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Tips for Creating ESL/EFL Lesson Plans

an ESL teacher engaging students at the white board

As an ESL teacher your lesson plan will be your most important tool; with one in hand you will be able to walk into your classroom with confidence, fully aware of what your lesson entails and how you’re going to teach it. Without one, unless you’re a very experienced teacher and you know the ropes, you’re likely to walk into your classroom and all chaos will ensue.

Having a lesson plan will give you the confidence you need when you enter the classroom (which, as a new EFL teacher, is the key to smashing your first few lessons). Lesson plans can be pretty daunting at first, there’s so much to include; timings, aims, activities, interactions.

But, you’ll find that as your experience grows the time it takes to make a lesson plan will decrease, and you’ll soon find yourself making plans days, if not weeks, ahead.

How to Make an ESL/EFL Lesson Plan

A lesson plan will outline what you intend to teach in your lesson and how you intend to teach it. Follow your plan and you’ll sail through a 50 minute lesson like a ship on a calm sea. Fail to make a lesson plan, and you’ll find your ship hitting stormy waters the moment you enter the room.

A nervous teacher really shows, and it can lead to a chaotic classroom. Being prepared will always be your best asset.

The best tip for longterm classroom success is to make your lesson planning as systematic as possible. By its nature, lesson planning is a very top-heavy activity for teachers: once you get the hang of it, future lessons will be a breeze to plan. Take notes of the types of activities your students respond positively to.

However, don't be so set in your TEFL ways that you don't push your students in new directions with unique activities. Avoid the TEFL rut and always aim to keep your students engaged.

As an EFL teacher, your lesson plan should include three separate parts, outlined below:

1. Presentation Stage

Attentive students

Here you should present the lesson's focus to your students. There are a number of ways to do this; it is important that you mix it up each lesson in order to avoid boredom amongst the students. Use flash cards, draw pictures, show a video or tell a story that incorporates the subject matter for your lesson.

There’s an abundance of helpful resources on the internet (and they’re often free) for ESL/EFL teachers -- just doing a quick Google search will bring up reams of links.

Here are some of our fave resources for ESL/EFL lesson plans on the web:

2. The Controlled Practice Stage

In this stage, your students will be able to practice the lesson that you have presented to them. You should use this stage to correct your students' errors, such as their pronunciation or grammar structures. During the practice stage, it is a good idea to use a game or an activity that you can be involved in; you are on hand to correct their mistakes.

This is potentially the most important part of your lesson because it allows you to pick up on errors quickly and stamp them out. The students enjoy it too because it gives them confidence to progress on to the next stage of the lesson.

3. The Production (Free Practice) Stage

Here your students can use the newly learned subject matter freely. This stage should develop their confidence in using the language, as they will not have the pressure of your beady eye watching them. Good ideas for this stage of your lesson are pair work, small group work, or mingling activities (where the students have to walk around the classroom approaching individual students and asking questions).

Don't be so set in your TEFL ways that you don't push your students in new directions with unique activities. Avoid the TEFL rut and always aim to keep your students engaged.

As this part of the lesson takes place, wander amongst your students listening for, and noting down, any errors that are still being made. Once the activity has finished, there should be some time left over for feedback. This is where you and the students will talk about the lesson and you can mention any common recurring errors.

What Happens if my ESL/EFL Lesson Plans Flop?

students standing up at the front of a classroom

Even with a lesson plan in hand things can, and will, go wrong in the classroom. Perhaps the computer isn’t working properly, maybe you forgot to print out those grammar sheets you were going to use, or your students are simply just not in the mood to learn.

This is where your think-on-your-feet part-comedian-part-improv-actor teacher skills come in handy. ESL teachers must expect the unexpected, and oftentimes rely on their spontaneity and creativity.

You can never have enough back up or time filler activities up your sleeves in an ESL/EFL classroom. Being over prepared means you’ll remain in control (and hopefully, your students will never be aware that anything was wrong in the first place!).

Plan Back Up Activities

When lesson plan road bumps occur, it is important to have fall back activities ready that you can rely on. These will keep your ESL students busy and make you appear in control.

These activities could be anything from games to songs to stories; basically any activity that incorporates your aim for the lesson but doesn’t really feel like learning.

Plan Time Filler Activities

Not all problems are bad: sometimes you’ll find that your students are so motivated and excited about your lesson that time flies by at the speed of light. Suddenly, you have 15 minutes to spare and nothing to do. Similar to fall back activities, "time filler" activities are a perfect way to keep your students entertained and engaged until the bell rings.

Having extra worksheets at the ready or the next chapter of a book to read will always be surefire methods for the ESL classroom. Read on for other ideas for activities to put in your back pocket as "Time Fillers" and "Back Ups."

Awesome ESL/EFL Lesson Plan Activity Ideas

We have a whole list of ESL games for your classroom, but some of our favorites from that list include:

  • The Board Race A popular game amongst the TEFL crowd. Split your class into two teams and create a relay race; students have to run to the board and write the words they have learned during your lesson. You can also use this at the start of class to review your last lesson’s vocabulary.
  • Pictionary Everyone loves to draw! Even people who can’t draw want the chance to scribble on the white board. This popular team game challenges ESL students to draw a word on the board and have their team guess what it is. This certainly gets the creative juices flowing.
  • Simon Says I’ve never tried this one in my adult classrooms, but it’s a big hit with the younger students. You can get them doing the funniest things, which also makes it brilliant fun for you.
  • The Classic Hangman All ages seem to enjoy this game. It is a great one to play to kick-start a lesson or to keep students entertained in the final 5 minutes once you’ve wrapped everything up.

As you become more experienced you’ll find things that work for you and your students and things that don’t. Don’t feel pressured into doing activities with your students that you don’t feel comfortable with. Just because you’ve heard somewhere that they are "great TEFL activities" doesn't mean they'll work in your classroom.

Ensure a Great ESL/EFL Lesson!

An easy way to summarize your lesson plan is to:

  1. Start your class with a game or activity. Let your students have fun, engage with the topic, and start off problem-solving.
  2. In the middle of your lesson introduce the subject matter. Explain new vocabulary or grammar structures to set your students up to do be able to implement the topic at hand.
  3. Next, be sure to practice the topic again. Your students may have tested out the topic, but now they have a better understanding. Have them put the topic to the test with this new knowledge in mind.
  4. You'll want to finish by reviewing everything as a class and giving feedback. Usually, I'll listen to students as they do a speaking activity, or look over their papers while they write. Then, I'll go over common errors on the board as a class, so that no one is singled out for being wrong.

Don't Be One of Those Boring Teachers!

After your lesson plan, fun and clarity are the most important thing you can bring into your TEFL classroom. We can all share stories of our past teachers who bored us to tears by talking at us for the duration of their lesson -- do not let this be you!

Having a lesson plan will give you the confidence you need when you enter the classroom (which, as a new EFL teacher, is the key to smashing your first few lessons).

Teaching English abroad can be a very fun, exciting and rewarding job, and having a good lesson plan in hand will ensure that you make the most out of this experience, for both you and your students. Whether you’re in it for 6 months or trying it out as a new career, a lesson plan will only ever make your adjustment time in the classroom easier.

Photo Credits: Julie A Green, praxisvu, raytoons, and The Knowledge Workshop.
Emma Lander

Emma Lander is a Freelance Copy and Content Writer. She is a qualified EFL teacher and has taught in the UK, Scandinavia and South Korea. She is a keen traveler and has currently explored over 25 different countries. Follow her on Twitter, @EJLander, Google+ or on her website CopyTwentyOne.