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The Functions of an ESL Teacher in Class

The Functions of an ESL Teacher in Class | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Every English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher desires to successfully teach their students how to proficiently speak, understand, and use the English language. English is a very complex language, and teaching it presents many challenges. Because of this, an ESL teacher must be willing and able to take on various roles throughout the teaching of a lesson. During a typical ESL lesson, a teacher will have some, or all, of the following roles: a manager or controller, an organizer, an observer, an assessor, a prompter, a participant, and a resource or facilitator.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jennifer N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


Firstly, every ESL teacher must be a manager or controller during part of the lesson. When a teacher takes on the role of the controller, he or she is essentially in charge of the class. This is different from when students are working together or on their own. In the role of the controller, the teacher is the center of attention. He or she should be standing at the front of the class and giving explanations, doing demonstrations, and modeling speech. It is important to note that this role should only take up a portion of the ESL lesson and should not be overused by the teacher. Students need adequate “talk time” in which they can practice using and applying the material that they are learning.

This is why every ESL teacher must know how to take on the role of the organizer. In this role, the teacher organizes students to do various activities. The teacher must be confident in initiating activities and giving instructions on how to do the activities in a way that the students understand. Often, the teacher must demonstrate or model how the activity is to be performed rather than merely giving a verbal explanation. When giving instructions, the teacher must speak slowly and use simple language. It is helpful if the teacher is consistent with the words they choose to use when giving instructions. When checking to make sure that the students understand the instructions that were given, the teacher should not merely ask, “Do you understand?”. Instead, the teacher should monitor to see if the students are following the instructions correctly.

teacher writing on blackboard

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This leads to the next important role that every ESL teacher should perform: the role of the observer. While students are performing activities, the teacher should be careful going about the room listening and observing. During this role, the teacher can assess how successful an activity is. It is a good idea that the teacher also take notes about how the students are using the language so that they can later correct or praise what they observed. Typically, the teacher must maintain a distance from the students so as not to distract them from the activity that they are involved in.


The role of the assessor. It is extremely helpful for students to know how well they are doing with speaking English. They need feedback from the teacher to improve. An effective ESL teacher will give correction in a way that helps the entire class to learn and does not cause shame. Giving praise to students is extremely important as well. It will help boost their confidence as well as help them to gain rapport with the teacher. As an assessor, the teacher must evaluate their students through grading assignments and progress tests. The teacher must be able to create a syllabus when a course begins so that the students know what to expect in the form of assignments and exams.

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The next important role that every ESL teacher should have is the role of the prompter. When a student gets stuck trying to communicate in English, the teacher must decide what to do. Either the teacher can let the student work it out for himself/herself, or the teacher can take on the role of the prompter and gently encourage the student along. There is much sensitivity to be considered when taking on this role because the teacher will not want to take initiative away from the student.

young teacher


One way that an ESL teacher can prompt their students effectively is by taking on the role of the participant. In this role, the teacher participates in the lesson with the students as an equal, not as a teacher. A teacher may choose to take on the role of a participant to liven up activities from inside the group or simply because the teacher is trying to even the number of students for pair work activities. When a teacher decides to take on this role, they mustn't create a scenario where all the attention is focused on the teacher.

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Finally, an effective ESL will be able to take on the role as a resource and facilitator. There are many aspects that this role entails. From designing syllabuses to setting up activities, the ESL teacher must be able to allow their students to get on with the process of learning the English language for themselves. This role entails providing a solid learning environment. Things that the teacher may wish to consider when acting as a facilitator include seating arrangements and classroom maintenance in the form of crowd control. The teacher must always be available as a resource in case the students need guidance or assistance. Sometimes, the students may need guidance beyond simply learning English. Students may come to the teacher for help or advice with practical or even personal problems. As the teacher, it is important to maintain helpful and professional boundaries with the students.

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All in all, there are many roles that an ESL teacher must perform. An ESL teacher who can flexibly transition through all the required roles will likely be very successful in helping their students to learn English.

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