How to keep your students interested in your English class

Trying to maintain English in an ESL class can be a tricky skill to learn. Sometimes classes fall flat and other times you can’t stop the students from talking.

As a teacher, you need to make sure you are prepared at all times. That is half the battle. Make sure all your lessons are tweaked to perfection — you should constantly revise your lessons to make them better each time.

But there are a few things to remember to ensure that you keep all your students interested all the time you are in the classroom.

Below I have outlined some ideas for you to think about. Try putting some of these into practice in your own ESL classes and you should find that your students are less likely to nod off in class time.

Start with a great warm-up

It is always a good idea to start your class with a warm-up activity. This should then segue nicely into the rest of your lesson plan.

Few teachers in other subjects can do this. A maths teacher can’t really start the lesson with a short, fun-packed activity with lots of energy. But ESL teachers can — and should.

Start with a high-energy warm-up activity and that sets a precedent for the rest of the class. All the students are focused on what is going on in the class and they are motivated.

Do something different

It’s no use going into class and just pulling out the textbook and telling the students to turn to page 36.

This is just lazy.

The students get bored with looking at textbooks — and you are in the perfect position to use anything else in your class other than the dreaded textbooks. In an English class, there are a whole variety of things you can do to make the class a little different.

Role plays are always good but make sure they apply to what you are doing in the lesson or previous lessons. Don’t just reel off a dumb idea of you’re a taxi driver, you’re a passenger, you’re a policeman…

You could write certain key phrases or vocabulary that the students must use in their role play. Tell them that each role play must have a certain number of lines or a time limit, say five minutes or however long the students can speak regarding their level.

You could also watch movies. I have written about this before here. Don’t just use this an opportunity to just watch a movie and sit at the back of the class scrolling through your phone. There are some great exercises you can do with movies in an English class.

Come on, kids, you’ll love this!

Another useful activity is to go on a field trip. This is the perfect opportunity to use what you have been doing in class and getting the students to use this language point in a real setting. For example, if you have been studying vocabulary about ‘supermarket’ you could take a trip to the local supermarket and let the students use English in the right setting.

Your students will really appreciate it if you do something completely different in the class. There is absolutely no need to just turn up to class and going through the textbook.

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Play Games

There can’t be many ESL teachers who have not played games in their class. But beware — this does not mean that you just play two hours of hangman. The students will not be happy with that.

There are many word games that you can set up in class. All you need is the blackboard and some willing participants.

But there are also online games too. If you have access to a projector in your class, then you are spoiled for choice. There are dozens of great online games that could be very useful in your class.

Another choice is board games. You could set up a game of Monopoly or Cluedo or any of the other dozens of board games out there. Coordinate it so that using English becomes a part of it. There is no use in just letting the students play a game and only speaking their own language.

Be Interactive

There is nothing worse than a boring teacher standing at the front of the class droning on. The students cannot stand this.

Make sure that the students are involved in every level of the class.

So, you have to take the class register? Get one of the students to do it. All in English.

You need to go over the steps of a new exercise? Ask one of the students to read them out. If another student doesn’t understand, get another student to help. Do this all in English too.

Summaries can all be done by one of the students.

Any time you find you have to stand at the front and talk, ask one of the students to do it instead.

It is an English class and the students need every opportunity to talk in English, read English and write English. Give them the chance to do so.

Why so serious?

In an average English class, the teacher should be fun and engaging. None of the students want to see someone overly serious and never smiling.

This does not mean that you turn into Coco the Clown as soon as you enter the classroom. But it does give you the chance to have fun in your class. The students like it and respond well to it. And it’s more fun for you too.

Now look here, Mr Serious

Think about your favourite teachers at school? Which ones left a lasting impression? The really serious ones or the fun and friendly types?

You should try to be like this in your class. The students will speak highly of you to other teachers too.

Do group work

Any opportunity you get in class put the students in groups or pairs and make them compete against each other. They cannot resist the temptation to do anything they can to win a point.

Another great thing to do is to divide the class into boys and girls. The students will love to compete against each other this way. This is perfect for any word games you are playing on the board. These kinds of activities can get very heated.

Don’t mindlessly repeat lessons

There may be times when you have to go over lessons again to make sure the students have learned the skills.

If you are doing this, the last thing you want to do is just repeating the entire lesson exactly as you taught it before. The students will just resent you for it — so don’t do it.

It only takes one student to see that you have done the lesson before and then they will all start complaining.

Instead, turn the entire lesson into another activity entirely. Use your imagination and create a whole new lesson out of it. The students are less likely to notice and you can really see if they have kept what they learned before.

Use technology in the class

If you have the opportunity to use any technology in the class, do so. Kids love technology.

Build your emergency supplies

Sometimes no matter what we do in the class, the kids are just not into it. They are all staring into space or cross-eyed and have no interest in what you are doing.

It’s times like these that you need to pull out all your reserves. You need to build up a supply of emergency activities that you can do at a moment’s notice.

I guarantee, if you tell all the class to stop what they are doing and you introduce one of your great emergency activities the kids will love you for it.

Make every class relate to their lives

There is no use in doing classes where the subject has nothing to do with the students’ lives. Getting them to read out an article on the life of Richard Nixon is completely irrelevant if all the students are scratching their heads and thinking who is this dude?

You should make every class relate to their own lives. If it’s reading then make sure they are reading about something they know or understand.

This is where many textbooks fail — in trying to appeal to the masses they appeal to no one at all.

Streamline all your exercises and lesson plans so that the content and goals apply to their own lives.

Get the students moving

Use lots of activities and exercises where the students are moving around.

Movement is always good in the class.

Give the students a choice

Come in with two lesson plan ideas and let the students choose which one they would like to do.

Choose one

You can engineer this so they choose the lesson you wanted to do from the get-go. But the students will be happy because they will believe they chose something for themselves.

End with a student-based activity

You should end with an activity that does two things; one, it summarizes what you did in class and two; it is student led.

There are two things you can do. One is to have the students keep a journal and in it, they write about the lesson you just did. What did they learn? What was difficult? What was confusing? What was easy/boring/a waste of time?

Or you could do the 3 2 1 exercise. Students must think of 3 things they learned, 2 interesting things and 1 question.

Of course, your class must be up to speed for them to do all this exercise well.


Having a boring class is a nightmare. Especially if you are stuck at the front watching the minutes slowly tick by. Combat this by one — preparing all your lessons well and in advance — but also by using some of the techniques I highlighted above.

Essentially, it is up to you to make sure that the students are not drifting off into the land of nod or staring out the window. It is up to you to see that every class is fun, engaging and interesting.

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