Are There Students Too Advanced to Teach?

An EFL teacher recently described to me a challenge he is facing with an advanced student at his school. This adult learner and working professional has enrolled for further language instruction, but the materials currently being used fail to stimulate her. She sees the vocabulary and grammar in the advanced textbook as an unnecessary review. Is she really in need of formal instruction? If so, what should she be taught?

Although an assigned textbook might lack content that is new for a student, the teacher can always supplement instruction with more challenging and engaging materials. At the advanced level, materials are in abundance because authentic texts, videos, and audio podcasts can be used. This also means that materials can easily be selected to match the student’s interests. Does this language learner work in the field of finance? Select an article from The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, or any other source of business news. Perhaps the learner works in the restaurant industry. In that case, a video from Food Network or a food critic’s review might be a good choice. There’s a lot that can be done with texts, videos, and audio podcasts:

  • See my earlier suggestions for working with written texts, which include creating gapped texts or scrambling the paragraphs. These activities can be followed by a detailed comprehension check and then lead into free discussion.
  • Videos can help target multiple skills. In a single lesson, the content can be discussed, vocabulary can be reviewed, and an oral summary can be given. The same video can become a model for suprasegmentals, such as linking. From the transcript, take key sentences and use my variation of the backwards build-up strategy.
  • Podcasts from weather reports to presidential speeches can test listening comprehension, review vocabulary in a fresh context, and serve as a pronunciation or writing model.

Other suggestions for working with a very advanced learner:

  • Photographs can serve to stimulate self-expression.
  • Famous quotations can prompt discussion and give practice with paraphrasing (for more paraphrasing activites click here).
  • Song lyrics can be interpreted and then used for pronunciation practice.

I believe the key is knowing the student’s interests and identifying her needs. You might have the student complete a goals sheet. That process may help you decide which skill(s) to focus on. If the student’s pronunciation is very accurate and her reading and listening comprehension are equally strong, then focus on production both in speaking and writing. She may “know” all the vocabulary presented, but does she use it actively in her own speech? How good is she at organizing her ideas, understanding register, and matching appropriate grammar to specific functions? Below are additional ideas to consider:

  • Debates test students ability to think critically in English and promptly form articulate responses.
  • Oral presentations on topics relevant to her work would be useful. Give specific guidelines and a model.
  • Select a short story or novel to read. The student can retell parts of the story, make predictions, and then write a character description, a book review, or an essay on a main theme. (I love my copy of 75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger Goodman. New York: Bantam Books, 1961.)
  • Old tasks with a fresh, creative spin can help an advanced learner find the enthusiasm to take self-expression to a new level. Consider, for example, my activities How to Incite a Revolution and An Insect’s View. I also think almost any student enjoys activities related to film. (See my film-related activities set 1 and set 2.)

Please feel free to aid our colleague by suggesting more ideas for very advanced learners!


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Campbell says:

    Hello again, Jennifer,

    Thank you for the helpful ideas. I am a new EFL instructor after spending 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor and receiving TEFL certification last year, so I am very open to any suggestions. Thanks again!


    1. You’re very welcome. Please browse older posting by using a keyword search. If I don’t have something on a topic you’re getting ready to teach, let me know. I like posting suggestions and activities directly in response to requests. Happy teaching!

      1. Sandra says:

        Wow! I just discovered this blog and I do think that it is going to be very useful for me and my future as an English teacher. Thank you so much, Jennifer!
        Sandra, from Spain

      2. I’m always very happy when a teacher discovers this blog and likes what s/he finds. 🙂 Thanks, Sandra. I hope you’ll visit again. Good luck in your teaching.

  2. Walton says:

    Bookmarked this post earlier but just got around to reading this. Thanks for this. This is one of my biggest problems. I completely agree that advanced students often have gaps–like knowing a lot of words but using only a handful in speaking. Or being able to talk about their work in a highly technical area, but being unable to describe a simple object (not knowing words like smooth or large or slightly, for example). I try to get my advanced students talking in the first lessons and get a vibe for all the things they can’t do.

    1. For the reason you mentioned and quite a few more, it’s a very good idea to engage advanced students in conversation in those first lessons. I believe in “getting a vibe”, too. 🙂 Over time a teacher develops that ability to assess multiple skills based on verbal output.
      Thanks for commenting.
      Happy teaching to you!

  3. Esmeralda says:

    Thanks a lot for your suggestions now I can plan my lessons in a very wide variety of activities for all levels and make it more interesting

    1. I’m very glad some of my ideas will support your instruction. Best wishes to you and your students!

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