Giving Learners Everything They Need: 9 Items that Make a Perfect ESL Self Study Center

Giving Learners Everything They Need: 9 Items that Make a Perfect ESL Self Study Center

Do you want to give your students the freedom and independence to take charge of their own language learning but don’t know where to start?

Have you thought about setting up a self study center but don’t know what you need? These 9 elements of the best self study centers, if you use them, will give your students everything they need to ensure success as they learn.

How to Make a Perfect ESL Self Study Center

  1. 1

    Reading Material

    Reading material is a given for any self study center, but providing the right reading material is key for keeping your students interested and making sure they continue using the center. Provide authentic and ESL specific texts in a variety of difficulty levels, though most should be around the skill level your class targets. You should try to include different types of reading material including articles, stories, charts, letters and instructions. For each reading selection, try to have comprehension questions as well as an answer key for your students. If you like, sort material according to difficulty level or by topic.

  2. 2

    Listening Material

    Like your reading material, the most successful self study centers have listening materials at a variety of difficulty levels but will focus primarily on the current level of your students. You should include cds, podcasts, recorded books and radio programs if possible. You may want to make a computer available as well as cd players and digital recordings. To make sure your center is helpful to all your students, provide headphones to keep disturbance to a minimum. With each of the materials you should again include some comprehension questions or extension activities for your students to use after listening.

  3. 3

    Practice Tests

    Many students who are studying ESL now will very soon find themselves taking a standardized test of their English skills. Giving your students practice TOEFL, TOIC and similar standardized tests will allow them to familiarize themselves with the types of questions these exams and the structure the tests follow. Actual test booklets are best, rather than texts explaining the tests, and make sure you have answer keys so students can check their own work.

  4. 4

    Pronunciation Materials

    Pronunciation is an issue most ESL students will struggle with for their entire English speaking lives. Though very few people ever attain absolute perfect pronunciation, many students enjoy practicing their pronunciation and getting feedback throughout their English studies. Though having pronunciation tests is helpful, what makes a bigger impact on your students is being able to hear their own voices. Having recording methods in your self study center can make a big difference in how your students view their own pronunciation. You can provide digital recorders, cassette recorders, language lab technology or language pronunciation software for students to record themselves.

  5. 5

    Grammar Materials

    Traditionally, books and grammar worksheets have provided the most self study instruction in language classrooms. As always, answer sheets are key to your students getting the most they can from your self study center. And while these still have a lot to offer ESL students, the best centers will also include software programs which make learning grammar more fun and interactive. Try bookmarking websites with grammar games or purchasing programs that do the same.

  6. 6

    Video Materials

    While some listening material will be nothing more than audio texts, video segments are another key to creating the best self study centers. Since a large part of communication is contained outside the words a person speaks, being able to watch speakers will be beneficial to your students. You may include digital videos, vlogs, movies and television programs at your center. For each, make sure you have comprehension materials or extension activities to follow up with.

  7. 7

    A Notebook

    Leaving a blank notebook in your self study center gives your students an opportunity to provide you feedback on what they have used and found useful or less than useful. Students can also make recommendations to their classmates as well as record questions they might have and answer those of their classmates. You can also put specific instructions in this notebook or include a page of FAQ (frequently asked questions) for technology issues.

  8. 8


    To make sure your students get the most out of your self study center, give them some guidance. You can make recommendations for the material they should cover or simply explain what is available and how to use it. Posters work well for this, or give each student a checklist of the material they should use before the end of the semester.

  9. 9


    The best self study centers do not throw students to the wolves and leave them to fend for themselves. Being present in your self study center will give you a chance to assess students’ work, answer students’ questions and evaluate what is and isn’t working. The best self study centers are never complete. You will find adding and removing materials useful for keeping students interested as well as compiling the most effective set of materials!

What self study materials do you provide for your students?

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