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8.5 Teaching Adults

durenmgmail-com November 9, 2021

Teaching EFL/ESL to adults is substantially different from teaching EFL to first and second-grade students. Often, teachers qualified in elementary education can use many of their skills in teaching adults. However, there are significant distinctions that are outlined below.


Many adult learners are hesitant to return to school for a mixture of reasons. They lack the carefree enthusiasm of small children. The undereducated adults, specifically, are convinced that they will not learn or are too old.

Immediate goals

Adult students typically have particular and immediate goals. They are not looking forward to a long-range academic accomplishment; instead, they need English today for a job tomorrow.


Adult students, for the most part, are incredibly motivated. Some attend the class of their own free choice, generally at some personal and financial loss. Absences are due more to family responsibilities rather than no motivation.

Life experience

Adults bring to the classroom environment a lifetime of experience that should be respectively shared. Sharing experiences make the material of the class applicable to everyday living and practical. This guarantees that the content of your instruction covers life-coping skills and spurs the motivation of adult learners.

What sort of students take adult EFL Classes?

There is no standard adult EFL/ESL student. Commonly, every class will have a broad range of skills, backgrounds, and interests. Some of the more significant differences between the students are shown below. Some show factors that may influence how you group your students and teach your classes.

Adult education classes usually attract students of widely varying ages.

  1. Middle-aged adults often attend classes to develop their English skills, to change careers, or for a promotion in their jobs.
  2. Young adults may be attending courses because they need to speak and write English to be considered for a job role.
  3. Older retired people may be attending the classes now that they have the time for it.
  4. Often students in late adolescence will be attending the classes to get into GED (General Educational Development) or vocational programs (Vocational education is sometimes referred to as career and technical education).

The wide range of ages implies that you may need to use a wide variety of exercises to reach all of your students. It also indicates that you can usually be most efficient by grouping students and doing many small group activities.

There are some other things to keep in mind when teaching EFL/ESL to adult students:

  • They may be illiterate.
  • They may be educated in a different script but are struggling with English script.
  • Just because they are older does not mean that they have advanced language skills.
  • Try not to always associate reading skills too closely to speaking skills because they may have challenges with the reading.
  • They may have a learning disorder, such as dyslexia.
  • If they are struggling, it may mean that they have forgotten language lessons from earlier school days.

Adult students can still learn to enhance their English-speaking abilities with the right encouragement, motivation, and direction, despite their challenges.

Adult Motivation Categories

Your students’ motivation may fall into a broad-spectrum distribution of behaviours grouped together.

  1. You will have students who are very enthusiastic about learning English to move on to other classes or advance in their work.
  2. You may also have students who are expected (by their employer, by some social assistance program, etc.) to attend your classes but do not care about English. Some may only want as much language as is required to do a particular job. Others may be motivated to learn every possible aspect of English.

Despite the motivation, adult students come with an enjoyable class, a sincere concern for the students, and a feeling of growth will improve motivation once the students are there. As an instructor, you need to find out what your students genuinely want from learning these classes.

How can we motivate students so that they want to return to class?

Because students come with particular purposes for learning, one of the best methods to keep them motivated is to help them feel improvement towards their intention. To do this, you will have to discover what those goals are. One way to advance is to conduct an informal conversation to evaluate their goals. This may require the help of interpreters because of the diverse native languages of the students.

  • Once the goals have been concluded, materials and exercises relevant to the purposes should be selected. For example, a student learning English so that he or she can work towards a GED. The chosen materials should give vocabulary and language patterns used in secondary textbooks.
  • Students will be more motivated if you remind them how each of the exercises that you are doing will benefit them and their goals (e.g., “We are doing this activity so that in a math class, you will be able to . . .”).
  • One of the most critical factors that motivate students is a sense of growth. There should be clear markers of progress so that students can see what they are doing well. This means that there should be reasonably common measurements (short quizzes, questioning individual students, corrected homework, etc.). Too often, teachers skip measurements because they are time-consuming or because the students have an excessive fear of examinations.
  • However, a wise teacher will develop easy, comfortable ways of showing the students their development. A straightforward way of doing this is a simple checklist of tasks the students would want to accomplish to reach their overall goal. As they do the tasks individually, they sense their progress and feel that the class is beneficial. This will keep them coming until they arrive at their primary goal.
  • A second factor that will preserve and improve motivation for your students is enjoyment. Exercises should provide opportunities for real social interaction and getting to know other people in a carefree and, sometimes, even in a humorous way. If activities are exciting, students will not want to be absent from classes because they know they will be missing the “action.” If you help your students build feelings of respect and friendship, those bonds will also bring them back to the class.

A major motivating factor for adult students is probably relevance. If the students are open to studying life-coping skills, applying for a job, balancing a chequebook, etc., their interest will never waiver.