When you’re an ESL teacher, you need to be learning constantly. It isn’t enough to just do the introduction course and teach forever based on what you remember from it. Instead, you should be looking for new tactics to engage your students and improve their learning all the time. This is the best way for you and your students to get the most from your lessons. And you can start this process by learning about and incorporating the different learning styles into your lessons.

What are Learning Styles?

There are lots of different theories about learning styles, which are basically the different ways that people learn. Some people learn by doing something, others learn by hearing about it, and some people need to watch. This is important on its own, but what it really means is that part of your class will struggle to learn if you only focus on one style. So, if you just lecture your class, the visual and kinaesthetic learners will miss out. That’s why you need to incorporate media, activities and games that use as many learning styles as possible in your ESL classroom. This will ensure that you become the best ESL teacher you can be.

The number of learning styles is a hotly debated topic. When you look up this idea, you’ll read about VARK, which claims there are 4 learning styles, and others that claim more. One of the more popular theories is that there are 7 main learning styles. These styles include:

  • Visual learners, who learn best by observing or watching visual material.
  • Auditory learners, who learn best by listening.
  • Kinaesthetic learners, who must do or interact with the material to learn.
  • Verbal learners, who will learn best by talking with or about new material.
  • Logical learners, who need to understand how new material fits into the larger framework.
  • Social learners, who learn best in groups.
  • Solitary learners, who like to be left alone to mull over new ideas.

Incorporating the Learning Styles

You don’t need to design a different lesson plan for each student based on a single learning style. Your students may have a natural preference to learn things one way, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn in a variety of ways. And giving them lots of opportunities to learn material in different ways is the absolute best way to boost everyone’s learning. Here’s how to start using different learning styles in your classroom:

Visual Learners

  • Use videos in your lessons.
  • Make infographics of new language.
  • Explain new language using visual analogies or metaphors.
  • Encourage your students to mind map new language.
  • Teach your students visual phrases they can use like ‘Picture this’.
  • Use storytelling in your lessons and encourage your students to make up stories about what they’re learning.
  • Don’t use big blocks of test on the board or in handouts, add diagrams, graphs, or images wherever possible.
  • Set up colour codes for important information.
  • Sit your visual learners near the front of the class.

Auditory Learners

  • Incorporate songs into your lessons.
  • Teach your students about the rhythm of English by teaching them stress.
  • Teach your students about rhyming words.
  • Incorporate mnemonic devices to help make information more memorable to your auditory students.
  • Let your students listen to auditory books sometimes instead of reading.
  • Introduce your students to podcasts, where they can listen to lectures or stories in English.
  • Record your classes so your students can listen later.
  • Use sound effects during storytelling.

Kinaesthetic Learners

  • Set up exercises where they can draw or paint the necessary language points.
  • Make sure that your class is very active, and everyone moves around a lot.
  • Don’t punish these students for fidgeting, give them something to do instead.
  • Ask these students to be the teacher for a while.
  • When explaining something, try to incorporate language that relates to the senses such as ‘I was so scared that my skin prickled.’
  • Teach them to mind map, draw diagrams, or create graphs of the language.
  • Use realia or real-life objects in your class that they can touch and see.
  • Include lots of roleplay in your classes.

Verbal Learners

  • Encourage students to sound out new words aloud.
  • Include lots of discussion activities in your classroom.
  • Have your students put on class presentations or be the teacher for part of a class.
  • Encourage your students to join Toastmasters or other groups that encourage public speaking.
  • Include lots of role-playing activities.
  • Give them poems and encourage them to find and use the rhythm to present them.

Logical Learners

  • Organise new information into a logical infographic so they can see how the new piece of language fits into what they’ve already learned.
  • Make sure your lessons follow a logical structure.
  • Provide them with statistics and facts.
  • Give them a logic puzzle in English that they have to work out.
  • Teach them how to format and present an argument and hold a debate class.

Social Learners

  • Include plenty of group activities.
  • Encourage your students to become active in English groups and forums outside of class.
  • Teach them how to brainstorm projects and ideas in a group.
  • Give them projects where they need to collaborate with a group or the whole class.

Solitary learners

  • Give your students solo projects to complete sometimes.
  • If a student is quiet and appears to be thinking, don’t disturb them unless it’s clear that they’re thinking about something else.
  • Explain why a lesson is important so solitary learners can motivate themselves with the potential outcome.
  • Give them individual problem-solving exercises.
  • Look for connections between new language and previous language to provide a framework for their learning.
  • Include quiet times in your classroom to allow these students to relax and focus.

So, the next time you write a lesson plan, look at how each activity fits with the learning styles. And try to incorporate all 7 styles into your plans as often as possible.

About the Author

Gayle Aggiss is an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveller. She’s taught in Fuzhou, China, and Hanoi, Vietnam and much prefers smaller cities to the larger options. When she’s not on the road, she lives in Perth, Australia. She writes about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of her work at www.gayleaggiss.com.

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