3 Essential ChatGPT Prompting Skills For ESL Teachers

ChatGPT Prompting Strategies For ESL Teaching

As an EdTech entrepreneur and educator, I’ve seen firsthand how the educational landscape is rapidly evolving, especially for ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching. One tool that has been widely used by both students and teachers is ChatGPT. While there is a lot of talk about how ChatGPT undermines the quality of education and allows students to cheat their way through assignments, I am a firm believer that this technology has the potential to enhance the learning experience if used correctly. Based on my personal experience, here are three ChatGPT prompting skills to help you as an ESL teacher leverage this tool as your personal teaching assistant.

Creating Interactive Language Practice Sessions With The Right ChatGPT Prompting

One of my favorite ways to use ChatGPT is to have it simulate conversations, role-play various scenarios, and create interactive stories for students. This method not only enhances speaking skills but also boosts the confidence of students who are often shy in traditional settings. Additional ideas for interactive sessions include:

1. Conversation Starters

You can prompt ChatGPT to generate conversation topics, like discussing hobbies or environmental issues, to kickstart class discussions. Feel free to personalize the prompt for your students. For example, you may ask ChatGPT to incorporate a specific grammar or vocabulary topic you covered earlier in class.

  • Example 1
    “You are an ESL teacher teaching a class of Intermediate students. Generate conversation topics incorporating vocabulary related to work-life balance. For each topic, include questions that use gerunds and infinitives.”

2. Situational Dialogues

Try asking ChatGPT to act as a stand-in for a particular persona like an interviewer or a restaurant waiter to help students practice relevant vocabulary. This is a good starting point for a whole variety of different activities. You can have students read out the dialogue generated by ChatGPT, fill the gaps in the dialogue, or ask students to have a conversation with ChatGPT in real time.

  • Example 1
    “Generate a dialogue between an airline employee and a customer. Leave 7 gaps in the dialogue for students to guess the word that should go in them. Provide your own suggestions for completing the gaps.”
  • Example 2
    “You are a waiter. I am a customer. Can you talk to me in character? Ask me one question at a time. Also, I want you to teach me useful relevant vocabulary as we’re having a conversation.”

3. Grammar Practice

Ask ChatGPT to create sentences for grammar exercises to help students correct errors or use different grammatical structures.

  • Example 1
    “Generate 10 sentences. Each sentence needs to contain a grammar mistake related to: Present Perfect and Past Simple, prepositions, and subject-verb agreement. Explain what the mistakes are.”

Developing Customized Learning Materials With ChatGPT

ChatGPT is fantastic for creating personalized learning materials. I’ve used it to generate worksheets, quizzes, and lesson plans that directly meet my teaching goals. For example, for a focus on business English, ChatGPT can prepare business-related prompts and vocabulary exercises. Other materials I’ve created with ChatGPT include:

  • Vocabulary building
    Compile lists of terms for specialized courses, like medical or legal English.
  • Reading comprehension
    Generate articles with questions and prompts, suitable for different reading levels.
  • Listening practice
    Write scripts for mock podcasts or news reports for listening exercises.

Encouraging Critical Thinking And Problem-Solving

While ChatGPT is powerful, I believe it is important to teach students about the limits of this technology and have them critically evaluate its responses. For example, I might have ChatGPT provide information on a topic, and then ask students to assess its credibility.

Here are a few other activities that encourage critical thinking:

  • Debate preparation
    Generate a debate topic and offer arguments for various sides of a debate.
  • Project-based learning
    Have ChatGPT generate a scenario for a task your students need to complete in English. This will allow them to practice language skills in an unusual environment and test their practical grasp of the language.
  • Analyzing information
    Present AI-generated texts for students to assess accuracy and bias and use this to practice target vocabulary, sentence building, and analytical skills.

Keep in mind that ChatGPT’s output is only as good as your prompting abilities. Your prompts should be detailed, structured, and specific enough for ChatGPT to understand your request and produce the output you’re looking for. Luckily, there is a framework for writing prompts that has never failed me and that I’d like to suggest you use as well. It is called the RACEF framework.

Leveraging The RACEF Framework For ChatGPT Prompting

The RACEF framework stands for Role, Action, Context, Example, and Format:

1. Role

Outline the role you would like ChatGPT to play. For example, “You are an ESL teacher’s assistant for adult students in business with a focus on Information Technology.”

2. Action

Request specific actions. For example, “Generate a lesson on the topic of cybersecurity.”

  • Task 1
    Provide a text of no more than 150 words. Highlight 10 target vocabulary words related to the topic.
  • Task 2
    Concept-checking questions.
  • Task 3
    Provide explanations of the target vocabulary and include an activity where students need to fill in the gaps to match the target vocabulary to the correct definition.
  • Task 4
    Generate 4 topic questions for students to discuss in open class.

3. Context

Include any relevant details that will help ChatGPT refine the output. For example, “The material should be enough for a 60-minute class.”

4. Example

If possible, provide an example of a similar activity you would like ChatGPT to model.

5. Format

Specify how you want the output to look. For example, “Provide a complete lesson sheet with ready-to-use tasks. Don’t just map out the lesson plan.”


In conclusion, do not shy away from using ChatGPT in your teaching. With a little bit of finesse and practice you can leverage AI tools to automate various aspects of your work, such as task checking and task generation, leaving you more time to engage with your students. Similarly, encourage students to use ChatGPT as an additional language practice tool instead of disallowing its use and viewing it as a hindrance to learning.

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