Teaching English to beginners - TEFL ideas

Teaching English to beginners - TEFL ideas

This useful guide will give you some fresh lesson ideas and approaches for teaching English to beginners. 

Personally, I have always found teaching English to beginners a tough prospect. Why? well, you need to plan how you will instruct and what you will say so much more carefully, grading practically every work you speak, so that they don't get overwhelmed; no more jokey asides or a quick chat with the class about their weekend before you get stuck into the day’s teaching.

But, there is no doubt that beginners offer the biggest scope for rapid improvement and so that is where the rewards are. Keep classes tight and focussed and they could go from zero to pre-intermediate in no time at all. Here are three ideas to help you get them there:

1. Build confidence
Most beginners are not complete beginners at all. Use what they know to build confidence and to break through inhibitions. One course book for beginners I have used (sorry, the name escapes me) starts with ‘chapter zero’ which is a street scene. I remember the smiles of relief all round as students happily identified words such as hotel, cafe, bike, street, sun, car etc. when asked "What is it?" from the picture. The result was an easy introduction to English in which everyone could participate and good for student confidence.

2. Bring in ‘realia’ (real objects) 
Use pictures so you don’t need words to explain concrete nouns. Use mime and intonation. When you want a student to self-correct, just repeat their error with a questioning, rising intonation, for example.

3. Don’t introduce too many new words/phrases
About seven or eight new words might be enough, if they are words you want them to actively remember.  Then find new ways to reinforce and repeat new vocabulary/phrases and structures through different activities. These might include choral repetition (repeating as a class) matching exercises, gapfills, miming, picture dictations (1 person says, the other draws) and writing dialogues. Just choose  a variety of activities to reinforce the same vocabulary so repetition doesn’t get boring.


OK, that's three ideas to help you get started. Now for some ideas for early lessons with beginners. 

1. Get them doing something functional
I like to set up a simple shop context because by the end students will know how to ask for things; superb for developing real-life English. The sense of achievement after this lesson is amazing.

A) Bring in shop items like bread, milk etc. (maybe 5 or 6 in total). Hold each one up and they repeat the name. Students pass each item around the class, saying the name of the item as they hand it over. Test by holding each item in the air while the class repeats the name.

B) Bring a student out to the front and put all the items in front of them on a table. Say:
"I’d like some water." Wait until the student gives it to you. Say: "Thank you."

Repeat for the other items. Reverse roles. Introduce one or two extra phrases, such as "Here you are." Get the whole class to repeat:

  • I’d like
  • Thank you
  • Here you are

C) Students practice in pairs, repeating stage B while you monitor.

2. Introductions
Being able to introduce yourself is useful and is also a neat introduction to the important verb ‘to be’. Introduce professions and words like ‘married’ and ‘single’ so they can introduce themselves. Give them new, famous identities and have them introduce their new selves in one or two sentences. Or, use the famous people to introduce the 3rd person:
"Madonna is female and she is a singer."

3. Routines
Everyday routines are great because you use the basic present simple tense - and because students can start to string sentences together very quickly. Introduce phrases such as: get up, get dressed, have breakfast, go to work, have dinner, watch TV, go to bed with images. Then mime the routine of a whole day while the class speak your actions.

Refine by adding words like and then and after that


* Teaching English to beginners online? Here are more ideas and a video explainer

* We cover more on teaching English and how to plan lessons for different students on our accredited online TESOL training courses

Learn how to teach English to beginners in our live, practical teacher-led, short Zoom courses.


Have you got any tips or good resources for teaching English to beginners? Share them with us below.

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  • Author: Louisa
  • Date: 08/09/2015

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