Teaching Beginner Students Although some ESL teachers find the


Although some ESL teachers find the thought of teaching beginners a bit frightening, they can be a very rewarding group to work with. With beginners it is very easy to see improvement. As a teacher, being able to see your work pay off so quickly can be very encouraging.

Of course not all beginners are the same. Beginners are usually split into two categories: complete beginners and false beginners.

Complete beginners are students who have had no exposure to English. Because they have often had very little formal education, they can be much more challenging to teach than false beginners.

Kenneth Beare, author of English as 2nd Language, defines false beginners as, 'Beginners that have already studied some English at some point in their life.' Most experts on the subject have a much broader view of what a false beginner is and I would agree with them. False beginners are students that have been exposed to English but do not really know how to use what they know. There are many ways in which they may have been exposed to the language besides formal study.

It is important to know which category your students fall into when planning your lessons.

When teaching complete beginners it is important to start out very simple. Use objects, pictures, gestures and expressions. Stick to learning styles your students are sure to understand and tackle one concept at a time.

With false beginners there are different factors that need to be taken into consideration. For starters, some students may know more than others. Giving a placement test at the start of term will help you see how much each student knows. Knowing the various levels within a class can help you when planning lessons. It is a good idea to have extra work ready to hand out should the more advanced students finish their tasks more quickly than the rest of the class. This will keep them from getting bored while they wait for the rest of the class to catch up. Also, when doing pair work you can pair the more advanced students with those that are behind so that they can help them along. As the term progresses things should even out some. Eventually those that were more advanced because of prior knowledge will get to a point where the material is new even to them.

Another factor to consider when teaching false beginners is that they will probably be more familiar with the various techniques used in teaching. Even at the start of term, lessons don't have to be kept quite as simple as those you would plan for complete beginners.

Even with the differences between the two types of beginner, there are certain things that will be the same for both.

Do not give them too much to do at once. If you want students to copy something you are writing on the board, don't lecture on the topic at the same time. Allow them to finish writing before expecting them to listen.

Be flexible with your lessons. Incorporate class interruptions and real-life happenings in your students' lives into your lessons.

When teaching adults, avoid using materials that are too childish. They may find it demeaning. If you can't find authentic adult materials at their level, create your own.

The one thing you can do that will really give your students encouragement is to show an interest in learning their language. If they see you struggling to learn a language they will feel better about their own struggles. Also, by allowing them to teach you things here and there it will make them feel important and more your equal.

Sources: Andrews, Holly. 'Tips for Teaching ESL Beginners and Pre-literate Adults.' The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI, No. 8, August 2005.

Beare, Kenneth. 'Teaching Beginners.' English as 2nd Language. About, Inc. 2006

Harmer, Jeremy. How to Teach English. Malaysia: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998.