Skip to Content

8 Great Tips To Be A Better ESL Teacher

Ever since I started teaching English abroad:

I have been thinking of ways to be a better ESL teacher. I found teaching English much more difficult than I imagined when I started, especially teaching children. Being an ESL teacher is a challenge, especially if you’re new to it!

Just giving children worksheets and expecting them to complete them with a minimum of fuss was a learning curve for me. Likewise, teaching adults and being stumped with a question that I didn’t know how to answer was a difficult experience.

My first year of teaching English abroad has been a learning curve. There were a few times when I considered quitting, but I’m glad I continued. So I’m going to share a few things that have helped me improve and become a better teacher this past year!

8 Tips to Be a Better ESL Teacher

Games, games and more games

Preparing a TEFL class

This is probably one of the most important lessons I learnt early in my quest to be a better ESL teacher. Games in general, are the best way to teach English, especially to children. As children are not learning English by choice, they can be unenthusiastic at times, more so if you give them boring worksheets to complete!

Playing games grabs their attention and makes the class more enjoyable for them and for you. No one likes a boring class, even the teachers, so, if they are having fun, then you will too! In a way, when teaching children English, you assume the role of entertainer more than a teacher. You have to keep the children entertained and engaged, otherwise, they get restless.

There are a number of great games you can use, memory match, Simon says and Pictionary are particular favourites with my students. By using games, you are effectively tricking the children into learning English, but they remember much better than they otherwise would!

You can also use travel games with adults as well, to great effect! Monopoly Deal and Dobble are particularly good, while more classical ESL games such as Back to the Board, Pictionary and quizzes are great for adults and a perfect ESL strategy for elementary students.

Whatever the age group, everyone loves games, so incorporate them into your lessons as much as you can!

Don’t plan a lesson too much

This may sound like the complete opposite of what you should be doing, but bear with me for a second:

Having a lesson plan is obviously necessary, but over-planning can be a problem. This is especially true if you are teaching children. Despite your best ideas, the children may not take to the class for whatever reason. Children can be incredibly fickle at times!

Teaching adults is a little bit different, they will expect a planned lesson and for you to have an outline of what you are going to teach. However, I wouldn’t go crazy and spend two hours planning a lesson. Having a rough outline of a lesson is the best idea, as you can add to it, or drop things as you see fit.

It’s important to remember that despite your best intentions, lessons don’t always go to plan for whatever reason. Having a rough sketch of what you want to teach, allows you to be more flexible when it comes to teaching the lesson!

Always have a backup plan

5 reasons not to teach English abroad

Following on from the above:

If your lesson does not go to plan, then you are going to need a backup plan. Again, this applies more to teaching children, than it does to adults. Mostly, adults will engage with whatever you teach, as 99% of them learn English by choice.

As children are not learning English by choice, they are much more fickle when it comes to lessons. They will not be afraid of letting you know if they don’t like a game or the topic and you need to act quickly to ensure you keep their interest!

Having multiple games and ideas for lessons allows you the flexibility to change if the lesson is not going as well as you planned. If you want to be a better ESL teacher, then being able to react when a lesson is not going to plan is essential!

Learn a language yourself

This is probably one of the more underrated aspects when considering how to be a better ESL teacher. Learning a new language yourself is a great way to improve your teaching, as it gives you an insight into how your students feel during class.

Depending on what country you are teaching in, knowing the native language of your students will enable you to help them a lot more than you might imagine. They may struggle to translate a word, or they may struggle with an aspect of the grammar. Knowing their language will allow you to solve issues involving translation and understanding much quicker!

If you have learnt a language yourself then you have an insight into the mindset of a learner, which should help you relate to your students better. The process can be difficult at times, but as you have succeeded or succeeding you can you can use your experience to reassure and help your students.

Another aspect of this is that if you are learning another language and are taking classes, such as studying at a Spanish school. You get to observe other teachers and learn from them. How do they plan their lessons? What methods do they use to teach the language? Can you incorporate these methods into your teaching? These are all questions you should be asking yourself!

Observation is one of the best ways to learn and this could be an invaluable source of inspiration to improve your teaching!

Acquire lots of different resources

This is another big factor in order to be a better ESL teacher. Having access to multiple ESL teaching resources is great for many reasons. They allow you lots of different options for lessons, and your lessons don’t become stale as a result.

The internet is full of ESL teacher resources, so it can be a little overwhelming at times when you are trying to plan a lesson. However, if you download or buy some books yourself, then this makes the situation much better. You’ll spend less time searching around the web for worksheets to print off.

Another benefit of having books at your disposal is that you can go through them and compare the different lessons and subjects they cover. So, if you have a particular lesson in mind, you can go through your books to see if they have something similar and use it as inspiration.

Having different books and resources at your disposal allows you to be more flexible in the type of lessons that you can plan. You should find that after a few weeks of using multiple resources, your teaching becomes a lot sounder!

Buy a pack of cards!

This is hands down one of the best decisions I have made during my year of teaching. There are so many different card games you can use to teach English that you can keep on using these games again and again! I actually used a lot of the old drinking games I used to play and turned them into games for the children.

This may sound a bit ridiculous, but it works really well. The children get to learn new vocabulary while having fun at the same time! Ring of fire/Kings can easily be adapted into a great game for children, that is fast-paced and gives them a chance to use and learn lots of different vocabulary.

Just type card games into Google and you will get lots of different games that you can use to teach English! As all the games require the players to speak English, they are perfect to use. Especially for children, as it keeps them focused and they simply love playing games!

After implementing card games in my classes, I feel my classes run a lot more smoothly and the students are a lot more interested. It’s a simple thing, but one that can lead you to be a better ESL teacher. Card games are fun and lead to a much more conducive environment for learning!

Reduce Teacher talking time

TEFL buddies

This might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out:

This is one of the most important things I learnt during my first steps to be a better ESL teacher. The aim of a TEFL teacher is to get your students to talk as much as possible. Should that mean scaling back the amount you talk then all the better. This can be a bit difficult if you are teaching private lessons, but letting your students talk as much is great for their development.

If you are teaching a group, then this is much easier to do. You should be encouraging discussion and correction between the group, as self-correction is great for reinforcing the language! Teacher Talking Time can have its benefits, but allowing your students to get to grips is more important for their development in the long run.

Being the teacher, it can feel like you need to speak more, as it just feels like the right thing to do. However, letting your students take centre stage and allowing them to express themselves will lead them to progress much faster than with a talkative teacher.

Be humorous in the classroom

Consider this thought:

Who was your favourite teacher when you were at school? Was it the uptight dictator who never smiled and was serious all the time? Or was it the happy-go-lucky teacher who made learning fun and always had a smile on their face?

Chances are that the latter teacher was your favourite, and it’s hardly surprising. Even the most interesting topic can soon become boring if the teacher shows no enthusiasm or just dictates to the class in the whole room. Whereas the opposite is true, of an engaging and humorous teacher. They can make the most boring topic interesting and fun just by being fun and interesting.

Being humorous and silly is a must if you are teaching children. They will relate to you a lot more and the classes will be more enjoyable for everyone involved. They will also be less inclined to misbehave if they are having fun in class! You have to remember that you are essentially an entertainer when you are teaching English.

You want your students to be able to relax in the classroom, allowing them to stimulate their creativity and make them more comfortable speaking in front of the class. Being humorous and not too serious will make your classes more fun for both you and your students and you will be a better ESL teacher for it!

Concluding Thoughts

I hope these to improve your ESL teaching have come in handy. I really wouldn’t want anybody to go through the learning curve that I had to. Although, maybe every teacher needs that so that they know what works and what doesn’t!

ESL teaching is a great way to see the world and make a difference at the same time! That said, it really does pay to know the top countries to teach English abroad in. Teaching and living somewhere that you don’t really like isn’t much fun believe me!

Did you enjoy my post? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points that I’ve made in the article? If so, leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you asap!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Kyle Wayne

Monday 8th of January 2018

I found it interesting that you talked about making a rough sketch of what you want to teach so your lesson is a bit more flexible. My sister is looking to find good ESL classes for her 6-year-old son. I'll be sure to talk to her about finding a teacher who is smart with their lessons.


Tuesday 9th of January 2018

Hi Kyle, you need to be flexible with children, as they get bored easily. I've had lessons that worked well for one group of students, but the others hated it. It's always good to have a few backup plans in case things don't work out.

Tony M.

Wednesday 25th of January 2017

Ha! All about the games in my classes too. Gotta keep those kids entertained.


Wednesday 25th of January 2017

Very true Tony! Bored kids are a nightmare in the class!


Friday 22nd of July 2016

Thanks for these great tips, Tom. I've actually been thinking of teaching English abroad and if I do, I'll definitely keep your suggestions in mind!


Wednesday 27th of July 2016

You should do it! It's a great experience!


Friday 22nd of July 2016

Really great tips! It's not something I could imagine doing, but when I've tried (and failed) at learning languages, my favorite part of class was when we played games.


Wednesday 27th of July 2016

You have to play games, otherwise the students get bored and so do I haha


Friday 22nd of July 2016

Good tips. I could see where being flexible and having a backup plan would be important.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.