I am someone who's been learning English as a second language from a very young age, through consuming A LOT of American media, as a result, I grew up to be very fluent in it, and because I pretty much learned the way a native would, I have an intrinsic understanding of how to use the language, but not how it's rules work, in other words, I can write a sentence correctly if asked to do so, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you why I wrote it that way.

I've been considering putting my skill to use in tutoring, I even went and got a TESOL/TEFL certificate to give myself a level of legitimacy, and I have been trying to rectify the problem mentioned above teaching myself about the different aspects of the language, I've even built a sort of database using Dynalist.

It's a bit messy but here are the topics I've already gone through already:

  • Sentence Components
  • Sentence Structure Types
  • Pronouns
  • Tenses
  • Passive And Active Voices
  • Types Of Verbs
  • Participles
  • Homophones, Homographs and Homonyms
  • Affixes
  • Word Roots
  • Punctuation
  • Phonetics (IPA)

There are things like vocabulary which I'm not sure how to approach since I learned words simply by picking them up here and there, as for the process of teaching itself, I'll be referring back to the TESOL/TEFL course I took.

I will also be looking through highschool textbooks to know what is being taught and how, but for now I thought I'd get some professional input on the matter regarding what I'm missing.

My three main target demographics would be:

  • Highschool students looking to improve their grades.
  • Adults looking to learn English as a way to further their careers.
  • Young kids still learning the basics of the language.
    (Though I'm still on the fence regarding this one)

So I would love to know what areas of the English language I should focus on learning to be a more effective teacher for each of these groups.

Remember, this is for ESL, so I won't be getting into to the deeper aspects of the language, at least not initially.

Thank you.

  • 1
    It all depends on who you will be teaching (individuals or groups, children or adults) and what their learning goals are. Some tutees may want explicit grammar instruction and others may want practice in the particular language skills they need in their job (e.g. making presentations, writing reports). If you amend your question to ask about a specific learning context and tutee learning need, you may get a useful answer from someone experienced in that area.
    – Shoe
    Sep 14, 2023 at 18:42
  • @Shoe Done, thank you...again.
    – The Riser
    Sep 15, 2023 at 0:09
  • 1
    [high school] I suggest you go and find a textbook that uses a gradual approach to difficulty.
    – Lambie
    Sep 16, 2023 at 19:03
  • @Lambie In my country each year has an assigned textbook (Two if I remember, one for lessons and one for exercises), my plan was to check the lesson books from each year (maybe even some from middle school) to get an idea of that gradual approach you mentioned, thank you.
    – The Riser
    Sep 17, 2023 at 12:53
  • Gradual approach would mean, for example, learning the simple past before the present perfect.
    – Lambie
    Sep 17, 2023 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


In terms of grammatical content, everything you need to know as a teacher of English to non-native speakers can be found in The Grammar Book - An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman. At the end of each chapter there is a section called Teaching Suggestions. Here are two suggestions in the chapter on the passive.

-2. Form. Ask students to close their eyes. Change five things about the room. Ask students to open their eyes and to guess what changes have been made. For example: The lights have been turned off.

-8. Use. Find a short article on science such as in Science News. Ask students to read the article, locate the passive sentences, and say why they think the author used the passive. Also, they should try to explain why an agent has been mentioned, if it has.

The Teaching Suggestions section in each chapter of The Grammar Book is followed by a set of exercises to "test your understanding of what has been presented". For example, the chapter Reference and Possession has this exercise:

  1. One of your students heard a native speaker say, "This prize was given to Edgar and I." Your student asks you if this sentence is ok. What will you reply?

The Appendix of the book has a section in which you will find answers to all the end-chapter exercises. The answer to the "What will you reply?" question includes:

Native speakers sometimes do violate the prescriptive rules of pronoun use and use subject pronouns where object pronouns are called for. For example, … . You can explain to your ESL/EFL students that they won't be wrong in following the prescriptive rules, even though not all native speakers abide by them all the time.

Finally, each chapter ends with a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and end notes.

A second book recommendation is Learner English: A teacher's guide to interference and other problems by Swan & Smith. This will give you a comprehensive overview of the typical problems that non-native speakers of the major languages have in learning English.

So much for the expected content knowledge of an English language tutor. As for the pedagogical knowledge and expertise, see @Tommi's answer. In respect of vocabulary teaching I can recommend Learning Vocabulary in Another Language by Paul Nation. It states in the introduction: "This book is intended to be used by second and foreign language teachers."

My final suggestion: If you have a specific question that arises in the course of your tutoring, you could ask it here, including information about the native language of your student and what it is he or she having difficulty with. For example: How can I help my German student with the pronunciation of the /th/ sound in words such as 'the' and 'thing'?

Best wishes for your tutoring!

  • I've already obtained both "The Grammar Book" and "Learning Vocabulary in Another Language" since you recommended them over on the English Stack Exchange, I just found "Learner English" as well. I will not be delving as deep into them (or into all of them for that matter) initially, as I'm hoping to start as soon as possible, but they will definitely be invaluable. "The Grammar Book" seems like a good starting point so that's what I'll be reading first. Thank you!
    – The Riser
    Sep 17, 2023 at 16:42
  • Worth mentioning that it's worth hanging on to/acquiring different editions of Learner English if they turn up cheaply. This is because the different editions don't all cover the same languages. There's a further tip buried in Shoe's bit of advice there, which is that it's a very good idea to learn a little bit about the L1s (first languages) of the students you are teaching - and that's especially true if you're teaching monolingual classes. Sep 18, 2023 at 13:08

As a general principle for teaching, you need three kinds of knowledge (the terminology is adapted from the TPACK-model, but the idea is more general):

  • Content knowledge (which you are asking about)
  • Pedagogical knowledge (providing structure to the teaching; introducing things, working with them, reflecting on what was done; the cognitive demands of different tasks and when to use which; and a lot more, especially with children)
  • Pedagogical content knowledge (how to go about teaching the particular content to the particular pupils/students)

You seem to have a hang on the content knowledge, though a better control does not hurt. I would recommend you to take a look at some book on didactics of language teaching, or English teaching in particular, or even English as a foreign language teaching in particular. Look for books targeted at teachers or teacher students.

Language education is not my field, so I can not suggest a particular book, but looking at the syllabus of a university or two where they teach language didactics (or language education or whatever name is in use where in the world) should allow you to identify a basic textbook on the subject matter.

  • My only source of pedagogical knowledge currently is the TESOL/TEFL I mentioned above, and it does cover the teaching process to a sufficient degree, at least for now, you can see the outline here (worldtesolacademy.com/course/tefl-tesol-course). I'll still look into didactics though, there's always more to learn, thank you.
    – The Riser
    Sep 17, 2023 at 14:08

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