Six great lesson ideas for helping EFL students with learning difficulties

Six great lesson ideas for helping EFL students with learning difficulties

Six ways to help EFL students with learning difficulties 

In previous blogs we learned some of the key issues around inclusion in TEFL and what we need to be aware of in our classrooms. We looked at four conditions that impact on learning; ASD, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

In this final article, we focus on how to help learners who may have specific difficulties in lessons. Discover six great lesson ideas for helping students with learning difficulties and watch out for our big takeaway at the end of this article.

Let's dive in....


1. Multisensory activities

Use a colour code system to give an indication of performance alongside language. 

If you have students with learning difficulties, multisensory activities can boost their confidence (and the confidence of all of your learners).

For example, OUP have developed an excellent football card system, which allows students to respond to activities, and offers an alternative to spoken responses (see our green/red image in this blog).  They have also included some sample football cards which you can cut out. There is a ready-made colour version, or a version for younger learners to colour in themselves.

You can use these by asking students to respond to activities not with words but by holding up the coloured cards. For example:

  • a red card might mean no / I don’t agree / I don’t understand response
  • a yellow card allows for a maybe / I’m not sure / I understand some of it response
  • a green card is yes / I agree / I understand all of it response.

It also gives you a visual display of how a class feels about a certain topic, language point or teaching point. This has the additional benefit of engaging all your learners, rather than just the most vocal. (Links to these and other resources are free for Global English trainees in the courses below.)


2. Allow them to set their own pace

If you want super-motivated learners, give them the ability to set their own pace of learning and work towards targets that you have mutually agreed. You’ll see their confidence soar. Indeed, this approach is helpful for all your students, but it’s particularly for learners with SEND. It means that they can measure progress against their own achievable goals, and not against the results of others.

To do this, use a progress ladder for each student. The ladder rungs represent steps towards achieving a specific aim or goal.

Ask your learners to write those steps on the lines to the right or left. If you have younger learners, they may especially enjoy colouring between the rungs of the ladder as they make progress (as do I still!). Perhaps older learners can fill in the spaces with observations or colours to represent how easy or difficult that step of the ladder has been.


3. Remove distracting material

If you are providing a handout, remove or cover up distracting material. If it doesn’t need to be there, lose it. Dyslexic learners find a clear layout, short sentences and an uncomplicated structure helpful and more accessible.

Images that exemplify sentences or unfamiliar words are also very useful. By spacing out the instructions and adding a diagram, students can follow it without having to understand every word. This is called ‘reading for meaning’.


4. Create a quiet area

Designate an area of your class, even if only a couple of empty desks away from the eyesight and focus of the others, if someone needs a few minutes for themselves.  

If a learner is feeling overwhelmed, this can be especially helpful for them. Indeed, it’s not just useful for learners with ADHD or ASD. All of your learners can benefit from time to time.

Tell your learners it’s OK for any of them to use this space, but regulate what goes on there and obviously don’t let the learning distraction continue from that space.

Make it comfortable and as relaxing as possible, but not out of your eyesight! 


5. Plan for different outcomes

When you are planning your lessons, are you planning for all eventualities? Are you thinking about who you are going to ask to work together in a pair work session? Is there someone who could help explain the task, possibly in the L1, to a learner with a SEND?

Preparation is key. Do be patient and give learners with a SEND more time to follow directions and complete tasks, when necessary.  

And finally, perhaps the most important piece of advice we can give…


6. Simplify your instructions

If you take nothing else from this piece, remember this. Make sure that your instructions are clear and easily understandable. 

For example, just tell them the first thing they have to do, instead of listing all the steps for an activity. Then let students complete it before instructing them in step two.

This can be the simplest and most effective strategy you employ.



We hope you have found this series on helping learners who struggle in our classes helpful. It forms part of the content of the internationally accredited Level 5 TESOL Professional course (250 hours) and also our TESOL Re-equip course (80 hours) for experienced teachers wishing to upskill.

Interested in discovering more on how we can help learners who are struggling?

You can read the other blogs in this series below:

Part 1: Why do some ESL learner struggle more than others?

Part 2: How to identify potential learning inhibitors in EFL students

Part 3: Ten tips to help struggling English language learners

  • Author: William Bradridge
  • Date: 07/03/2023

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