Tricks and tips to ensure an engaging lesson

A good course book is essential for a well structured ELT class, whether the students are preparing for the IELTS exam, First certificate, or an overall higher level of general English. But any experienced ELT teacher will know that course books rarely meet the criteria of every student. Subsequently, it is essential to supplement course content with additional materials, and to be imaginative and resourceful about doing so. Fortunately, most course books do come with workbooks and exercises available to photocopy or download.

As a native speaker who teaches English, you may find that your own knowledge of the language is actually your best resource. I am constantly creating lists of phrasal verbs and idioms that I hear, and have found that the duration of an entire lesson can be taken up with the discussion of their multiple meanings, which many students will find fascinating as not all languages are so rich in figurative terminology. For example, we may consider the phrasal verb I have just used: ‘take up’. It’s possible to take up time, take up an activity, take up a job offer or take up an item of clothing. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll be able to create a vast sum of additional resources that you can dip into as and when required. Moreover, these kinds of resources will help to add much more colour and character to your students’ English, enabling them to communicate more naturally.

Although this is something to which I have referred in previous blog posts, I think it is worth repeating that classes are always more dynamic and engaging if they can be adapted to the specific interests and circumstances of each student or students. If you are teaching a class in China for example, then finding an article (written in English) about a local custom, event or celebrity will provide a good foundation for utilising and discussing the associated vocabulary and expressions.

I would say that something important to keep in mind is the style in which each lesson is delivered, and always have other ideas to pull out of your bag of tricks if your initial idea goes down the proverbial pan. The dynamic among the students in some classes will be light-hearted and fun, with a focus on games and interactive exercises, whereas such activities may flop with other students who will find them frivolous. This is also very much the case with different age groups.

I have often struggled to motivate a class of bored teenagers, and have tried various activities such as Pictionary and other word games to encourage some competitiveness among different groups. Sometimes this works, and other times they will just sigh and raise their eyes to heaven. On other occasions I have tried more traditional academic exercises with groups of students who initially appeared conventional in their learning practice, and they have preferred the opposite approach.

As with any profession, the longer an ELT teacher has been helping students to develop their confidence communicating naturally in English, the more resources and techniques will to be used as and when required. Furthermore, I would say that persistent creativity is important, as well as an ability to understand the non-verbal clues regarding your students’ preferences. I would also always recommend tailoring lesson content to the individual interests of the class, but this is not always easy in large groups with various interests.

Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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