Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Peer Tutor Guide

Tips for Working with ESL Students

Tips for Working with ESL Students

  • Discuss the student’s goals with him/her before getting started.
  • Speak clearly, naturally and avoid using lots of slang.
  • Ask students to repeat what you have just said to show understanding.
  • If a student has trouble understanding you, write down what you are saying. If you have trouble understanding the student, ask him or her to write down what he/she is saying.
  • Use lots of repetition.
  • Put everything you study into context.
  • Encourage each student to take an active part of the tutoring session; there should be “equal time” for the student to talk or ask questions and it is sometimes easy to forget to stop and wait for questions to be formulated. Sometimes you need to wait in silence before a question gets asked. In some cultures a student does not ask questions.
  • Thank the student for questions. Some students are deathly afraid to ask a question, so praising a question is a good way to encourage more.
  • Encourage students to make friends outside of class because this will improve their English.
  • Don’t treat students like children. English language proficiency does not indicate intelligence or ability level.
  • Don’t try to change your students’ language patterns by teaching them Standard English. Respect their oral speech habits and encourage them to add Standard English to their everyday language patterns. ESL students may ask you to correct their speech when they feel comfortable, but don’t assume this is the case unless asked.
  • Use plenty of examples.
  • Don’t act as if you understand the student if you don’t.
  • Don’t speak too slowly; it might tend to raise your voice volume and/or to make your speech unnatural. Although it might be hard to understand your normal speech pattern, with practice the student will become familiar with it and in the long run, it will help him/her understand other native English speakers. You can lengthen your speech and insert more pauses; this might help a student understand more easily.
  • Don’t be afraid to correct the student.

Techniques for Questioning ESL Students

Within the tutoring session, frequently check students’ comprehension to make sure they really understand concepts. ESL students may nod their heads as though they understand when they really don’t. Encourage participation and check comprehension in non- threatening ways, and provide cooperative experiences by using the following techniques.

Most Difficult: Wh- questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why, Which & How) “Why is A more difficult?”

Easier: OR questions. “Which is more difficult, A or B?”
Easiest: YES / NO questions check comprehension, but do not rely on this strategy too much. “Is this difficult for you?”

Begin with the most difficult question type. If these cannot be answered by the student, try a less difficult level to help them understand what you’re asking; then work toward the more difficult levels.

  • Ask the students to give examples when explaining concepts.
  • Ask students to become the tutor and explain the concept to you.
  • Search for answers to questions with the students.
  • Use restatement to clarify students’ responses; “I think you said . . .”
  • Admit it if there is a communication problem; “I don’t understand.”
  • Write down words the student does not know.

Compiled by Tracy Henniger-Chiang (1997), Director of Global Language Institute; UW-River Falls.