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TESOL in Real Time: Teaching Advanced Level ESL Students

A guide to helping your students for whom English is a second language

Dynamics, Attitudes, and Protocols of Advanced Classes

Dynamics of Advanced Classes:

Advanced courses often have more diversity, with students from a variety of countries. They often have higher levels of literacy, and they aspire to much more academically. Advanced students are usually more autonomous (self-governing) learners.

Some advanced learners are accustomed to learning grammar as it's integrated into a communication-focused curriculum. If they've learned early levels of English through a grammar-translation approach, they have probably gained listening and speaking skills along the way. If that's the case, they are highly aware of the need for a continued focus on listening and speaking. Also, they might have a concern for accent reduction if people have difficulty understanding them. Advanced students are particularly interested in the natural flow in speaking fluency.

A primary difference in the advanced student and the lower-level student is that the advanced student can recognize the difference in issues related to the sound systems and those related to language structure. They are able to recognize the differences in idioms and expressions, and they can appreciate a modern-linguistics approach as it becomes clear to them. Literacy is always an issue on any level of language learning; reading comprehension and speed become a concern to advanced students, as they delve more into dense-text and academic reading materials.

Advanced Attitudes and Corresponding Protocols:

Some advanced students are strict about grammar rules, but many are much more flexible. Depending on their levels of education and/or their world views, they are likely to have an understanding of how language and culture are related, and they can deal with the difference in a descriptive perspective and a prescriptive perspective. They are now more comfortable making conversation with strangers and more likely to challenge teachers; therefore, it's important to teach them effective protocols for those exchanges.

Textbook, Authentic Materials, Strategies, and Techniques


Because students now have a fairly good command of English, they love to debate, and talk about politics, history, the arts and entertainment, social issues, most current events, and global perspectives and prospects. They are interested in correct English, but more so in pragmatic competency. They are more apt to take pride in their particular accent.

Textbooks and/or Authentic Materials:

When students have a high-intermediate-to-lower-advanced-level grasp of English, they can learn well from authentic materials. Some of the lower-advanced students need grammar exercises to fill in gaps in the learning of language structure. The problem is that many advanced students feel they need a textbook because that is the way they've been learning, and they feel they are progressing only if they are doing workbook exercises. It's important to be respectful of their feelings about learning language. If it's necessary to use a textbook, be sure to supplement it gradually by incorporating real-life items, including newspapers, contemporary narrative and poetry, music, internet articles and sites, radio audio, and so forth. Also, encourage students to bring in items of interests. Perhaps an even better approach would be to use authentic materials for the crux of each lesson, and supplement with a page or two from a textbook or workbook as a warm up.

Advanced Language-Learning Strategies:

  • check for comprehensible input and output
  • create peer-review activities for writing
  • chart errors for self and one another
  • use a lexical approach to build meaningful vocabulary
  • develop strategies for mastering specific competencies
  • create groups for committees, forums and panels
  • brainstorm discussion starters and then practice them
  • develop activities for listening skills
  • team up with others for oral presentations
  • practice non-verbal communication skills


Things Advanced Students Love to do

Things Advanced Students Like to Do:

  • discuss what they want to learn and why
  • blog in English
  • create video projects
  • Skype around the world from the classroom
  • become a celebrity and/or interview a celebrity
  • create lesson plans based on narratives
  • write and act out plays
  • create a class newspaper
  • Q&As, panels, and forums
  • interpret and critique movies
  • debate
  • protest
  • solve problems
  • untangle mysteries

Grammar (language structure):

There are specific language structures that concern advanced students much more than beginning-level students. Advanced students are more aware of comparative analysis of English to their native language.

Some of the grammar issues:

  • tense and aspects of verbs
  • noun phrases
  • phrasal verbs
  • infinitives
  • gerunds
  • complex sentences
  • adverbial clauses
  • relative clauses
  • noun clauses
  • conditional clauses (real and unreal)
  • reduced adverbial clauses
  • modals and auxiliary verbs
  • punctuation

Sarah Anne Shope, MS. Ed, TESOL, PhD, is the Director of Global TESOL Certificate Program at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education, and the author of Global TESOL: An Orientation Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

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Be careful that we do not draw a line in the sand between the advanced student and one with advanced potential!