What is an ESL Class? New Teacher Tips

Did you know that English is the most spoken language in the world?

It comes as no surprise then that there is a huge number of people who speak English as their native or second language.

Children as young as 2 years old start learning English to get the best opportunities in life. Adults need to know the English language to travel, work internationally, and climb the corporate ladder.

What is ESL?

ESL is a commonly used acronym when teaching English to non-native speakers. It means “English as a Second Language,” and many students learn English.

The students are native speakers in a language other than English. However, many have to learn English as English is the lingua franca between nations.

So what is an ESL class? In short…

An ESL class can be conducted online or in person. During the ESL class, students study a variety of topics to help them improve their English language skills and become more fluent. ESL classes are conducted throughout the world and can vary in size, age, and level (from elementary to advanced learners).

What is an ELL?

English Language Learners or ELL for short, refers to the students in the ESL classroom. The students are not yet proficient in the English language. They may be adults, teens, or kids, and they are collectively referred to as ELLs.

Who is the TOESL Teacher?

The TESOL teacher prepares lessons suitable for the language learner. It stands for “Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages.

A TOESL teacher is someone who teaches English to students who are non-native speakers. This is an umbrella term to describe the teachers in the industry, they can also be referred to as EFL or ESL teachers. They teach them how to read, write, listen, and converse effectively.

These Teachers are usually native English speakers themselves or they are non-native speakers who are fluent in English.

Teachers don’t need a degree, however, it is advantageous to have one. They usually complete a TEFL or TESOL course so they can work abroad or online.

Here are the differences between the types of teaching certification available and the ones I recommend for those who want to travel abroad or teach online.

Teaching ESL to Children

Types of ESL Classes

There are many types of ESL classes, so teachers are not limited to who they teach.

ESL for Kids and Teens

Classes can take place in public or private schools. ESL classes are offered to kids for grades K-12.

Classes can also take place in summer schools. Learners take a language learning assessment so teachers can place them in the correct class level.

ESL for College Students

Students may enroll in ESL classes in college to help them build their confidence. There are specialized courses offered to undergraduate and to graduate students.

ESL for Adults

Adults can learn from ESL classes through adult education classes or community colleges.

Some adults need to study for the TOEFL exams so they can enter a college or university program. Some learn English for a specific purpose other than academia, like for their work.

Lesson Plan Template

How do You Prepare for an ESL Class?

To prepare an ESL class we will have to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What are the students’ needs?
  • What topics are the students interested in learning? What is the theme?
  • Can I connect the lesson to their personal experience or the wider contexts of the world?
  • What is the students’ level of English?
  • What are the lesson objectives?
  • Do we need to focus on grammar, pronunciation, reading, or speaking activities?
  • What warm-up activity should I prepare?
  • How should I give them feedback? Formal or informal assessment?
  • What follow-up activities should I prepare?

The teacher should cover the learning objectives and monitor the students’ progress. This will allow teachers to structure the course accordingly.

How do I teach an ESL class?

ESL classes should engage the student, help them learn and recall the information. When you are preparing your ESL class, you can structure the class in the following way:



To establish the students’ interest, you may need to introduce a warm-up activity relating to what you will teach that day.

This is a spontaneous activity and is up to the teacher to decide. You could show them a newspaper headline or a photo of a person, place, or thing.

You could even create questions about the topic and allow the students time to discuss these questions. The pre-activity is usually fun, spontaneous, and get their minds thinking.

This is also a good time to pre-teach any new vocabulary that they will need to know for the next part of the lesson.

The Main Activity

The main activity may involve some kind of reading, listening, speaking or writing exercise. There are a ton of resources online that help teachers prepare lessons for free, for example, ISL Collective or Busy Teacher.

Check our list of free and paid online teaching resource sites. The teacher can use flashcards, audio, video clips, PowerPoint presentation, or realia.

Cater to the students’ level by asking complex or simple questions. The students can work alone or in groups.  

ESL classes involve working together to achieve goals and encouraging the students to speak English. The teacher can provide informal assessments, such as error-correction and eliciting ideas.


Follow-up Activity

The following activities should reinforce what the students learned in the main activity.

This greatly enhances the students’ learning as they apply what they’ve learned in a different context. 

The follow-up activity should be a fun activity to help them practice what they’ve learned. Perhaps this could be a debate, discussion, a fun game, or a competition.

Thinking About Becoming an ESL Teacher?

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At the end of class, the teacher may give feedback and homework.

The feedback will cover what they have learned today, what they were good at and general improvements the students can make.

The homework will help the students individually work on their English language learning.


ESL classes should be a fun and effective way to learn the English language.

Students should have the chance to speak in class and practice their language skills. We want the students to work and study in English-speaking environments confidently.

How do I teach an online ESL class?

Teaching English online follows a similar procedure. The teacher may need to think of more creative ways to get their point across. Teaching ESL classes online involves:

Teaching ESL Online

Read the Learning Objectives

The teacher understands the learning objectives. Vocabulary, questions or picture pre-activities are presented in the lesson to prepare the student.

Game: Odd One Out
Which is the odd one out?

Optional: Warm-Up Activity

This is especially good for kids. You can play a guessing game or introduce flash cards. You could ask them silly questions.

Don’t get them too excited though, they still have work to do!

The Main Activity

This involves some reading, speaking, or writing exercises. The teacher should ask the student comprehension questions and challenge the students’ abilities. 

Follow-up Activity 

This may involve some kind of game, matching exercise, or making sentences with the new vocabulary. The teacher can be creative and introduce their own activities. 


The teacher can provide some feedback or summarise what they have learned in the lesson. The teacher should actually be providing feedback throughout the session and correcting their mistakes.

The students can practice what they’ve learned at home by completing homework and learning from the feedback.


ESL Classroom Mistakes to Avoid!

Here are some common errors you should look out for when you are teaching ESL classes. Don’t make these mistakes!

Too much teacher talk time

The teacher needs to take a step back in the ESL class and give the students more talk time. 

In some online ESL classes, your total teacher talk time is monitored. Speak less and give the students more time to talk. 

Not grabbing the students’ attention

Not providing interesting activities for the students can produce a boring ESL class.

The ESL classes are designed to be fun and interactive, not boring. Be sure to grab their attention at the beginning of the lesson, as this will help them adjust to the main activity.

Not focusing on the students’ needs

The students’ needs are most important. They should determine the learning objectives, goals and outcomes for the lesson. 

This is what the difference is between a good teacher and a great teacher.

A good teacher can create their own lesson plan.  A great teacher caters the lesson for the needs and interests of their students.

The teacher knows that whatever they find interesting may not necessarily interest the student.

Some teachers specialize in a particular niche, such as Business English, because they know it’s what they teach best. When you specialize, you can pay even more attention to the students’ needs.


ESL classes are a creative way for students to learn the English language.

They can be home or school-based. Students have a variety of goals, for example, they may want to learn general English or Business English.

The teacher forms an effective lesson plan for the students to help the students achieve these objectives. Only then students can become confident English speakers.

If you’ve found this post helpful, leave a comment below. How do you teach your ESL class?

What is an ESL Class?

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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain and online. I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others! I enjoy traveling, nature walks, and soaking up a new culture. I also like a good Guinness! Please share this post if you find it helpful; I really appreciate it. Thank you!

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