Mon, 17 Jan 2022

5 Popular ESL Teaching Methods Every Teacher Should Know

iCrowd Newswire
12 Jan 2022, 19:50 GMT+10

The teaching of English as a second language is a profession in constant change. As our understanding of human cognition and language acquisition advances so too does our understanding of how to teach English to people who already speak one or more other languages. Below are 5 ESL teaching methods that are based on what the latest research tells us are the best way students learn.

Student-centered approach

A student-centered approach aims to put students first to assist them in becoming active and engaged participants in the teaching and learning process (Harris, Spina, Ehrich & Smeed, 2013). It is based upon the premise that "engaged learning occurs when the lives, knowledge, interests, bodies and energies of young people are at the centre of the classroom and school" (Thomson & Comber 2003, p. 305).

This approach has been shown to facilitate learning, boost student confidence and promote resilience and capacity within a challenging curriculum (Harris, Spina, Ehrich & Smeed, 2013). Constructing learning experiences that respond to student needs helps students make connections between their prior knowledge and what they are experiencing rather than simply 'receiving' it from the teacher. The student-centred approach therefore requires teachers to know their students well so that they can plan lessons accordingly.

To begin teachers should ask themselves the following questions and plan the learning in response to the answers:

  • Who are my learners?

    As individuals, with likes and dislikes, in a particular school context.

  • What are they learning?

    Have the students been involved in the decision of what or how they will learn?

  • How will they learn best?

    How can I make the curriculum relevant to their lives and build upon what they already know?

Authentic tasks

Authentic tasks are exercises with a purpose that is similar to what would be encountered in everyday life, hence they are considered to be 'authentic'. They require students to ponder and reflect upon their learning to select and apply the knowledge and skills they believe would best be employed to complete the activity at hand. The tasks therefore usually have a variety of ways that they can be solved and could be presented as writings such as stories or persuasive texts, or as diagrams such as graphs or maps, just as the same problems may be tackled in real life.

Authentic tasks provide a rich learning environment. They are collaborate in nature, allowing for brainstorming, discussion and debate whilst teaching problem solving strategies and skills such as communication, decision making and analysis. They further require students to think critically and creatively to find the best solutions and are usually very engaging and motivating.

Inquiry based learning

Inquiry based learning is another teaching method which places the emphasis of learning on engaging students' prior knowledge and the construction of meaning. It can be driven by students' curiosity or their need to solve a problem and can therefore be considered a further development of student-centered learning. The 5E Instructional Model is a five step approach originally developed for teaching science concepts, it now provides teachers with a frame-work for learning, guiding students through the five stages of engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate.

Each unit of work progresses through 5E stages:

  • Engage - Students' prior knowledge is elicited and interest inspired with an activity or question
  • Explore - Students investigate the concepts under analysis through hands-on experiments or their own research
  • Explain - Students are asked to explain their experience or observations from the initial stages following which the teacher provides further scaffolding
  • Elaborate - Through dialogue students both expand their understandings and refine them, producing principles that generalise upon what they have learned
  • Evaluate - This stage brings everything together and is where students present the evidence for their understandings

Students are actively engaged in exploring concepts in inquiries and take on much responsibility for their own learning. As an ESL teacher you should be mindful of the language and literacy demands of the tasks and support students accordingly. This can be done by providing books and reference material in English at the appropriate level(s) with dictionaries or bilingual dictionaries or diagrams to aid with understanding and definitions. Additional assistance such as exercises in labelling resources to ensure understanding and providing exemplar products, similar to what students are required to produce as evidence of their learning, can also help.

Communicative language teaching

This approach asserts that the purpose of language learning is communication. Meaningful language use in the classroom is therefore prioritised in activities that require students to interact, exchange information and cooperate, just like in real life conversations. Games, role-play and problem solving tasks provide rich sources of communication and should use the four macro skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing, although not usually all at the same time in the same exercise.

Interaction is both the method of teaching and the goal of instruction and this is facilitated by bringing in students' interests and prior knowledge to make the tasks more relevant to their lives. Students in the CLT classroom are assessed on their overall language fluency as well as their English language accuracy.

Multilingual approach

The multilingual approach to teaching ESL may be the most important development yet, unfortunately it is also the most controversial. This method acknowledges students prior language(s) and views them as resources for learning English (Ruiz, 1984). This goes against current practices where English use in the classroom is prioritised and is seen as the only language that will help in the learning of English. Adopting the multilingual perspective, recognising that English language learners are already competent communicators in other languages, opens up the classroom to become a multilingual space. Bilingual dictionaries, translations, resources in additional languages can and should all be used to help students study English.

It is now believed that all languages in the brain are stored in a unified region, not as isolated entities separated by linguistic difference. The Canadian researcher Jim Cummins was one of the first to recognise that the learning of any language will benefit the speakers other(s) and he termed this the Interdependency principle (1979). This knowledge should be used to empower communities and encourage first language maintenance if it is desired because it is becoming clear that the more proficient an English language learner is in their first language the more proficient they can become in English. Teachers should therefore recommend that families continue to use the language they feel most able to communicate in in the home instead of switching to English in an attempt to help the ESL student learn English.


These approaches have much in common, they all value the knowledge that students bring with them into the classroom and recommend that learning be centred around students' lives and interests in meaningful, authentic ways. They utilise students' natural curiosity and prioritise the communicative aspect of language learning to help students learn and they represent the most effective ways that we currently know of to teach English to speakers of other languages.


Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research, 49(2), 222-251.

Harris, J., Spina, N., Ehrich, L. & Smeed, J. (2013). Literature review: Student-centred schools make the difference. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Melbourne.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8(2), 15-34.

Thomson, P. & Comber, B. (2003). Deficient 'disadvantaged students' or media-savvy meaning makers? Engaging new metaphors for redesigning classrooms and pedagogies. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), pp. 305-327.

Tags:No PR, English

More Cleveland News

Access More

Sign up for Cleveland News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!