Unit five - Helping ESL students understand what you say

Unit goals

At the end of the unit the participants will have:

The importance of comprehensible spoken language input

It is crucial that the spoken language that ESL students hear in the classroom is comprehensible to them for these reasons:

Characteristics of spoken language

More on the differences between spoken and written language

What makes it difficult for ESL students to understand what they hear?

Any one of the problems above can impede comprehension. An aggregration of problems is even more likely to lead to comprehension breakdown.

What can ESL students do to improve their listening comprehension?

How can teachers help ESL students to become better listeners?

Students will be better listeners if they follow the advice on the previous slide. Teachers, however, have a significant part to play in helping students to follow the advice. Teachers can:

What else can teachers do to help ESL students understand what they hear in class?

Following is a list of some of the additional things teachers can do to improve the chances that ESL students will understand what they hear in class:

More on this.


Workshop participants viewed some brief video extracts of teachers talking to their classes. They categorized features of the teachers' presentations into those that were conducive to ESL student comprehension, and those that were less so.


A participant asked whether she should continue to make jokes in her class, in view of their difficulty for ESL students. Here is a summary of the presenter's reply:

"Most teachers like to include jokes and anecdotes in their lessons. They help build rapport with the students and make lessons more enjoyable. The advice, therefore, is certainly not to dispense with jokes altogether but to be aware of their exclusionary effect on ESL students, who are usually lacking the necessary linguistic or cultural knowledge. Teachers can combat this by taking the trouble to explain, or by having other students explain, the meanings of one or two of the jokes they tell."