Understanding What to Teach

A fundamental part of what we do relies on us knowing what to teach the students, depending on their level. Before we can do that, we need to understand the levels, what they represent and have some ideas of what we teach at each level.


These days we have 2 ways to label a student’s level. The more traditional method involves a group of level scales starting at beginner and ending at proficient. This method is by far the most popular and is how course books classify the level of material the book is aimed towards. More recently, we have the new CEF (Central European Framework) classification. This was designed by the European Union so that an employer can assess exactly what language abilities a potential employee has by standardizing it across all EU languages. It has a scale starting at A1 and finishing at C2.

The Central European Framework

A1      A basic ability to communicate and to give and receive information in a simple way.

A2      A basic ability to communicate on familiar, everyday subjects.

B1     Competent at communicating routine information and starting to be able to express themselves on subjects that are not routine.

B2     Competent at expressing oneself on a complete range of subjects.

C1     Understanding the subtleties of a language and how to express emphasis, sensitivity and hostility.

C2     Near-native speaker, including academic and technical English.

Although the CEF is becoming increasingly popular, by far the most commonly used levelling criteria are:

  • Beginner
  • Elementary
  • Pre-intermediate
  • Intermediate
  • Upper Intermediate
  • Advanced


Student will either be a complete starter or have a few words they picked up from TV, films and music. Sometimes we have ‘false’ beginners. These students learnt English a long time ago but have forgotten most of it. At this level we teach:

  • Present Simple;

  • Present Continuous;

  • Subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it etc.;

  • Question words: what, why, where, how, when;

  • Singular and plural nouns;

  • Verb to be: I am, you are, he is, she is, it is, we are, you are, they are;

  • Alphabet, numbers, days of the week;

  • Basic food, everyday objects, rooms in a house;

  • Countries and nationalities;

  • Immediate family.


The students will start to come to grips with the tenses they have learnt as well as the other basics we teach at the beginning of this level. Due to the continued push with vocabulary, students start to feel confident because they are able to express simple ideas. At this level we teach:

  • Basic verbs: live, work, walk, want, run, eat, drink etc.;
  • Past simple: first regular and then later irregular;
  • Future Simple Tense;
  • Simple adverbs of frequency: usually, sometimes, never;
  • Quantities: how much, how many;
  • Simple adjectives: colours, opposites, eg clean, dirty;
  • Names of shops;
  • Comparative adjectives: bigger, nicer, smaller;
  • Showing ability: I can / I can’t;
  • Weather.


The student has a good grasp of the basics so is introduced to the next level of grammar including tenses and structures such as conditionals. Now a lot of areas of vocabulary are revisited but in more detail. At this level we teach:

  • Present Perfect;
  • Past continuous;
  • Future plans: I am going to…;
  • Modal verbs: must, have to, should, could, need to;
  • First conditional: If it stops raining, I will go to….;
  • Adverbs: slowly, well, easily;
  • Functional language: flying, in a restaurant, checking into a hotel;
  • Parts of the body;
  • Superlatives: The best, the biggest, the worst;
  • Furniture.


This level of student is a very competent English speaker. They have good knowledge and generally only make small mistakes. Fluency is sometimes a problem. They often feel as though they have reached stagnation because it is difficult to see the improvement. Now they are properly introduced to idioms and phrasal verbs. At this level we teach:

  • Second Conditional: If you won a lot of money, what would you do?; 
  • Gerunds and Infinitives;
  • Past Perfect;
  • Present Perfect Continuous;
  • Relative Clauses;
  • Reported Speech;
  • Polite forms: Would you mind, I’m afraid; 
  • Idioms: the apple of his eye, it’s no picnic;
  • Phrasal verbs: break in, break down, break up;
  • Expressions: on the whole, whereas, overall, specifically.

Upper Intermediate

At this level the student is able to communicate on a wide range of subjects. The students start to use idioms and phrasal verbs but from time to time they will use them incorrectly or get the context slightly wrong. For example, they may use a formal phrase in a conversation with a friend.

By now this student will have great fluency and vocabulary but there will be small pockets of information missing or information related to more specific subjects. There will be pieces of complicated grammar that they use incorrectly. At this level we teach:

  • Third Conditional: If he had told me, I would have helped him;
  • Modal verbs in the past: I could have done it, I should have done it;
  • Past Perfect Continuous;
  • Future Perfect;
  • Specific areas of vocabulary, eg science, media, criminal words: arrest, software, broadcasting.


This level describes students who are of near-native ability. This is the highest level a student can be, without ever spending time in a country where English is the first language. At this level we teach:

  • Question Tags;
  • Metaphor;
  • Natural English;
  • Slang;
  • Prefixes and suffixes: unlike, likeable.