How to teach English

How to teach English depends in part on your situation. If you are obliged to use certain materials this will of course tie your hands to some degree. However it is usually possible to be selective and to add new material and approaches. It also depends on what skills you are expected to teach. Some countries place more of an emphasis on grammar and writing skills while some situations will focus entirely on speaking skills. It will also depend on how long the English course you are providing will last.


Over the last century different approaches to how to teach English have been in vogue. It has progressed from grammar translation to ‘natural’ methods to behavioural repetition to more fully communicative methods based on functions or grammar.

Most teachers today would say that most approaches have their strengths so it’s often best to be rather eclectic. However you should always know why you are teaching as you are!

Very Young Learners

Prepare a basic syllabus covering such things as numbers, days, animals, colours, families, the home, the weather and essential verbs and adjectives.

You can use songs, movement, games, flashcards. Also whole class drilling often works well. Students can keep scrap books and a diary. Plenty of recycling and revision.

Teenage Learners

How to teach English to this age group depends on many factors.

Recently there has been a growth in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in secondary schools. Here other school subjects are taught through the medium of English.

Mass debates can work well in large classes as teenagers are often passionate about the world and society they see around them. Preparation for a debate could last several weeks and involve all kinds of activities such as reading, interviewing and pronunciation.

Apart from the activities listed elsewhere on this page, project work can be a fruitful and motivating approach to teaching teenagers. Projects can be quite short to lasting a whole term or beyond. Video or website projects can utilise the latest technology and engage young learners who might otherwise be somewhat turned off by language learning.

Adult Classes

Most adult English classes have a focus on speaking and listening. Typically you’ll be able to organise significant amounts of pairwork and group work so your learners get plenty of speaking practice.

You’ll probably want to cover a wide range of topics that involve some difference of opinion – again to stimulate a desire to speak. These can be about world events, social dilemmas, technical innovations, all kinds of celebrities, cultural differences etc.

You can integrate many kinds of activities. A short reading activity can lead to pronunciation work, topic discussion, role play, writing exercises, grammar analysis and vocabulary development.

Materials will often include short texts, video clips, pictures/images, listening material, language games, grammar exercises, student presentations etc

1-1 Teaching

The course is likely to be highly tailored. An in-depth needs analysis is very helpful to determine priorities.

Apart from concentrated oral fluency work, 1-1 teaching also provides an ideal situation for detailed remedial work on grammar, writing and pronunciation. In English-speaking countries it is also ideal for including activities outside the ‘classroom’ such as relevant cultural visits.