What is the best ESL level to teach?

With the summer here, and the uncertainty of what I’ll be teaching in the fall, I find myself asking this question pretty often.

Over the past few years, I’ve taught English at all levels. From 1 year old babies, to senior citizens illiterate in their native language, and mid level adults, to teenagers studying high level academic English. Read on to see some pros and cons of teaching different ages within the pre-school to grade 12 system.

Young children (beginners)

Pros: They are like sponges. Children are able to absorb what they learn, and produce the language with excellent fluency. As a teacher, you don’t need to be able to explain the intricacies of English grammar, or create intense assessments or tests. If you like singing, dancing, and playing within a structured schedule, this is the ideal level to teach.

Cons: The fatigue is real. Children are able to learn at lightning speed, but also, everything else they do is at lightning speed. Just keeping up with them is a challenge, let alone coming up with endless different activities to keep them engaged. Classroom management can sometimes be an issue, especially if you have 40 three-year-olds running around.


Older children (beginner to intermediate)

Pros: Similar to young children, they are still able to catch on to many things quickly. They can think more complexly, so you are able to teach them some more interesting topics. Songs, games, and fun should still be incorporated, but usually they are mixed in with some ‘serious’ work, as well as independent work. Instead of being go-go-go the entire time (like with young children), there are short respites where children can work on their own.

Cons: Some older children may have difficulty in learning the more complex aspects of English. For some children, how they perform in school is very closely tied to their self esteem, so if they are unable to keep up, it may result in unfavourable behaviour. There is more pressure to ensure you’re meeting the needs of each student. With younger children, they may not be aware that they are not learning as quickly as other students, and tend to have less learning anxiety. As children get older, this learning anxiety can become more prominent.


Teenagers (intermediate to advanced)

Pros: At this level, you can have discussions and conversations with your students. Learning can be more student centered, and you can take more of a facilitator role compared to teaching children. Games are still highly effective at this age, as long as they are age-appropriate. Individual and group work are great at this age.

Cons: More than any other age, self esteem and social issues play huge roles in how students learn. At this age, students are building a picture of who they are, and how they relate to their peers. Teachers need to be aware of the particular issues with this age, and especially be careful with how they give criticism. On the flip side, you need to also be firm so that you don’t get walked all over. Having a successful teen class requires a fine balance, but the pay off of having their respect is well worth it.


However, this is only half the picture. There is also a huge percentage of adults who are learning English, and they also come to you at different levels. Stay tuned for my next update about teaching different adult levels.

What is your favourite level to teach?

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