10 Types of Learners all ESL Teachers Have Met

Ten Types of Online Learner we all know and Love.

By Claudia Jackson

When you’ve been teaching online for a while, you`ll start to notice that the students tend to fit into certain types. Some funny, some challenging, all entertaining in their own way! Here are a few I`ve taught over the past three years. Do you recognise any of them? 


These kids love to show you their toys, often having them lined up before the class, which is kind of cute ( depending on how many they have!) I find the best way to deal with this kind of student is to show an interest in the toy, engage with the student and ask a few questions like “What`s his name?” “Bobo? How old/ what colour is Bobo?” If the student continues to show you more toys, gently, but firmly move on with the class. “Ok, Let’s get started!” as you circle something on the screen will usually suffice. Sometimes incorporating a favourite toy into the class can really help participation. “Can Bobo tell me what colour the cat is?” Or bring out your own toy and include them in the class! (All while keeping an eye on the time and making sure you complete the slides.) 


I get it. I really do, these students are super busy and poor mum (or dad) barely has time to whip up a bowl of noodles before sitting little Jack down in front of the computer for his English class. I try to be patient with the slurper, but with a headset on and its right in your ear… well, you know. Sometimes mute really is your best friend! 


You know the one. Their camera shows a nice view of a sofa, but little Tina is nowhere to be seen. Your cheery, “Hi Tina, Where are you?” is met with a resounding silence. But it gets stranger still. When you enable the pencil, a ghostly presence circles items on the screen. And usually gets the right answer. Spooky! 


There are a few types of these students. The one with the funny name, (Turd Pong anyone?) The one you can barely bring yourself to say out loud, (Coc. Really?) And then there`s the student with their name written beneath them in Mandarin. When “what`s your name?” is invariably met with something equally as indecipherable, it may just be easier to call them Bud. “Hey Bud!”


I always feel sorry for these guys. When your “How are you?” is met with a blank stare or the classic, “I`m seven” You know it’s going to be a looong class.  I think in this situation patience and kindness are key (as they are in all lessons) After all its not little Johnny`s fault he got put in a class too hard for him. Try to make the material as easy as possible, skim over the really hard parts, go for lots of repetition and copious praise. At the other end of the spectrum there are the students that are way above level. It`s often easier with these guys as you can fly through the material and extend to make it more engaging and challenging for them. 


I have a bit of a soft spot for the scribbler. There`s something joyously naughty about scribbling with reckless abandon all over the slide, instead of neatly circling. The other students seem to enjoy it too and invariably respond with delighted giggles. All good things must come to an end though and removing the perpetrator’s pencil nips this budding artist`s talents in the bud. 


Can I just say, I find most parents awesome. Their excitement, support, and desire to be involved in their kid`s education is inspirational. However when Mum or Dad get so excited they answer the questions without giving their child a chance to speak, it can become an issue. Usually a “Great job Mum! Now let’s see if Lily can answer by herself” will suffice, but in cases where they can’t be deterred its often easier just to go with it. They are the ones paying for the classes after all. 


If you get one of these little gems in a one-to-one class, teaching is going to be a breeze and the lesson will fly. The teacher’s pet LOVES to show what they can do and are usually unfailingly polite and focused. However in a group class, they have a tendency to answer all the questions, read and participate in games even when it isn’t their turn. Over enthusiasm however should never be discouraged, and usually a gentle reminder that it`s so-and-so`s turn now is all that is required. If not, then it may be time to hit them with the mute. 


Am I the only one who feels slightly nauseous when I am carted from place to place, held upside down and swung from left to right before (if you`re lucky) being unceremoniously propped up on a table somewhere? I’ve been in cars, under tables, in the middle of parties, you name it. Unfortunately in these situations there isn’t a lot you can do, other than suggest they find a quiet place to sit down. It’s also kind of admirable that these kids are so determined to continue learning even when on the go. So just keep swimming, as a famous fish once said. 


Well they are kids, and they have no filter. They are happy to undress, take us with them to the bathroom and show us all (and I mean ALL) of their teeth. Add to that an oblivious dad strolling around in his underpants in the background and its times like these that test our professionalism to the limit. If you can temporarily remove them from class, or disable their camera, it may be best to do so, to spare your blushes as much as theirs. But otherwise just roll with the punches and remember, it`s just another day in the office in the wacky world of online teaching. 

Do any of these little treasures resonate with you? What other characters have you had in class and how do you deal with them? Leave a comment below! 

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I never wanted to be a teacher. My background was in healthcare, first as a nurse and later as a medical translator where long hours, heavy workloads, late nights, and early mornings were the name of the game. Then life and circumstances brought me to Spain, and without the necessary language skills to continue in my chosen field, I had to start again.


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