There’s nothing worse than a bored classroom. I joined the ESL profession for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is because I fell in love with the relationships that can be formed through language learning. However, if your students find themselves bored in the classroom, chances are they aren’t engaging with the material you’ve prepared, connecting with one another and with you, or learning the language that they need to learn!
It can be frustrating to feel like you’re investing your time, money, and effort into a group of students who just don’t seem like they’re giving any of that investment back. However, before you get defensive and place the blame on your students, take a step back and reflect on what you’re doing, what’s working, and what you can do to improve.
The way that we approach language and the way that we approach the classroom has a huge impact on your students’ own engagement. Instead of viewing your students as a challenge that needs to be conquered, look at their engagement as a door that needs to be unlocked. You just haven’t found the right key yet! Today we’re going to be breaking down what keys you can use to engage your learners and banish boredom in the classroom.
Make It Interesting!
When was the last time you learned something, as an adult, that you weren’t interested in? It’s a difficult answer to come up with because, as adults, we don’t tend to put our mental energy into learning information, ideas, or tasks that don’t interest us. The same is probably true of your adult language learners.
Whether your students are explicitly interested in studying grammar or not, there are ways to make a subject interesting and appealing within the classroom. For example, I don’t think I’ve studied mathematics since it was required in college. However, I just recently picked up a book from my local library called Math with Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin. Orlin takes things like statistics, geometry, algebra, etc. and relates them specifically to everyday life. The math “lessons” are interesting (and accompanied by bad drawings)! It’s relatable and it’s interesting.
How can you relate your content to your students’ everyday life? Sure, your students are interested in learning English, but that’s a long-term goal. It’s hard to stay committed to long-term goals, when the short-term isn’t interesting. Take inventory over your last few lessons and put a check mark next to every activity that is related to your students’ interests.
If you’re unsure of what your students’ interests are or how to meet their needs, then our Pre-Planning Guide is perfect for you! The Busy Teacher’s Guide to Pre-Planning is a teacher workbook that will walk you through all the steps you need to take to make sure you’re meeting needs, engaging learners, and preparing for class well! You can learn more about this amazing resource by clicking on the button below!
Make it Age-Appropriate!
If you’re looking to build respectful, adult relationships with your students, there’s nothing more detrimental and disrespectful than treating them like children. Learning a second language is incredibly vulnerable. Your students may be dealing with the transition from being a well-spoken, knowledgeable, responsible adult in their native language to someone who doesn’t even know how to ask where the bathroom is, share about their family, or read a label in a grocery store.
Your classroom should be a safe space to make mistakes, but it should also be a space where your students feel respected as adults. While many adults enjoy learning songs to remember vocabulary, color in a picture to identify prepositions, or practice tongue-twisters to perfect pronunciation, don’t jump into these activities before you establish your respect for their age and experience.
Don’t simply ask your students to repeat sentences based on pictures or read stories designed for elementary education. Instead, ask your students about their jobs, passions, experiences, and opinions. This is definitely easier at more advanced levels, but even beginner-level learners can express their opinions and share their experiences in more simple terms.
Bring in worksheets and textbooks created specifically for adults, not filled with childish cartoons. Likewise, make sure your classroom reflects your students. Look through your lesson plans, classroom decorations, and resources and identify anything that could be viewed as childish and/or disrespectful. What can you swap those resources out for?
If you’re struggling to find adult-appropriate resources for your ESL classroom, then you’ve come to the right place! Did you know that Everyday ESL was created specifically to provide resources for adult ESL teachers? You can learn more about our story on the ‘About’ page. Did you know that we have a Free Resource Library? Don’t waste any more time and sign up today to gain access to our library full of adult-appropriate worksheet, lesson planning guides, and even a few free lesson plans!
Make it Holistic!
It’s easy, as language teachers, to focus specifically on a single language skill, such as speaking, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, etc. However, in actuality, language is incredibly connected to itself in a variety of ways. Looking for ways to connect every aspect of your lesson to one another can help your students engage with the material and see the necessity of it, as well. Don’t segment your lesson plans too much! Writing activities are not just writing activities. They’re also speaking activities, cognitive activities, reading tasks, and so much more!
Take note of the language activities that you, personally, engage in on a daily basis and look for ways to mimic those in your classroom. Reading a novel, article, documentary subtitles, or textbook all require a different approach, so why would you look at them as the same task in your classroom?
If you prefer to focus on life skills and/or topics in your classroom, consider the different language skills your students need in order to be confident and successful in the English speaking world. Grocery shopping requires writing (a grocery list or sales flyer), reading (labels, signs, etc.), speaking (to the cashier/asking a question), and listening (to an employee’s response). However, looking past those four language skills, you can consider the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, abbreviations, units of measurement, and so much more that your students may confront when doing a simple task like picking up a gallon of milk!
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to know where to start with beginner-level learners. If you find yourself in a similar situation, if you want to engage your adult students, but aren’t quite sure what to focus on first, then you’ve got to check out our newest resource! So, You Need to Learn English… is a set of 7 topical lesson plans designed for beginner-level adults. Each lesson plan focuses on a different topic, such as grocery shopping, jobs and careers, housing, and more! With engaging activities that will help your students practice all of the language skills they need to feel confident, you won’t want to miss it!
I’ll admit that it’s hard to find adult-specific resources for ESL online. While there are plenty of textbooks and workbooks available, it’s hard to figure out exactly what your students need and how to approach those needs in the classroom without shelling out a ton of money!
I’m committed to creating and providing quality, organized, adult-specific content to help you and your students succeed in the classroom, which is why Everyday ESL was born. If you’re interested in free worksheets, lesson planning resources, and newsletters to help you target your students’ needs, click on the button below to sign up for our newsletter and Free Resource Library!
I Want to Hear From You!
How did you first get involved in the ESL community?
What are your tips and tricks for engaging bored students?