Digital Age Teaching and Learning

Tips to Help ESL Students Present Their Projects

Tips to Help ESL Students Present Their Projects

Many teachers find the idea of doing project-based learning engaging and effective in the classroom, but need tips to help their ESL students to present their projects. The challenge with ESL students tends to arise because much of the content that needs to be taught is concrete rather than open to interpretation.

As a result, the idea of having to present project work can be an intimidating experience for many non-native English speakers—especially if their English level is lower than the class average. Some students will invest hours in their presentation only to be disappointed by the outcome, while others will try to shortcut the process without really benefitting in any way from the process. It can be a frustrating process for both teachers and students.

Here’s how to help them.

Improve Fluency

ESL students need to feel comfortable speaking. Part of this comfort is helping them to improve their fluency in speaking (i.e. their fluency in communicating their thoughts and ideas) even if their communication is not always accurate. As a teacher, it’s important to know when to drill accuracy and when to step back and let students simply focus on communicating.

To improve student fluency, students need to speak English as much as possible. It may sound like an oversimplification, but the more students speak, the more their speaking improves, which, in turn, improves their confidence in speaking.

Rehearsed language, such as functions and choral drills, is important for ESL students, but so are presentation skills. Through presenting their work, students benefit from using English that directly relates to their immediate environment and can help to motivate them further in their English studies.

When students do well, their peers praise them, which helps to bolster their confidence further. This confidence, and the presentation skills they learn in the process, will help them even more in future lessons and project-based learning, and will produce a positive ripple that truly benefits the students.

Preparing Students for Presentations

Students learn from good models. In most classrooms, the teacher serves as the students’ model as can stronger students. However, it’s also good to step back from this role and show them other models.


Personally, I like to use student examples from previous years when helping ESL students to improve in a certain area. I find that students are more encouraged by their peers’ success because they see that the task is achievable. It’s too easy for teachers to tell students that they can do a particular task without really motivating the student; some ESL students need to see their peers succeed in order to know that they, too, can do something.

If you don’t have any student examples of presentations—or you’re not allowed to use them!—look for examples of good presentations online. TED Talks is always a good option for finding a range of interesting and encouraging talks on various topics. As a plus, there’s even a blog dedicated to lessons for English language learners, which provides level-appropriate examples. also recommends American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the Century, which offers video and audio clips in addition to the transcripts.

Presentation Guidelines

Help your ESL students to prepare their presentations by guiding them with a checklist and step-by-step process. Your checklist should include information such as expected length, topic, required visuals and, if applicable, mandatory vocabulary. Make sure to emphasize the differences between spoken and written English.

Once students understand the requirements of the presentation, give them time to brainstorm ideas. It’s often useful for ESL students to brainstorm in pairs, small groups or even as a class before narrowing down the focus of their own work.

Script Writing

The presentation script is often the most daunting part for ESL students. Many students, especially when they lack confidence, feel more comfortable writing out every word of their speech. This is often so that they can perfect the grammar, but also serves as something of a crutch because they feel more confident memorizing and regurgitating a speech rather than speaking freely. The idea of key cards can send most ESL students into complete panic!


If your students still need this safety net, let them write their entire speech and incorporate peer editing into the process. This will help them to relax somewhat as their peer can provide insight to any ambiguity in the presentation as well as praise for the effective parts.

The next step is to work with your students to create key cards. These are the cards that they’ll actually use during their presentation. Many ESL students believe that key cards are merely a small card version of their entire speech: This is not true! Part of the presentation skills that they should be learning and practicing include effective use of key cards. Your students will likely need a lot of guidance and support in identifying main ideas and finding the key words that activate what they want to focus on in their speech regarding that idea.

Once students finalize their key cards, it’s essential to give them time to practice! Let them practice with a partner, in front of a mirror or in small groups—anything that allows them to have an audience. It’s often effective to let them start their practice with just a single person before moving onto small groups and eventually the entire class.

Incorporating Visual Aids

Many ESL students, especially in the early stages of their English studies, tend to think that visual aids are simply images (printed or via powerpoint) that form a static background to their presentation. They either find too many images—many of which are not always relevant to their presentation—or they have one or two key images.

Either way, the images often lay forgotten rather than being used to enhance their presentations. Therefore, students need guidance as to what type of visuals to incorporate and how and when to use them during their presentation. It may be a good idea to pre-approve all visuals for your students’ presentations and for them to write the use of their visuals into their key cards.

Addressing Body Language During Presentations

It’s important for all students to be aware that body language plays an essential part in our communication—especially during presentations. Among the most common problems for ESL students are the pace, clarity and volume of their speech during a presentation. Try to incorporate practice of these aspects into your preparation stages and provide students with good models to mimic.

Presentation Day

It’s important to remind students that presentations can sometimes go badly despite one’s best efforts and thorough preparation. It happens. It even happens to good presenters!

Try to incorporate peer and teacher feedback and focus on things that the students do particularly well during their presentation. Remember that it’s easier for students to identify negatives rather than positives, but it’s important for them to be aware of the things that they’re already doing well. While this may be harder to point out for some students, there’s always something that a student does well—highlighting that is what will help to keep them motivated for future presentations and reduce the overall terror that most students have when asked to speak in front of their peers.


Anderson, Marc. “Five Tips for Getting the ESL Student Talking.” July 18, 2013. Accessed February 6, 2016.

King, Jane. “Preparing EFL Learners for Oral Presentations.” March 3, 2002. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Terrell, Shelley. “20 Tips and Resources to Help Learners with Their Presentation Skills.” June 14, 2012. Accessed February 6, 2016.

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