Get your adult students talking!

Hello, amazing teachers! Last week, I wrote about teaching a non-responsive child. This week, I would like to touch on this same topic with a focus on adult students. If you are like me, you are teaching kids from 3 years old-adults of all ages. You must have many strategies tucked away in your tool belt. With adults, you can’t harness your inner Blues Clues to get them talking, although you might get a laugh out of them.

Adult students are quiet for many reasons. It could be shyness, stress, or any number of daily life trials. It is easy to put yourself in their shoes for a moment, after all, you are an adult too.  Adults tend to be more concerned with saving face than younger students. It is your job to be sensitive to this. So how do you get them talking? This depends on the students’ personality and the type of day/week they’ve had. They are working, have children, relationships, etc. All of these outside factors will impact how they are in class and can vary daily.

These are the steps I follow, that have helped me make a class productive and enjoyable.

Small Talk

While I am not one for small talk, I even find it a bit cringy and fake, it is important for building rapport. I also find that this can help you as the teacher, understand what kind of mood the student is in and what kind of day they are having. For my returning students, I have notes in my files so I can ask them questions about previous events going on in their life. The more you invest in knowing them, the more they will open up to you, and the more they will learn from you. With my adult students, I will spend anywhere from 3-5 minutes chatting about how they are doing.

Active Listening

Listening sounds like a simple task, however, it takes a considerable amount of effort. It is critical to listen to your student. You will be able to better recognize their specific needs. Some adults don’t want a structured lesson; they want less structure and more conversation. However, some adults find comfort in a structured lesson. They like to properly study and prepare for it, so they do well. You can only find out what type of student you have by listening to their specific feedback and watching carefully for the non-verbal queues. That said, even with free talk sessions, I have a topic prepared, with key questions and examples, as well as any relevant expressions or idioms. Adults appreciate this, most of them have been through grammar lessons and recognize many vocabulary words, they simply don’t have a chance to practice it daily. For many adults, this is why they are taking your class.


Adults, just like kids need encouragement. To a large extent in Chinese culture, they are earnestly striving to be their best, to advance in their careers and remain competitive. Getting online and struggling through an English conversation can be a tough pill to swallow. Give them encouragement, focus on what they are doing right, relate to them and give them practical ways to practice. Your encouragement will go a long way, moreover, it will give them the confidence to keep going. Lack of confidence frequently comes from the fear of failure, therefore put in the extra effort to build up your students’ confidence.

I would love to hear your feedback and ideas! I am still a newbie too! Please share your ideas. Leave a comment come join our FB group at Teach English Online – TEFL/TESOL/ESL/JOBS/! 

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Written by Sarah
Hello, my name is Sarah, to my students, I am Teacher Sarah. I began this journey simply because teaching has always been a dream of mine. Life had other lessons for me to learn before arriving here. My life experiences are one of the things that make me an excellent teacher. Teaching online opens new doors for those of you out there with a heart for teaching and a desire to adventure this big beautiful world. Teaching online allows so much freedom, all while changing the lives of students and teachers all around the world. I want to share my journey in online teaching, living outside the lines, and doing what makes me happy.
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