Top Tips for Teaching Advanced ESL Students

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Author: Chris S. Published on: April 3, 2019 Expected Reading Time: 4 mins

You've been through so much with your students. From those early days getting to grips with basic rudimentary English to the time they were writing essays of a standard sufficient to pass their exams, you've been through it all together and you've taught them well.

So well, in fact, that as your students approach the advanced stages of their learning, you're a little worried that you won't have anything else to teach them.

Or maybe you're still working with a class full of relative beginners but find yourself struggling to keep that one particularly gifted student motivated and engaged in the learning process.

Whatever the case may be, teaching English as a second language to advanced students can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both them and you, providing you have a solid game plan and the right tools in place.

Today, we share our top tips, strategies, and suggestions for engaging advanced students and helping them take their English to a whole new level.


1) Don't be afraid to catch students out

When teaching new learners, it's often kind to break them in gently, introducing new vocabulary, concepts, and grammatical structures first before eventually -and only after a good bit of practice- testing to see if they've picked it up.

When it comes to teaching advanced students, however, teacher training specialist Luiz Otávio Barros recommends flipping the switch and adopting a TTT (test-then-teach) approach instead.

Rather than introducing a new concept first and then testing on it, create a question or task that's designed to lure them into the false sense of security of believing they know the answer, only to reveal that they don't.

You can then use their mistakes or answer attempts to show them what they still have to learn before helping them learn it.

This can be particularly helpful when dealing with students who struggle to engage because they believe they've already learned everything there is to learn. Trust us, you will meet them from time to time!


2) Upgrade the level of your own spoken English

In the very early stages of your work with students, you more than keep your own level of spoken English at a relatively 'normal' level, the kind of level that might be pretty simple for everyday conversations with fellow native speakers, but which proves to be just enough of a challenge to help students learn and improve.

Now that those students are in the advanced stages of learning, it's time to up your game.

Consider introducing more complex words and phrases to keep challenging students.

To be particularly effective, think about expressions for which a student may understand all the words, but not necessarily the context.

For example, asking a student "where do you stand on this?" really demands that your student thinks carefully about what you're asking him and comes to learn that you're asking for his opinion, rather than where he physically stands.


3) Dive into idioms, slang, and puns

Speaking of context, the Reach to Teach blog recommends introducing the idea of idioms, slang, puns, and playful turns-of-phrase as a great way of helping advanced students go beyond the literal meaning of the words and expressions that they're likely to hear when using English in a real-world environment.

If you encourage students to stop beating around the bush and bite the bullet, for example, they are going to be left a little bewildered if they only take on the literal meaning of such phrases.

Out in the real world, not understanding the nuances of these types of sayings can lead to all kinds of unintentional consequences.

As such, they might find it helpful to dive into this subject and how such phrases are used beyond the classroom.


4) Practice pronunciation

No matter how good students have gotten at speaking fluent English, there's usually always room for improvement when it comes to pronunciation.

The Busy Teacher blog suggests having students make recordings of themselves speaking. Having everyone read the same pre-written passage gives you the opportunity to identify common issues that most -if not all- of your students can work on improving together.

At this stage, you can listen out for bigger issues regarding stress and intonation that change the meaning or intention of a sentence.

For example, you could explain how:


"I'm not flying to China tomorrow"


"I'm not flying to China tomorrow"


"I'm not flying to China tomorrow"


"I'm not flying to China tomorrow"


Can all potentially mean different things.


5) Practice real-world writing examples

So far, your students have become ace-pro at writing academic essays and filling out exam papers in English, but how do those written skills transfer to the real world?

When working with advanced students, it's a good idea to find out the kinds of careers or environments they're going to taking their English skills into and helping them prepare for any kind of writing they may have to do.

This may mean that you practice filling out job applications, writing company reports or even newspaper articles. Doing this not only teaches valuable skills that can be applied in the real-world, but helps to further improve their all-around writing skills.


What challenges have you faced in teaching advanced students? Let us know in the comments below or share your tips and suggestions for helping those students take their English to a whole new level.


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