Teaching Adults

Brush Up Your English: How to teach adults


And here is the challenge! Can adults be taught the same way as young students can? The truth is that adults are not empty vessels into which teachers can pour knowledge; they have lots of experience already, to a greater or lesser degree, they have a set of study skills acquired in their previous schooling, they can compare and contrast new knowledge against this past learning, and they possess writing, summarizing and note-taking skills.


By Vivi Kamari EFL teacher, ELT Manager, Grivas Publications


Nevertheless, even adults are still novices when it comes to English, and you are there to teach them!

How easy can it be to work with adults when, in reality, what we learn in childhood forms the foundation of what we learn as adults?

Not an easy task, but we can be successful if we organize our teaching strategies according to how adults learn.

First of all, adults decide for themselves what is important to be learned. They validate the information they get, based on their beliefs and experience, and they expect to see immediate results when they learn specific things. It is important that we focus on their needs and skills when organizing an educational experience, and also focus on their strengths and weaknesses. Understanding how they learn is significant as well.


Adults learn better when they feel that what they are taught is useful. They work more effectively when they want to develop new skills, to fulfil inner desires, to acquire new information or even to improve professional competence. The first thing that comes to mind when they come across something new is: “What’s in it for me?”


Let’s have a look at the advantages and the challenges involved when teaching adults.

Adults know what it is like to attend classes and the greater their commitment to learning the more organized they are. As mentioned above, they are experienced and possess writing, summarizing and note-taking skills. We can take full advantage of that, by asking them to summarize a reading text or by encouraging them to prepare a presentation. More challenging work is not a problem as long as it is not time consuming; they may not have a lot of time on their hands, but they can handle more challenging tasks.

Most adults come to our classes either because they need to improve their English, because they want to travel to English-speaking countries and move around on their own, they may have studied it as children and want to practise it further, want to become more fluent and better at understanding it at work, sit an exam, or simply enjoy it! No matter what their motivation is, it will disappear if the activities and tasks they are given, are boring and uninspiring. To effectively motivate them, consider their goals, relate teaching material to their needs and give practical examples. Let the participants practise activities that will help them apply the new language skills.

Remember that adults bring prior knowledge and experience into our classrooms, and this can be another great advantage. They may even know things we are unaware of because of their professional area, expertise or through a pastime. How can we tap into this wealth of knowledge? Ask your adult students to talk about what they know. Encourage them to prepare a simple presentation or tell you about their work. In order to do so more effectively, make sure you become familiar with their backgrounds, and their interests. 

Perhaps the biggest problem with adult students is their lack of time. Little time to do homework, or study. Make sure that you underline the importance of study; rather than excusing them, try to encourage them to do something daily and from one class to the next, assigning smaller more manageable tasks; instead of a 20 or 30-minute task try three or four 5-minute exercises. Give them a short YouTube video which they can watch while they have breakfast or during their lunch break and produce a summary of it later on in the day.

Last but not least, since learning is a process of development, give feedback to your adult students on how they are doing. They get discouraged if they feel they have made little or no progress, so it is very important that you help them track their progress and end each class with the question: “What have you learned today?”

The most wonderful thing about helping adults brush up their English, is that you are there to help them, and you can also learn a lot from them. Be prepared to share your knowledge and be open to everything they will share with you!


Enjoy the trip!