ESL lesson planning is a skill that not all future TEFL teachers rightfully appreciate prior to their teach abroad experience. But the reality is, ESL lesson planning—and the skills that come along with doing it effectively—can help you in heaps of future cases, even outside of a typical educational facility or classroom. Yup, it’s true.

The tenets of lesson planning can be applied to managing your every day life, from grocery shopping to strategy building for your next client, to even putting together a rough itinerary for your next great vacation.

Teacher with students

So that’s why it’s essential that you give your personal skill development in this realm the necessary attention it deserves! Then you can reap the benefits in all areas of your life and future career.

The key is to establish a routine and procedure that allows you to lesson plan very efficiently. Teacher burn out is a real thing, but if you use the following best practices to accomplish your own classroom learning management, you’re more likely to avoid the wanting-to-rip-your-hair-out realities of teaching complicated subjects day-in and day-out. Phew!

Read on to learn how to create the perfect ESL lesson plan.

Before you come up with the lesson…

Do the following each and every time you sit down to craft a new lesson.

Identify your audience.

Who will be receiving this lesson? Is it your beginner ESL kiddos or your more advanced college-aged students? Kindergartners probably don’t care about business English and your Chilean students might not know anything about the latest Beyonce release. Think logically about the interests and skill level of your students before you sit down to write out your lesson.

Establish a goal.

Let’s do a journey of the mind. Think ahead to the moment after you’ve administered this lesson. What are you hoping your students “get” from it? What is the core takeaway that is essential for most students to grasp moving forward?

Write down your audience and the goal, then…

Students in the classroom.

Name your systems aims & skill focus.

Are you trying to teach phonetics, vocab/lexis through a speaking activity? Are you tasking them with writing to improve your students’ grammar skills? Is better reading comprehension essential to mark the success of your new book activity?

Understanding these three elements from the on-set of your lesson planning will help you build an activity more clearly and logically—and the best part? This becomes easier and easier over time as you get into your TEFL groove and get to know your students better.

7 steps to a perfect ESL lesson plan

1.) Grab your lesson planning notebook or open an online document—wherever you like to brainstorm your lesson plans.

Keep a running journal of lesson plans or a neatly organized Google drive folder, whatever works for you!

2.) Plan a game or some fun activity to “hook” the students and draw their attention straight from the get-go.

Maybe you are reading a story about the beach—why not bring in your sunglasses, beach towel, and a beach ball? Get creative while planning your first few minutes so students know it’s time to learn. Some folks call these icebreakers, and they’re a really good (albeit sometimes corny) tool to help students relax and prepare to study.

3.) Make your plan for teaching the core of the lesson.

This can look like a lot of different things depending on your skill focus and your systems aims, how much time you have, how much support you have, what tools you have available to you (blackboard? projector? neither?). Scroll down for more general tips!

Teacher in a classroom.

4.) Plan an opportunity for group work.

In order to learn a language, students really need to use the language—ideally with each other. For students who don’t do well listening in big groups or raising their hand in front of the class, small group work gives ample opportunity to participate with less butterflies in their tummy. Ideally, the group work will incorporate elements of the skill or new concept you just taught.

5.) Come up with a plan for independent work.

Students have a way of getting… side tracked… if they’re spending too much time socializing instead of learning. Plan for a part of the lesson where they can work independently and think to themselves. Worksheets and writing prompts are GREAT for this section.

6.) Wrap it up and tie it all together.

Have students share with the class the outcomes of their group and/or independent work. Allow for time for students to ask questions about things that are still confusing or unclear to them.

7.) Give ‘em homework!

Okay, you don’t have to do this, but it can be a helpful way to have students review concepts with more regularity and come better prepared to future lessons.

Students in a classroom.

Claim your free TEFL classroom activity eBook

Good TEFL teachers are passionate, energetic and organized… you deserve some help to make your classroom more dynamic and so we’ve packaged up all our ideas into this handy downloadable eBook.

Warmers, Fillers & Coolers has 70+ jam-packed pages bursting with activities to use instantly in your classroom. Less time lesson planning, means more socializing!

What’s inside?

  • Warmers (19 activities)
  • Fillers (16 activities)
  • Coolers (20 activities)

Sign up and get instant access to your free TEFL classroom activity eBook.

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Other general tips for lesson planning

Since all TEFL lessons will have unique goals, aims, and skill foci, instead of giving you the 1, 2, 3, 4 steps to build the perfect lesson plan, we wanted to give you a handful of important pieces of advice to consider.

  • Use resources that are already out there. Teachers have come long before you and are quick to share their insights about the effectiveness of any given lesson. While creativity is great and will ultimately help you succeed on the fly, sometimes it’s nice to utilize a ready-made template and then give it your own spin. Use resources like the internet or your old TEFL coursebooks to find worksheets, games, or other activities to supplement your own ideas for the lesson. Find a balance between being practical, using your first-hand knowledge of your students’ and their skills/interests/goals, and the ultra-convenient reality that a lot of great stuff already exists. No need to reinvent the wheel!
  • Balance variety. Your kiddos might be tired of reading because they’ve done it the past two days. Or maybe something as simple as starting the lesson with a game instead of ending with a game can mix up the schedule and pique your students’ interest. Find small ways to make lessons feel more unique and interesting than the same ol’ same ol’. Combine speaking and reading rather than reading and writing. Task one person with speaking while another writes.
  • Incorporate movement and activity. Students sit around most of the day and can get super-duper bored. Counteract this tendency by getting them up and out of their chairs, moving and interacting and mingling with one another, with you, with a race to write words on the board, you name it! Have them toss a ball to tell a story or play an old standby like Heads Up 7 Up in English if you’re desperate. Even role play can be fun!
  • Remember to follow ESL teaching models. You spent all of those hours learning best practices for improving students’ English language skills and you’re going to abandon them just like that? We certainly hope not! Incorporate simple tools and tricks to increase engagement from your students, like multiple pop quizzes and more listening time, to really see your lesson plan effectiveness soar.
  • Do you need special materials? If your lesson requires extra prop, paperwork, or other materials, be sure to organize these items well in advance—and pack them neatly in your bag / arrange them in your classroom at least the day before they’re needed!

Young Learners.

You’re ready to craft the perfect ESL lesson plan

Now that you know the steps and some additional pro tips to make it move from “good” to “great,” you’re ready to get into a flow and churn out some incredible opportunities for students to up their English-language game. Well done!

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