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How to Make a Lesson Plan

December 13, 2012

Preparation is Key

Most ESL teachers know what it’s like to spend hours writing extensive lesson plans that map out every minute of the class. The reality is that things never go exactly according to schedule, and who has that kind of time, anyways? It’s not so difficult to come up with a more basic lesson plan that you can adapt to many different classes. I’m talking about a useful lesson plan that doesn’t take more than a few minutes to come up with.

It’s true that some teachers are quite comfortable winging it—not using a lesson plan and thinking up ideas on the spot that go along with the textbook—but this surely leads to some days where no ideas readily come to mind and you’re stuck doing dry textbook material for the entire class. On the other hand, some teachers like to be prepared, and the idea of walking into class without a lesson plan is akin to that dream where you’re in high school with no clothes on!

Lesson planning also helps when you have lower level students, or students who aren’t very talkative. Having a good lesson plan to fall back on helps your class run smoothly with fewer awkward pauses or bored faces.

To Write or Not to Write?

Should you write out your lesson plan? I usually did, but you don’t have to. I kept a notebook with a few notes about which activities or textbook pages I’d be doing, and in what order. It usually only took me about five minutes to plan out (unless I had to search for a certain activity). I know plenty of teachers who didn’t actually write out their lesson plans, but instead kept their photocopies in the order they would be used, and a post-it to mark where they left off in the textbook.

Lesson Plan Structure

1. Warm-Up

I always try to have something that’s related to the main lesson of the day to get the students talking and/or having fun. It’s nice to ease students into the class instead of abruptly launching into the day’s lesson. After about a year of teaching, I had a drawer full of file folders organized by topic or grammar point with short activities to use as warm-ups, such as conversation questions, pictures to describe, vocabulary to match up, etc. I strongly advise you to save the warm-ups you like and reuse them with different classes—it saves time in the long run.

If you’re just starting out as a teacher, or you have a topic you’ve never come across before, you can simply come up with five conversation questions to write on the board for students to discuss in pairs, small groups, or as a class. Or, better yet, have students write their own questions about the topic, mix them up, hand them out, and discuss (see My Favourite Fun, Student-Generated Speaking Activity for more information). You could also check out Warm-Ups & Fillers for more warm-up activities.

2. Main Lesson

This is where you teach the meat of your lesson, whether it’s through a textbook or something you’ve created yourself. Introduce the grammar point or teach the vocabulary, then get into the practice exercises, reading, etc. Depending on how long your class is, don’t let this part go on for too long. If you have a three-hour class, for example, I always try to have something “fun” planned in between long exercises that’s still related to the lesson, such as a grammar game, speaking activity, vocabulary activity, etc. (see 4 Activities for Reviewing Vocabulary for more suggestions). The goal is to prevent students from getting bored, tired, or burned out. Anything that gets the students talking, or even up and moving around, is great in between challenging textbook exercises.

3. Wrap-Up

I try to do a short wrap-up at the end of each exercise, or especially at the end of the class. Often, it’s just a matter of having a few students share their thoughts or opinions with the class, especially if it was a pair or group activity that you've just completed. Correcting the exercise as a class, or asking the students if they have any questions, could also serve as a wrap-up. You could also do a quick review or summary on the points you just taught. The goal here is to avoid dismissing students after a long period of working silently, which gives a “Class is over, now get out!” impression (even if that is what you’re thinking at times!). Try these Exit Slips or a 3-2-1 Reflection.

4. Extra Activity

Students never work at the same pace. There are always students who are faster or slower than the rest, or sometimes you have a multi-level class. This can be a big problem, as the faster students get bored and feel like they’re wasting their time waiting around, and the slower students get frustrated if they don’t have enough time to finish an activity.

I found that having an extra activity or two prepared helped to eliminate this problem. If the class exercise is individual, have something that fast students can work on silently, such as a writing task. If the class exercise involves pairs or groups who are speaking, have an extra speaking task ready for those faster pairs/groups, such as a few extra related speaking questions.

You could also allow free conversation practice (just make sure they’re not sitting there silently—some students love the chance to practice natural conversation, but some shyer students may find it awkward). This may seem like a lot of extra planning, but actually, I found I didn’t often need the extra activity and could carry it over to the next class or two.

Another way to avoid planning an extra activity is to allow fast students to start their homework during class.

Finally, don’t worry if some of your extra activities aren’t related to the main lesson. I often had a stack of unrelated activities ready to use, such as word searches, grammar quizzes, or discussion topics ready in case some students were finished early (or, heaven forbid, all the students finished more quickly than I’d expected!). Check out our Activities category for more ideas.

5. Homework

Most students appreciate having the chance to practice and reinforce what they’ve learned in class (especially with adult learners). Also, many schools insist on having daily or weekly homework practice. Textbooks often have workbooks that are perfect to use as homework. Also, ESL Library has many lessons that could be used as reading, writing, or grammar homework. For example, check out Grammar Practice Worksheets, which has many pages that can be used as grammar homework.

Ready-Made Lesson Plans

I remember when I started editing lessons at ESL Library almost a year ago, I told Tara, the head writer, how well laid out the lessons were and how much I wished I had heard about ESL Library when I was a full-time teacher. If you’ve checked out our website you’ll notice that ESL Library’s lessons are already in a “lesson plan” type of format. Most of our lessons include discussion questions as a warm-up (that you can do as a class or in pairs), a reading, comprehension questions, a vocabulary review, and more discussion questions or other types of activities (see this lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr., for example).

You don’t really have to plan anything else...you have complete lessons at your fingertips. I can see, after working here for a while, that one of ESL Library’s main goals is to reduce the teacher’s workload. Sounds good to me!

Happy planning!


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Comments (13)

Fahim (Guest)

Well I think going without any preparations is a bigger charm and adventure.
Going without any last minute preparations and conducting a class where you get your students get lost with you in the lesson is very nice.
Its your knowledge and capabilities that you should rely on, not homework.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Fahim,

Well, the important thing is to do what works well for the teacher and the students, and I agree that all teachers have their own methods and styles. Thanks for sharing your opinion! :)

Grover (Guest)

There's no substitute for being prepared but that includes being prepared and nimble enough to drop the lesson plan at a moment's notice to explore something suggested or hinted at by the students. Slavishly following the lesson plan while ignoring student interests is just as bad as arriving in class with no plan at all.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

That's a good point, Grover. Lessons can go off on some wonderful tangents based on the discussion or students' questions.

Enthusiast (Guest)

Hi Tanya !

I am creating a lesson plan for TEFL course and would like your opinion and advice on it . Would that be possible and if so where should I send it .

I would appreciate your help and advice .

Enthusiast 147

Reply to Comment

Susan K.(Teacher)

I'd appreciate a detailed daily lesson plan form as our school is getting audited for accreditation. Is there one here other than the weekly planner?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great idea, Susan! We'll get work on that and let you know when it's ready.

Bradley (Guest)

Thank you for this article, Tanya. I've recently finished a couple of textbooks and the bit on lesson planning was thinner than my fingernail. Your article summed up what to do quite well, and introduced me to this site indirectly. Kudos!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm very happy to hear this, Bradley! Thank you. I agree, most textbooks don't go over lesson planning and the realities of the classroom. If teachers only stuck to a textbook for the entire lesson, we would lose our students' interest very quickly. Hope you enjoy the site!

Sally N.(Teacher)

I cannot thank you enough for this wonderful resource. I am a brand new, volunteer, ESL tutor. I have some teacher training and experience; however, I received scant training on lesson planning. I was extremely anxious about my first tutoring session until I found your wonderful website! I was skeptical about finding quality support on-line, so was I ever pleasantly surprised. Again, thank-you for this wonderful service you provide. It's worth every penny of it.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sally, your comment has made the ESL Library team's day! Thank you so much. I was very nervous for my first day of teaching too. You'll be surprised at how quickly you get used to it—you'll feel comfortable in no time!

Here's a link to an index of our grammar posts that you might find handy: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2017/02/28/grammar-day-roundup-2017/

Best of luck to you!

Haydar Berk K.(Teacher)

Hey guys!
These are wonderful tips, on the other hand I'm having troubles on one to one classes. Can you give me a hand? :(
For example, you have a student and wants to improve his/her skills on General English. You start with assessment, right? And than you make a plan.
Can you help me from the beginning?
Thanks a million!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Berk, yes, assessment is a great place to begin with a new student in a one-to-one environment. You'll find grammar assessments to use in our Grammar Practice Worksheet section that will help you determine the level of your new student (https://esllibrary.com/courses/88/lessons).

You can also try our new Language Scenes worksheets (https://esllibrary.com/resource_categories/125/resources). There are a lot of ideas for different ways to use these scenes for assessment and placement in the Teachers' Notes (https://esllibrary.com/resource_categories/125/resources/2872).

Hope that helps!

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