Teacher trainers talk ESAP: Keeping online learners engaged and motivated


ESAP stands for Engage, Study, Activate and Practice. It’s an easy-to-follow framework for teaching online that helps teachers keep students engaged and motivated, while making it quick and easy to plan effective lessons.  

We spoke to expert teacher trainers Michael Brand, Billie Jago and Magdalena Kania about their views on ESAP and also asked them to share their top tips for teaching online. 

Find out what they had to say and learn more in their practical webinars. 

Find out more about ESAP. 

Teaching exam classes using the ESAP Framework

Billie Jago tells us how the ESAP framework helps keep her students motivated when they’re preparing for an English exam. 

For Billie, one way of motivating students is to encourage them to use Pearson’s online tools, which give them instant feedback and grading. 

“This can help learners see what they still need to focus on in order to achieve exam success, as well as what they’re already doing well,” she says.

In her view, students often feel more motivated and engaged in lessons when they feel they’re in charge of their own learning and working at a pace that suits their needs.

“Give students a choice of possible activities – either for homework or in class – and allow them to choose which ones they want to do. If in class, you could take a class vote on the topic and tasks to do in the following lesson,” she says.

At the same time, Billie recommends varying the way exam tasks are completed. 

“They don’t always have to be done individually with a heads-down approach. Make them more dynamic by adding an element of competition (with a B2 or C1 sentence transformation task, for example) or allow students to work together and learn from each other.”

Pearson ESAP teacher trainers

Getting creative with exam preparation at home using ESAP

When it comes to getting exam prep students to practice at home, Billie has lots of creative ideas. 

“A creative activity I’ve tried with students focuses on the Speaking part of an exam. Students record themselves, with audio or video, answering a set of exam questions. They then send it to a peer to give feedback, before finally sending it to you, the teacher,” she says.

Billie has some suggestions for using online platforms too. 

“You could also use an online platform such as Flipgrid or Padlet if your students are happy for the rest of the class to see or hear their recordings,” she says. “You could then ask students to watch a real-life speaking exam video and have them analyze the test-takers using the marking criteria, to then feedback on in the lesson. They’re often harsher critics than the actual examiner!”

Billie also suggests that you encourage students to organize their own pair or group Zoom chats where they can complete their practice tasks. 

“They can work collaboratively on homework and learn from each other as well as practicing their speaking. I think it’s important for students to still feel ‘a togetherness’ in their learning, even if they’re studying independently at home.”

Find out more about teaching online exam classes using the ESAP Framework in this webinar with Billie: 

Teaching teens online using ESAP

Michael Brand explains how he deals with challenges and uses to keep teens on track using ESAP 

“I think if you’ve got your class ‘on side’ and engaged in general then there’s no reason why every stage in the ESAP procedure can’t be successful. That said, teens aren’t always enamored of the idea of ‘homework’ so if I had to pick the most challenging stage I’d go with the P: Practice.”

Although getting teens doing their homework is sometimes tough, Michael says online practice often has its advantages:

“There’s instant feedback, which makes the activities more attractive. And, as the students get tips, they can also try again and get a better score. In this way, they’re showing themselves they’re making progress,” he says

He also has some tips for increasing student motivation.

“And if the teacher follows this up in the next lesson and praises students or addresses misunderstandings, then that can add to motivation too,” he says. “Making these online activities part of a final grade is also an option!”

Engaging teenage English language students online

Michael believes that online tasks that are personalized, active and include a game element work best. 

“I like asking students how they’re doing or what they’ve been up to. They answer in the chatbox and I get them to spot what they have in common,” he says. “It’s beneficial to establish links and feelings of togetherness.”

When it comes to engaging online collaboration, Michael has even more tips.

“I like using the annotation tools in video conferencing platforms. You can have lots of students working at the same time, for example completing an acrostic poem with the title of the lesson written on the whiteboard. In this activity, the students write words related to the title of the lesson (seeing what they know), or drawing pictures with others guessing what they are,” he says. 

Michael is a fan of using guessing games.

“For example, I like getting the students to send me something by private message, reading out responses and the rest of the class guess who thee answers belong to. Of course, they have to give their reasons too. The questions could be on anything, he says: “Favorite films, holiday destination, or whatever the topic of the lesson is.”

Find out more about teaching teens online using the ESAP Framework in this webinar with Michael:

Using ESAP to teach adult English language students online

Magdalena Kania told us about the main benefits of following the ESAP framework when teaching adults online. First, she was struck by its clarity and simplicity. 

“The greatest benefit for me is the time-saving aspect of using it. Teachers are busy people and using ESAP to plan our lessons can incredibly reduce the workload,” she says. “It’s much easier to break our lessons into 4 stages and think of activities we can use within these stages rather than writing detailed lesson plans.” 

Magda is keen to point out that ESAP is also a useful framework that’s here to stay. 

“The ESAP framework is not a fad, it’s deeply rooted in evidence that stood the test of time. As for teaching adults, a well-structured lesson with a clear goal and plentiful opportunities to practice the language is what my students really appreciate and benefit greatly from,” she says.

And how does Magda make the most of the ESAP framework?

“I always make sure the material is presented using small steps, providing models and scaffolding for difficult tasks, she says.  “So, when we move towards the Activate stage of our lesson students feel confident and willing to use newly-acquired language.” 

Activating what adult learners have been studying

Magda finds the Activate stage to be the most challenging but also rewarding to teach because it really pushes her students to do more than they thought they could.

“The Activate stage is my favorite as I love the moment when my students get out of their comfort zones. To make it more engaging and kind of more natural to them, I use the activities in which they can relate to whatever we worked on during the previous stages, more on a personal level.”

Does Magda have any tips on how to find an activity that will appeal to your students?

“We need to remember that what seems interesting and engaging for us, teachers, might not be equally interesting for our students. That is why, giving them a choice, a voice, and a range of options, for example, questions, really works well with my adult students,” she says.

Magda also shares her favorite interview activity to engage students. 

“Students are supposed to interview their partner but they design the questions based on the content of our lesson and using structures we practiced,” she says. “So it’s totally up to them to decide what they are going to incorporate into this activity, like which forms they are willing to practice, which ideas they are going to discuss, etc.” 

As a follow-up, Magda’s students share their findings (the interview) with the group, proving that they can rephrase, elaborate, and summarize new material. 

“Working that way makes them realize they learn a language to use it and not just to know it,” she says.

Find out how to plan effective online lessons in this webinar with Magda:

If you enjoyed these webinars, watch the full YouTube playlist now! 


Are you using the ESAP framework in your online classes? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave us a comment below.

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