How do ESL students learn best?

Over the years there have been several different methods put forward as the best way to teach English to non-native speakers. However, the ESA method is generally seen by most schools and language centers worldwide as the most effective way to approach ESL lessons. At ITTT we have used this method as the basis of our TESOL training courses for many years as we firmly believe it offers the very best structure for planning and delivering English language lessons to ESL students, no matter what their background.

What is the ESA method?

ESA stands for Engage, Study, Activate. This method is designed to give the teacher an organized structure in which to develop and plan their lessons, while also giving the students the opportunity to learn in a fun and productive way. Essentially, the engage phase is used to raise the students interest and get them in the right mindset for learning. The study phase is where the specific topic of the lesson is taught, while during the activate phase the students get to practice what they have learned.

An ESA lesson can be structured in whatever way is best for the teacher to deliver the chosen lesson. A standard structure of the ESA method is known as a straight arrow lesson, where the lesson starts with an engage phase that leads into a study phase and then concludes with an activate phase. Teachers can also use other formats of ESA lessons known as a boomerang structure or a patchwork structure.

A boomerang lesson would follow an EASA structure as there is a second activate stage early in the lesson that is used to identify what the students already know and don’t know about the lesson subject. A patchwork structure can involve any number of study and activate stages that the teacher feels are necessary to get the subject across successfully to the students. The key thing to remember is that every lesson must always start with an engage phase and always finish with an activate phase.

The Engage Phase

No matter what structure the lesson takes, it must always begin with an engage phase as this is where the students get prepared to learn. This phase can utilize a wide range of activities that are designed to grab the students attention and to prepare them for the upcoming study. The teacher can use games, pictures, real objects, discussions, miming and acting, or simple questions to get the students thinking and speaking in English. It can be useful if this stage elicits some of the language that will be taught in the study phase, but it is not essential. The main goal of the engage phase is to get the whole class engaged and ready to learn.

The Study Phase

Once the engage phase is complete, usually no more than around five to ten minutes, the teacher moves onto the study phase of the lesson. The purpose of the study phase is for the teacher to actually teach the students new words or topics and show them the correct way of using them. During this stage the teacher can utilize a combination of activities to solidify the topic of the lesson in the minds of the students, such as studying from texts, example sentences, crosswords, gap-fill exercises, word searches, matching games, and drilling. This phase is also where the teacher can correct any errors made by the students to ensure they have a good understanding of the subject matter.

The Activate Phase

No matter what type of ESA format the teacher is using, the lesson will always conclude with an activate stage where the teacher utilizes an activity that is designed to give the students the chance to practice what they have learned during the study phase. Activities that are commonly used in this phase include whole class discussions, role-play, story building, making posters or advertisements, simulations, and debates. During the activity the teacher will be able to gauge how well the class has grasped the topic of the day and whether further lessons are required to ensure full understanding.

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