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How to Teach English as a Second Language to Adults (Part 2)

Updated on October 26, 2018
Effective classroom management can help you teach English conversation skills.
Effective classroom management can help you teach English conversation skills. | Source

This is the second part of the article featuring advice about teaching English as a second language to adult learners.

In Part 1 of How to Teach English as a Second Language to Adults, we covered some useful tips about teaching both listening and speaking skills in an ESL classroom. As a continuation, this hub will concentrate primarily on improving speaking and conversation skills of adult language learners.

Below are a number of specific speaking activities that you can use in your classroom to engage your students.

How to Teach English as a Second Language to Adults using ESL Speaking Activities in Class

The main focus of every ESL classroom should be on elevating students’ speaking abilities through oral practice, pronunciation, discussion and various conversational exercises.

With your course textbook, there are numerous supplementary activities that can be used to coincide with the set lessons that you have in place with the curriculum.

The most effective speaking activities that you can try with your adult class involve using the classroom space for discussion, utilizing movies for feedback, and taking advantage of realia (or real life objects) in the class.

Utilize Classroom Space Effectively for Discussion

Whenever you have a conversation based aim or goal for your students, try to use the area of the class to your advantage. Most students are used to sitting at their desks the whole time. Especially in Asian countries, this has been the norm for most learners since grade school.

However, this activity will get them out of their seats and on their feet conversing with classmates actively.

First, arrange your classroom and desks so that there is space for students to stand up and roam freely. Assign the students into random discussion groups by giving them all numbers.

On the board, you can do a basic diagram of the classroom layout and mark the numbers 1 to 4 on the layout. Tell the students to go to the area of the class which coincides with the number that they were assigned.

You could assign discussion topics for each location and tell the students to discuss the topic for a set time period.

After 5 minutes or so you can get feedback from the groups and ask them what they talked about. Make note of any significant errors and either correct them afterwards or at the end of class providing tips for improvement.

Later, have the students rotate to another location in the room and tell them to change groups/partners so that they don’t have the same people in their group for the next discussion topic.

Using authentic videos from YouTube can enhance student engagement in class.
Using authentic videos from YouTube can enhance student engagement in class.

Watch Movies in the Classroom for Conversation Tasks

Understanding how to teach English as a second language to adults can sometimes be more challenging than teaching kids. However, using movies in class is an effective way to increase student motivation and attentiveness for all ages.

In addition, using movies as learning tools can help promote discussion and improve students’ speaking ability. There are various strategies for using content available online and adapting them to your lesson plans. You can find some really good free content on YouTube and TED to use in your classes.

An example of a fun activity for all ages involves using movie trailers, note-taking, and a post-viewing discussion exercise.

First, create a handout with a chart with a number of columns and rows. Then, have the class write out various categories on the chart, including things like the movie name, characters, genre, or star-rating etc.

On YouTube or Apple’s website, you can find all of the latest movie trailers. Play the first trailer and have the class fill out all of the categories on their own sheet.

After the trailer is done, have the class discuss the answers in groups. Encourage them to discuss what they think of the movie and make predictions about what will happen in the story’s plot and characters. The discussion topics are limitless.

If you want something more advanced to try with higher level adult classes, adapt some of the shorter TED talks into your lesson or show your students idiomatic expressions in movies and TV shows.

Using these types of media, focus on listening for general information, specific details, and develop some critical thinking questions based on the content.

Using realia in class is another helpful learning tool for ESL students.
Using realia in class is another helpful learning tool for ESL students. | Source

Use Realia and Authentic Materials for ESL Speaking Activities

One more method for improving speaking skills of adult language learners is using realia to help encourage discussion in the classroom.

Realia is any type of physical object that can be seen or touched. So you could bring in flashcards, playing cards (casino-style), food, clothing, hats, masks or any other kind of object relating to some specific theme.

An activity that works great for realia is one that uses cheap wooden chopsticks (or those wooden throat swabs that doctors have). You could also use paper, but it’s less solid and only lasts as long as the lesson typically. The chopsticks or swabs can be used over and over.

For the speaking activity using chopsticks, you can write a topic on each side of the stick. Hand out the sticks randomly to different groups of students in the classroom and have them discuss the topics that are written on each side.

Remember to assign a time limit for each topic, then get feedback from the students after their discussion

Next, give each group a new stick.

Finally, have them cycle through as many topics as you like or however long the segment of the class time is. Help them with any errors they make with accuracy, grammar, pronunciation or intonation.

More Speaking Activities and Ideas for Teaching English

For a thorough description of more classroom speaking activities like these, check out these ESL speaking activities.

The next article, How to Teach English as a Second Language to Adults (Part 3), focuses on how to improve students’ writing skills with various other helpful writing exercises for an ESL classroom.

Teacher Poll Question

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Suggested Video: Successful ESL Speaking Activities


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