How to help a middle school student learn English as quickly as possible

middle school kids drawing, singing and teens acting

Here is a typical teaching problem

A bright 11-year-old girl is studying English at middle school and having one private lesson per week. She picks everything up really quickly and gets good marks in the tests at school, but the next week, she has forgotten it all. Each week the private English teacher has to start again, every time and he thinks that this is because they only have one lesson a week. The student loves music, singing, drawing and painting. The teacher wants to make lessons fun and motivate the student to do some English outside of lesson time.


In response, the first thing I will say is that children can remember English learned from one week to the next, even if they only have a lesson for an hour. To achieve this one needs to apply four principles:

1. Do not teach too much new language at a time.

A maximum of six new vocabulary words per lesson or one grammar point is enough.

2. Play revision games in every lesson

that cover everything learned so far. Revision games are any games that cover a wide range of vocabulary or language quickly. These could be card games that use flashcards, quiz games, brainstorming games, association games, memory games, or story games. All these types of games and plenty more are in 176 English Language Games for Children.

3. Make the language real by using it in context.

The idea way of learning for this student is to prepare and perform skits. The vocabulary and grammar points come alive in real dialogues, with props and actions, and finally, with performance to a video or parents at the end. The situation, setting, actions, and frequent repetition through rehearsals, mean that the language sticks and children remember it easily from one week to the next. In fact, they remember it for years!

4. Exploit the student’s talents.

The more a student enjoys a lesson, the more motivated he or she will be. Using games and skits are ways to achieve this. In addition, play around with topics that are dear to the heart of your student. In the case of this particular 11-year-old, capitalize on the fact that she is musical. If you teach her English using her favourite songs, she will be singing along to them all week in between lessons. See the resources box below for a blog post all about using songs with pointers on how to go about it.

This particular student also enjoys drawing and painting. Give her projects such as creating flashcards or cards for Happy Families and use them in lesson time. Get her to make a board game that you can play together in the next lesson.  Board games can be tailored to whatever vocabulary or grammar you require. 

The picture shows one from my series of “About Me” stories. Great board games can be made on the back of a cereal packet, or by sticking white paper onto a cardboard box.

image of one of Shelley Ann Vernon's board games

Resources for middle school pupils

176 English Language Games for Children.  Instant download – Paperback

Fun ESL Role-Plays and Skits for Children.  Instant download – Paperback

About Me stories, including illustrated stories, lesson plans with games, flashcards, worksheets and board games.  Instant download. Also PowerPoint and movie version by native speakers.

Blog post on teaching English with songs: Getting teens learning English through songs

2 thoughts on “How to help a middle school student learn English as quickly as possible”

  1. Very interesting and helpful! Our school year is about to start …. and for sure I am going to put some of these ideas into practise …. I like lively lessons and help those students who have a different rhythm of learning …. Thank you very much.
    Xo Xo

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