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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Essential TESOL Teaching Skills


5 Essential TESOL Teaching Skills

 TESOL Teacher Preparation

Teachers have to be masters of more than just the content.  The way in which we get students to interact with the content and with one another is far more important. Consider those who are experts in something but poor facilitators of that expertise.  I’ll bet you could fill a notebook with examples.

TESOL Trainers gives professional development K-12 and ESLI remember trying to learn how to drive stick from a friend who could do anything with any type of vehicle, he was failed to teach me how to drive a manual car.  He started me off on a hill saying ‘that was how his dad taught him’.  The explanations that he provided were long and in no logical order. Some of the things he told me to pay particular attention I never even practiced.  It was a horribly frustrating experience. 

A few years later, another friend taught me how to drive a motorcycle.  He had been riding bikes since he was five.  He taught me everything I needed to know in one afternoon.  He started me off by just shifting from 1st to 2nd and then to neutral. I must have practiced this step a dozen times.  He showed me tricks and had me practice a bit at a time. He kept asking me how I was feeling, and he kept saying, ‘alright.  Show me.’  It was an empowering experience.

What was the difference in those two experiences?  While the content of both of these experiences was similar, the approach that each teacher took was very different. My motorcycle instructor modeled a number of skills that are critical to effectively teaching non-native English speakers.  

Each one of the following TESOL teaching skills are explored in depth during the SIT TESOL Certificate course that TESOL Trainers offers in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Five Essential TESOL Teaching Skills

There are five key skills that any teacher can develop to set their students up for success.  A teacher who focuses on strengthening these skills will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the lesson.

All of these skills are covered in depth during our TESOL Certificate course giving participants the support they need to grow these critical teaching skills.  TESOL Trainers also offers targeted professional development on Best Practices in Language Teaching and Learning.

Skill #1:  Giving Clear InstructionsThough this seems simple enough, just think of a time in your life when a teacher asked you to do something and left you more confused than enlightened.  Now, consider the challenges of giving instructions to a group of students who don’t speak English as a native language. 

Being able to give effective instructions is much more than just telling students what they need to do.  Strategies like breaking down instructions, modeling the activity, and using visual aids make everything clearer.  Developing this teaching skill has a lot of benefits:
    TESOL Trainers provides K-23 professional development for K-23 educational institutions.
  • It provides students with a variety of ways to understand the instructions.
  • It supports lower level language learners who may not understand oral instructions clearly.
  • It increases the sense of safety among the students in understanding what they are supposed to do.
  • It gives students more quality time to practice the language because there is no confusion with the task, only the language.
A teacher who is effective at giving clear instructions is able to help even complete beginners understand what they are supposed to do. 

Skill #2:  Making sure students understand:  Checking to see if students understand what is going on or what a list of vocabulary words mean also poses its challenges.  Just think of how many times a teacher asked the class, ‘everyone understand?’ and, while no one did, no one asked for help. 

Checking for comprehension is critical in being able to measure what the students’ needs are.  Strategies such as getting students to show, model, use, and demonstrate give a teacher a sense of how to proceed. Comprehension checking pays off in many ways:
    TESOL Trainers provides teacher training for educational institutions that work with non-native English speakers;  contact John Kongsvik to learn more
  • It creates a more student-centered classroom.
  • It increases student opportunities to use the language.
  • It helps the teacher see who’s getting what.
  • It provides the teacher with a clear direction.
  • It increases student engagement.
  • It encourages peer monitoring and corrections.
  • It recycles important language and concepts.


Any teacher who becomes skilled at comprehension checks finds teaching easier and more effective. 

Skill #3:  Breaking things down into manageable chunks:  Making sure the lesson and the language are digestible enough for the students is the secret to happy, successful students. Just think of your childhood.  When you walked behind an adult and tried to follow his footsteps, was it always easy? 

Scaffolding students into success
happens when we are able to break down the lesson just enough to move students from one phase of the lesson to the next without losing or confusing them. Teaching in digestible chunks produces so many rewards:
    TESOL Trainers provides K-23 professional development for K-23 educational institutions.
  • Students tend to take greater risks – success breeds success.
  • Students feel more confident.
  • Students demonstrate more competence.
  • The teacher is able to assess students’ needs more effectively.
  • The speed at which learning takes place increases.
  • Students become more engaged.
  • There are greater opportunities for meaningful practice.


The teacher who learns how to design and deliver digestible lessons creates a more effective and efficient learning environment.

Skill #4:  Creating opportunities for interaction:  Teachers can’t learn the language for the students; they’ve got to do that themselves.  That’s why opportunities are so important. Just think of a language class that you’ve been in.  Did a teacher ever cover a ton of vocabulary but never give you time to practice?

As teachers we must make every moment in the classroom an opportunity to actively practice the language.  Students need a variety of opportunities to interact with the language in order to internalize it.  You can imagine the benefits of looking for ways to maximize the number of opportunities students have:
    TESOL Trainers provides K-23 professional development for K-23 educational institutions.
  • The class becomes more student-centered.
  • Student engagement increases throughout the lesson.
  • The sense of community increases.
  • Students take more frequent risks.
  • The greater the amount of meaningful practice, the better.
  • Classroom management problems decrease or disappear.


Effective teachers understand how to create a maximum number of opportunities for students to practice and internalize the language.

Skill #5:  Noticing what helps and hinders student learning:  This teaching skill is perhaps the most crucial.  Paying attention to what we do as teachers that helps or hinders student learning helps us grow as teachers.  Ideally, we notice these things as the lesson unfolds and respond accordingly.  In reality, this realization may arrive some time after the lesson ended or it may have never entered our consciousness.

In order to develop as teachers, we not only have to become critical observers of learning but also conscious teaching practitioners.  The mere act of teaching a lesson and thinking, ‘opps.  That didn’t go well’ does not inherently mean tomorrow’s lesson will be any better. 


TESOL Trainers sets at students up for success, one teacher at a timeDeveloping teaching skills demands conscious attention to past experiences, present assumptions, and future actions.  There is, perhaps, no such thing as a perfect teaching lesson; but every lesson is the perfect opportunity to learn.


The more we train this awareness, the more we tend to inform and transform our teaching practices.  


Ultimately, we find ourselves noticing this 'in the moment' and are able to respond to what the students' needs are.

Certainly, there many other skills that we should constantly hone as teachers: error correction, classroom management, teaching learning strategies, etc. These five teaching skills are worth developing as they have a powerful impact on all others.

When we provide clear instructions, things go so much smoother. As we continuously check for understanding, we keep our students and ourselves on our toes. When we scaffold a lesson, we encourage risk taking. Giving students a ton of opportunities just makes sense.  Finally, the more we pay attention to what supports or stifles learning, the more we learn about teaching.

For more on the essential teaching skills, visit  Everything Teaching TESOL.

TESOL Trainers provides students and teachers a scaffold to success!  TESOL Trainers offers a wide variety of professional development and teacher training for K-23 educational institutions that serve non-native English speakers.  
John Kongsvik, director of TESOL Trainers, has been offering the SIT TESOL Certificate course in Santa Fe, NM for 13 years.  There are currently over 500 graduates teaching their way around the world ©. 

If you'd like to know how TESOL Trainers can help you achieve excellence in teaching and in learning, contact us to learn more.

For information on how to become certified in SIOP, check out our sister blog:  The SIOP Trainer.


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