Here is a list of common areas of specialization for ESL teachers, along with a brief description and links to further reading for each specialty.

Teaching One-to-One (1:2:1)

Short courses or modules about teaching one-to-one prepare ESL teachers for individual tutoring sessions. Teaching a single student one-on-one lessons is a common practice both for children and adults. One-to-one classes require a different toolkit of activities and materials than group classes.

More details: Read Teaching One to One on the British Council’s Teaching English website.

Teaching Business English (BE)

Teaching Business English is an area of specialization perfect for teachers with a background in business or past work experience in a corporate setting. Business English courses might cover topics such as how to communicate clearly and effectively in the workplace, how to write business reports, negotiate a deal, or give presentations to executives.

More details: Again, the British Council has a nice overview of Teaching Business English.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

In the ESL context, CLIL refers to teaching a subject area such as math, music, history, or geography in English to speakers of other languages. Students learn the content of the subject at the same time as a foreign language (English), in integrated lessons.

More details: The Pearson blog has an overview article on CLIL.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

EAP courses prepare speakers of other languages for post-secondary studies in English. These classes develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills needed for tasks in a university or college setting, such as: taking notes, giving class presentations, participating in discussions, reading textbook material, and writing essays and research papers.

More details: Read the University of Delaware EAP course descriptions for an example of a multi-level EAP program.

English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

ESP is a broad term that covers teaching the vocabulary and communication skills needed in a specific setting or discipline, such as medicine, law, science, aviation, business, tourism, finance, etc.

More details: Read this article about ESP on or dive deeper with this book on English for Specific Purposes published by Cambridge.

Teaching Exam Preparation (TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS)

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are three of the most common standardized tests for measuring a non-native English speaker’s ability to understand and communicate in English. Good scores on these tests are often required for employment, study, or visas in English-language countries. Courses to prepare students for succeeding in these standardized tests are in high demand, so training in exam preparation is one area where ESL teachers may choose to specialize.

TOEFL and TOEIC are both developed by the US nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS). Since 2014, these courses have not been offered for visa purposes in the UK after the BBC reported on systematic fraud at some testing centres.

IELTS is “jointly owned” by three organizations: the British Council, Cambridge Assessment English, and IDP: IELTS Australia.

More details: All the official websites of the tests offer some guidance to teachers in how to prepare students, though some resources are paid.


Many TEFL training schools offers grammar courses for ESL teachers online through short, stand-alone modules. Some are purely grammar refreshers on parts of speech, tenses, etc. while other grammar courses also cover how to teach grammar in an ESL setting. If you expect to teach advanced learners and your grammar skills are feeling wobbly, make sure the course you choose covers advanced topics such as modals and phrasal verbs.

More details: This article from ThoughtCo covers many questions about teaching grammar, but I especially liked the explanation of bottom-up vs top-down approaches.

Technology Courses

There are a variety of short TEFL training modules focused on technology. Some courses cover many aspects of using digital tools as part of regular lessons. This might include specific apps and software recommendations to use with students or for preparing lessons. Other types of courses deal with a single delivery method such as “Telephone Teaching” or “Teaching Online” with tips for planning entire lessons in a virtual environment.

More details: The British Council article on how to get started teaching online is, yes, a great place to start. For more ideas, the technology category on TESLOntario’s Blog covers examples of classroom activities as well as reflections on technology use by teachers in the field.

Teaching Young Learners (YL)

Generally, TEFL certification courses will focus on how to teach adults. Specialist training in teaching young learners covers areas such as games, activities, classroom management techniques, and teaching strategies appropriate for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school aged learners. YL courses may or may not cover teenagers, a whole other ballgame, although a few schools are beginning to offer courses focusing specifically on the adolescent age group.

YL courses are mainly offered as short modules, usually online. Face-to-face YL specialist training is harder to find. Two options include the Cambridge English-accredited certificates CELT-P and CELT-S for primary and secondary school aged learners, respectively, and Trinity College’s Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate.

More details: Back to the British Council for Five Essential Tips for Teaching Very Young Children English, an article filled with further links.

Find a Specialist Course:

Written by Karen Bee

Karen taught ESL in South Korea for seven years before returning to Canada.

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