers/professors.