15 Secrets to Teaching Adults

15 Secrets to Teaching Adults

Traditionally, the image of the teacher has always been a stern authority figure with a blackboard and chalk. Ordinarily they presided over a classroom full of kids. Within the ESL industry, however, the clientele can range from three years of age to eighty and beyond!

A lot of teachers will find they have to teach younger people however many more will also be teaching adults. This is obviously true with regards to those within the world of business English. Sometimes it can be a little tricky, particularly if those adults are a lot older than yourself. Many factors need to be taken into account, such as respect and making sure you do not patronize them however many people sometimes feel that they are doing this without meaning to.

How to Teach Adults: 15 Secrets

  1. 1

    Keep the Class Relevant to the Age Group

    It could be quite common, especially for younger English teachers, that most of their students will be older than them. As a result, it is important to keep the topic of the class relevant and be something that they will understand. Discussing aspects of modern youth culture might not appeal to those within the age bracket of fifty onwards. So it is always important to keep anything you talk about relevant so that the associated party will be more interested and in tune with what you have to say.

  2. 2

    Be Passionate

    Having an interest in your own subject is vitally important. No one will learn anything if the teacher doesn’t seem to care, and seems to just be giving the class rote-learning. Learning things by heart definitely does work in some cases, but a lot of the time when teaching language it is important to show an interest in it. Adults can tell immediately if you don’t have an interest in what is going on, and they themselves will then be likely to switch off.

  3. 3

    Encourage Them to Ask Questions

    A lot of the time, the people you will be teaching may not have been in school for many years. They might not be sure what proper classroom protocol is, so it is important to make sure that they ask as many questions as possible. When teaching the class, perhaps it would be a good idea to frequently tell them, “Now, does anyone have any questions?” If a student is unsure of this, then they will usually raise their hand and ask something.

  4. 4

    Keep Them Engaged

    Keeping students engaged is important for any age group, and this is a vital skill that most teachers will learn over time. Sometimes one might be tempted to just focus on those who are participating, and leave more quieter ones to their own devices. Try and include everybody in the class equally, asking various questions more so to those who don’t speak as often. Simply standing at the board and listing off a load of information won’t help it to stick in their heads.

  5. 5


    Distributing practice is also another thing, closely tied in with the previous point. Make sure that everybody gets a chance to speak and practice their new skills. Sometimes, one student may be more talkative than the others and hence not give the rest of the class time to have their say. So it is important to come up with an idea or an activity whereby everyone can be involved, and therefore allow everyone to participate.

  6. 6


    Smiling might seem like one of the most simplest things in the world, but it is quite easy to forget at times! Try to remember that the world of teaching has probably changed a lot since your students’ day, and therefore their own experiences of teachers might’ve been tough, stern people who never smiled. Showing a happy, pleasant face will definitely get the whole class more relaxed!

  7. 7

    Recognize Learning Styles

    Everybody has different ways of learning and adults are no different. Visual learners tend to be the most common, and so one should keep this in mind but also remember there may be other learning styles present. Do some research on these specific styles and see which ones your students will fit into. It will then be a lot easier to incorporate the techniques into the class.

  8. 8

    Be Flexible

    Quite a lot of beginner teachers go into their first lesson with all of the purest intentions. They will have a plan written out, usually involving group work and the like, think that everything will go smoothly and accordingly. Sometimes, however, the class might veer off on a different path. Don’t panic if this happens, just remember that as long as you keep on topic in some form, the class is a success. At the end of the day, however, it is also important that the students are ultimately speaking English.

  9. 9


    If the teacher is younger, then it can be quite daunting when a student makes a clear mistake. Often, they may simply ignore the mistake because they’re afraid of patronizing the student. Don’t be, just correct them in a way which sounds less patronizing. This usually involves something along the lines of, “That was a good sentence but… Can you think of a way of improving it?” It will encourage the student to examine their own grammar and make the correction themselves. Also see “5 Non-Verbal Ways to Do Error Correction”.

  10. q

    Topics of Interest

    Oftentimes people will feel that they are getting nowhere when a student simply wants to speak about their job, or their cat, or even their wife! Since they usually are the ones paying for it, they will argue that they can have the right to do this. Naturally, this is true but it doesn’t mean that nothing can’t be learned from the class. If they want to talk incessantly about their pet, then simply incorporate that into the whole lesson. The more they talk, the better their English will become!

  11. w


    Every student needs encouragement at some time or another, and more so than adult learners. The older they are the more reluctant they may seem. This can be a particular challenge so it is important to always make sure that they are on board with the topic of the lesson.

  12. e

    Dealing with Tension

    Sometimes, particularly when teaching business English, one might find that they are teaching senior managers and secretaries. This unusual mix may cause a little bit of tension as the bosses may not feel comfortable at being at the same level. It is important to steer conversation away from anything that might be related to their current work, and to focus solely on the lesson to avoid conflict.

  13. r

    Speak English

    This might seem like an obvious one but it is important to remember that, especially with those who are beginners, many might be tempted to slip into their native tongue and this can be detrimental. Often, students might start talking amongst themselves, usually if they’re simply asking for instructions. If this happens, inquire as to what they are talking about and see if they can say it in English. This will help them to learn some new vocabulary and the teacher won’t feel so isolated.

  14. t

    Eliciting Words

    Having the students think of or come up with their own words rather than simply telling them is important. In doing this, the students will find that they already know the vocabulary and just need to “let it out” so it to speak. Also see “How to Elicit Vocabulary: Top 6 Techniques”.

  15. y

    Have Fun!

    No one ever said that school and learning had to be boring, so it is important to make the class fun which will in turn engage the students a lot more. Think of various games and ideas which can be done that will get everyone involved. It will also help to loosen up the atmosphere a bit and get some of the more shy students talking!

It is always important to remember, at the end of the day, adult students are not really that different from younger ones.

They have more life experience and will be a lot more critical, perhaps even pick up on certain things faster, but they are still novices when it comes to English (for the most part) and you are there to teach them a new language.

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