How to teach adult restarters

Are you considering working with adults? Have you been approached by adults who would like to brush up their English or restart from where they’d stopped some years ago? In these cases you may not know exactly what they need and/or you maybe unsure of where to start with them.


By Maroussa Pavli

Those learners sometimes say ‘‘I’d like to start my English again” or “I need English for my work” and seem to be unable to provide you with more details about what they really need. They often say ‘’I’d like to complete/ finish my English’’ which can be quite annoying as a request or wish, as it shows how they view language learning. Is learning English a task that you start and then complete, in the same way that you do your household chores or your food shopping? But, this is a complex topic, beyond the focus of this article. Let’s return to the topic of this article; restarters.


RESTARTERS: Who are they?


The truth of the matter is that adult restarters come in all ages, forms and shapes. Some would like to reach a certain language level and sit for an exam in order to acquire a certificate that they need for their job or in order to apply and be chosen for a specific work position in Greece or abroad. Or they may need that certificate in order to be admitted to an English language programme offered by a Greek or an international university in a foreign country. There are those who simply choose to study English again for their own individual reasons. Or some may need to use English for communication at their workplace. Since there are different types of restarterts, each having different reasons for restarting and different goals, understanding how this affects your choices in terms of content and materials to use with them is of great importance.


This article will introduce you to the world of teaching adult restarters and provide some ideas on how you can work with them. Speaking from experience, I can say that because adults restarters is such a diverse  learner group working with them can be very interesting as well as rewarding for the teacher.


If you’ve read articles of mine about adult teaching, either on the printed version of ELT news or its website, you may already be familiar with terms such as performing learner needs analysis and promoting learner independence. These are two of the most important concepts of working with restarters.




Before starting a new course with a restarter, it’s necessary to perform a needs analysis. This describes the process during which you find as much as you can about your learner profile and English language need.


In order to perform a needs analysis you need to:


  1. Talk with learners about their past learning language experiences in order to find as much information as possible about your learner profile. Find out how long they’d studied English before giving up, at what level they stopped, why they didn’t continue, and if they’d taken part in any language exams. Understanding what your learners believe about language learning, listening to any misconceptions they may have about it and what kind of attitude they have towards the English language and culture is essential, too. In other words, invest some time in examining your learner profile as much as you can. It will pay off later, as it will help you in your course planning and developing a good rapport with them.


  1. Ask learners why they’d like to restart now. Do they urgently need to complete a specific task for their studies [e.g. make a university presentation] or at their workplace [e.g. write a report in English/prepare a presentation] or practise their speaking, before travelling abroad for pleasure or work? Or are they simply interested in regular teaching sessions in order to brush up or improve their skills further? Or do they wish to combine an urgent communication need, such as the ones described in the examples earlier in this paragraph, with further development of their language skills? To put it simply, you need to understand what the short-term and/or long-term goal of their wish to restart English. This will help you choose, combine or supplement materials and think about classwork and homework, teaching process, learner assessment and overall course planning.


  1. Request access to authentic samples of documents, emails, forms, reports that your learners work with at university or at their workplace or any English-language materials/resources of general interest that they’d like to be able to use on a regular basis. If you teach professionals, ensure that the samples that you’re given access to are not confidential. These materials can be used in various ways. They can be utilised as part of the needs analysis you’re performing, because it can show you what skills learners need to develop, what kind of language level they need to be working on, what everyday needs they have. They can also be used as teaching materials during your sessions and/or samples for the design of new tasks and be a starting point for your own search for teaching resources for the specific learners.


  1. After completing your needs analysis, use all information available to you in order to design a course tailor-made to your learner needs. However, you need to be aware of the fact that their needs can often change, so you should be ready to adjust your plans, adjust to new situations and be flexible.


  1. Select teaching resources that are available in the market and/or supplement with extra material chosen based on learner everyday language needs. I believe that having a coursebook as a basis of your teaching can work well, in general, because it gives learners a specific reference point. This, however, is usually not sufficient. Matching the coursebook with additional authentic or adapted resources is essential in order to vary the content and make it more relevant to your learners unique needs.


A word of caution: When you work with restarters, especially professionals, you should come to an agreement on the range of your professional responsibilities. If they need your editing, proofreading or translations services, you can explain to them that providing those services is different from teaching a language. You can choose if you wish to provide these services to them, as an addition to your teaching services, and whether or how much you charge them for the extra work. Being an English language teacher doesn’t mean that you’re ready to undertake any work requiring excellent English language skills and be available to do so 24/7.