Teaching advanced students


No need to be afraid…

Types of advanced student

Your student could be an English teachers in their own country, a student of English literature or linguistics or a person who has attended international schools from a young age. Many come to Britain to brush up their spoken English, learn new vocabulary and expressions and immerse themselves in the culture. You could find:

  • Confident and fluent speakers who need more vocabulary and accuracy.
  • Very bright academic students (studied linguistics?) who need more fluency and informal English.

Advanced students will be at the Common European Framework level of C1 or C2, and may have passed advanced exams such as Cambridge CAE or Proficiency or have an IELTS score above 6.5.

Learning history

Advanced learners often have a clear idea about how they prefer to learn. This means that you should discuss this with your student at the start of the course. For example some may expect and want a lot of correction and others won’t.

Academic students

Some advanced students will have studied linguistics and be used to analysing English grammar in rather academic terms. Unless you are extremely confident in such areas it is usually wiser to focus on more down-to-earth matters such as vocabulary development and awareness of informal English.


Students at higher levels can sometimes find it difficult to sense progress. Revision lessons and giving regular positive feedback can help.


  • Make sure you have a good grammar and usage reference book such as Practical English Usage by Michael Swan and advanced grammar and vocabulary practice books. These resources can help you prepare lessons as well as providing material for homework.
  • Tape recorder. Recording advanced students on tape can be used for self-correction.
  • BBC and newspaper websites for short, up-to-date texts.
  • Culture. Higher level students may well be very interested in literature/culture and history. Make the most of local libraries, architecture and TV history channels.


  • Change texts from formal to informal. Can be a challenging activity likely to involve using phrasal verbs. Very informal language such as slang is interesting but very difficult for students to use appropriately. Perhaps better to teach as part of listening activities.
  • Develop awareness of word combinations. These can range from idioms to expressions. Do try to focus on the most useful and avoid those that are rarely used. ’To be as drunk as a lord’ is not much use to any student but ‘To change one’s mind’ is! Looking through texts for word combinations is interesting and productive.
  • Use authentic materials. Magazines, newspapers, Internet articles (BBC, newspaper sites, Wikipedia), podcasts and radio/TV for vocabulary, reading and listening is more suitable for advanced students than those at lower level. Try hard to use materials that are of interest to your student, are not too long and be clear what you are asking your student to do. If you are using a text, is it for
    • scanning or skimming practice?
    • preparation for discussion?
    • showing sentence structures?
    • a source of new vocabulary or example of a level of formality?

Please note that many authentic materials are badly written and/or boring so choose texts with care.

  • Work on elements of pronunciation. Even advanced students will need to work on certain sounds, word stress patterns, linking, intonation and weak forms (eg fish n chips). However, be aware that most students don’t actually want to sound exactly like native speakers but certainly want help with pronunciation. This is an interesting area for discussion/negotiation.
  • Note taking. Can be useful for students likely to listen to lectures and seminars in English or attend meeting where English is spoken. This is primarily a listening exercise so the notes can be taken in their mother tongue but reviewed in English. You can play the role of lecturer or use recorded video/audio.
  • Grammar. Most students will not want to concentrate for too long on grammar but short remedial sessions can be very effective. You could also teach exceptions, special cases and less common structures. A few common areas are given below:
    • Relative pronouns – advanced uses
    • Phrasal verbs/multi-word verbs – structure and meaning
    • Articles – advanced uses
    • Modal verbs – less common uses
    • Referring to future time – less common ways
    • Conditionals – advanced uses
    • Ellipsis (leaving words out) eg ‘Seen Harry?’, ‘Do what you want’, ‘Black, one sugar’

Please note: It is often better to teach advanced grammar remedially i.e. after (not before) an error has been made.

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5 Responses to Teaching advanced students


  1. Anne-N says:

    very helpful and encourages me that i am on the right track but also gives me further ideas as I progress


  3. IanBarker says:

    Glad to hear that Anne.


  5. KariD says:

    Thanks Ian, I have had a couple of advanced students recently and found these ideas to be very useful. Grammar after an error has occured is certainly a good one and also the use of authentic materials. We have had an interesting time looking at songs and their lyrics – lots of good metaphors and idioms!


    • IanBarker says:

      Hi Kari. Yes delving into songs or poems can be fruitful for higher level students as, among other things, they have the vocabulary and can appreciate ambiguity and non-standard usage. Of course songs and even poetry can be done at much lower levels but you have to approach it very carefully. Thanks for letting me know.


  7. KelvinFowler says:

    Margaret.I. commented 25/01/2013:

    “This is very helpful… my C1 student is interesting to teach and appreciates grammar after an error has been made, I just have to make sure to make plenty of notes when she is speaking for review afterwards.”

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