How to prepare classes for beginner ESL learners (A1 students)?

For many teachers preparing and teaching beginner ESL learners comes as a challenge. We have an article providing tips to prepare for your first ever ESL class. Often educators are concerned about simplifying the materials with older students who are also just starting to learn English.

A further worry is that, there are many challenges associated with classes who find it more difficult to communicate due to their level. Less advanced learners also sometimes lack the confidence found in more established students with intermediate or advanced levels of English. These problems mean some ESL teachers are unsure about teaching learners at these levels to start with. Here is an article providing tips to teach advanced C1 students.

If these worries apply to you, then don’t panic! This article will provide you with some ideas and solutions to manage A1 classes, both in terms of resources and execution of ideas within the classroom. Read on to find out more!

A common concern with more basic ESL learners is how to encourage them to speak English when they may lack a lot of vocabulary and also struggle with their confidence.

Solutions to this common worry could include:

  • Using lots of praise and encouragement in the classroom so that the students feel better about their efforts.
  • Modelling activities so that everyone is clear about what they need to do, and there is no confusion. For example, with a role-play, demonstrate it first, so everyone knows what their end goal is.
  • Writing keywords and sentence starters on the board will provide additional guidance for the least-confident students in your class. This approach helps with the conversation, role play and even during team games or activities that involve speech.

Another worry for teachers of A1 learners is choosing an appropriate resource that does not patronise adult learners.

To avoid this and to make sure that the classroom materials are age-appropriate for your adult A1 learners, why not try the following?

  • Make use of textbooks provided by your school if possible. Course books are sometimes not suitable for all age groups, but small changes can be made to ensure suitability. For example, with adult learners, my routine at school would not be a useful focus. Just change it to my work routine and you avoid the need to discuss the school day at all!
  • Don’t be afraid to play games. Just because you’re teaching older students, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to have fun!
  • Lots of kinaesthetic activities work effectively in adult beginner classrooms and are a great way to get students involved, and enjoying themselves too.
  • Simple games like ‘find someone who‘ or a simple survey using basic questions forms usually go down well and get everyone up on their feet and chatting in English.

Planning is another fear for some teachers who are not used to beginner ESL students.

Our top tips when preparing a class for A1 students are as follows:

  • Don’t over plan! With beginners, less is more! Due to the nature of beginner learners, it’s even more important than usual to review material, practice the same vocabulary in different ways and ensure the building blocks of grammar have been fully understood before moving on. Due to this, one must include lots of mini plenaries in your plan which double-check and revise material as the lesson progresses.
  • Similarly don’t set yourself too much to achieve in each class. Set 1 or 2 objectives and ensure you allow time for students to demonstrate what they have learnt and put it into practice in some way. This could be through a role-play or writing a few sentences at the end of the class based on what has been learnt in that class, for example.
  • Remember that coursebooks are there to help you! They allow for progress to be made throughout the course and ensure that each topic builds on the one before. Even if you don’t follow the textbook word for word, the format can be used as an excellent guide and usually includes vocabulary lists and additional games and photocopiable activities for use in the classroom too.

More generally speaking, some other ideas can also help and support teachers in an A1 ESL classroom.

Having different signs on classroom walls with frequently used phrases can be a great help for learners. This tactic will also help them move away from their native language. Phrases such as: “Can you spell that?”, “I’m not sure what to do” and “May I go to the restroom” etc., may seem simple, but allow students to practice their English that little bit more.

Be careful with the homework you are setting for beginners. You may want to avoid overwhelming them while at the same time allowing them a chance to focus on English outside the classroom. Some straightforward ideas could be to add English subtitles to films or TV shows they are watching, listen to a particular song or podcast in English before the next class or to do a short survey with the friends and family in English. There should, of course, always be a point to homework and an opportunity for students to reflect what they did.

Finally, keep instructions clear and use simple language. Use the same phrases consistently to ensure students don’t get confused and always double-check everyone knows what to before beginning a task or activity.

Conclusion: We hope that this article provides some ideas and guidance for ESL teachers out there who may be a little nervous about moving away from teaching higher levels and starting to teach beginner students.

As with all levels, to see classes make progress is such a great reward and perhaps even more so with A1 groups whom you can see progressing from the start of the course as they start to improve and gain confidence along the way.

By always having the students in mind and ensuring our planning is focussed on them developing their English skills while having fun at the same time, we are sure you will have successful lessons with all levels you teach.

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This article was originally published on April 3, 2020 and was last updated on July 13, 2020.

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