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Lesson Planning for ESL – A Quick Primer

Lesson Planning for ESL – A Quick Primer

Making a lesson plan for teaching English is a major part of the job of teaching. Sometimes, it’s creative joy, and sometimes, it just seems like an onerous, Sisyphean task. If you have recently completed a CELTA or Cert TESOL course, and you’ve had to plan in meticulous detail, you might be wondering how you are ever going to be able to teach, since it’s taken you so long to prepare for 40 minutes of teaching practice.

You’ll be expected to teach 20 hours a week or more in a full-time job. You can take a bit of comfort, though, from knowing that there’s a big difference between planning for your purposes and writing a plan for someone observing you. Hand on heart, in over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never walked into a lesson without some sort of plan  – I couldn’t– but my plans nowadays are usually a list of bullet points on a piece of paper, or more often, a set of PowerPoint slides that structure the lesson and remind me what’s coming next. This doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t thought about my aims and analysed the language I’m going to teach – I just haven’t had to write it all down!

When I started to think about writing an article on lesson planning, I wondered what I’d have liked a friendly someone to tell me about it when I started teaching. A few things came to mind, and I’ve managed to squeeze them (not necessarily elegantly!) into the acronym PLAN. I offer them to you in the hope that they’re useful:

Lesson Planning for ESL – P is for published material

This first thought relates to whether you are going to plan from a coursebook or create your lesson from other content (such as authentic texts). The best, most satisfying lessons you will ever teach will be those you’ve created from scratch for a particular group of learners, but this takes time. It’s not ‘cheating’ to use a coursebook to plan from. It’ll be a great help and support to you (and the learners have probably invested in a copy, so they’ll want to use it!).

However, you don’t have to treat it as a holy writ – it’s fine to adapt it, supplement it, and reject certain parts altogether. Still, you can also use it, and it’ll take some of the backaches out of planning and keep you sane, particularly in the early stages of your career. It also gives you a structure for a more extended series of lessons and means the learners can more easily go back and review what they’ve learned.

Lesson Planning for ESL- L is for language analysis

You’re a language teacher, so you’re going to be teaching, clarifying, and revising the language, and you need to be able to see where are the potential ‘potholes’ in the road for your learners. Why are articles difficult? What IS the difference between the present perfect and the simple past? This is important because you want to be able to answer learners’ questions and to correct them with a better explanation than ‘it’s just like that.’ A good grammar book or an online course such as Grammar for Language Teachers from my website, (see what I did there?!) will help you to anticipate problems and analyse the meaning, form, and pronunciation of the target language. 

Lesson plans for teaching English -A is for aims (and stage aims)

Planning is all about thinking about the linguistic why you are doing something – not just ‘because it’s in the coursebook’ or ‘because I need to fill the time.’  Your main aims will help you to see where you’re going and assess (after the lesson) whether you got there or not. Think of them as an address –they work best if they’re specific. As well as a primary aim for the lesson, it’s also a good idea to have an objective for each stage of the lesson. It’ll help you to focus on whether this activity is essential. You might not write them down for your purposes, but you should have thought about them! 

My final thought relates to this, too…. 

N is for needs

Keep in mind – is what you are planning to teach them the most useful thing they could be learning at the moment? They’re paying you for your time (or their parents are!), and my feeling is that you should take this seriously. There might be different reasons why something is important. Third conditional sentences are very uncommonly used by native speakers, for example, and more practice of the simple past tense would possibly be time better spent. Still, if those pesky third conditionals are likely to come up in the forthcoming exam, they are worth teaching! You want to engage your learners to motivate them, help them along the long road that is learning a language is.

I hope that these few thoughts are useful. If you’d like more tips about English language teaching (including making a lesson plan for teaching English), I make training videos aimed mainly at trainee and novice teachers at, most of which are free.  Check it out!

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