Building a Successful ESL Lesson Plan

By , Certified teacher

If you're new to teaching ESL, building a successful ESL lesson plan is essential. It doesn't have to be difficult, though. A successful ESL lesson plan (any lesson plan, really) includes three major elements: an objective, some activities, and the materials you will need.

Once you master the process of writing lesson plans, you'll find inspiration for them everywhere, it will seep out of the cracks in the sidewalks, it will come to you from every song you hear, you'll be able to do it in your sleep. You might even wake up with lesson plans in mind because you had dreams about class.

Lesson Plan Objective

An objective is the first building block you'll need in order to write a successful ESL lesson plan. Very simply put, the objective of your lesson is the thing you want your students to know or be able to do by the end of the lesson.

Objectives often start out, "Students will be able to...," and can be finished with anything. For example:

  • A grammar lesson might say, "Students will be able to recognize the differences between Present Simple and Present Continuous verbs, and they will be able to complete sentences with the correct verb tense."
  • A vocabulary lesson objective could be something like, "Students will be able to correctly label 20 external body parts on a picture."

A clear objective will guide the rest of your planning. If an activity is not building toward your end goal, you either need to scratch that activity or rewrite your objective. If one of your materials doesn't move your students toward achieving the objective, that material may not be necessary.

Once you have a clear objective, you can start planning your activities.

Lesson Plan Activities

There are four types of activities you should include in a lesson plan:

  • warm-up
  • practice
  • production
  • evaluation

Keep in mind that a lesson is not always completed in one class session. You will teach some lessons over the course of one class period while others will take a week. Not all lesson plans will be completed in an hour, and that's okay.


The first activity you do should be a warm-up activity. Remember that your students haven't been thinking about the day's topic at all while you've been working on it for days. Also, you never know where your students are coming into class from.

  • If you have public school students, they're coming from home lives you probably know little about.
  • If you have adult students, they could be coming from home or work, and it's impossible to predict what kind of day they've had.

A warm-up activity will ease them out of their home/work lives and into your lesson for the day. It will help focus their brains on what they're about to learn so they can pay better attention and retain more of the lesson.

When the students are in the right mindset for class after the warm-up, it's time for the presentation of new material. If you want, you can also review relevant, previously-taught material before jumping into something completely new.

  • If you're teaching grammar, your presentation should include how to form a grammatical structure and how to use it. Give lots of examples and answer relevant questions along the way.
  • If you're teaching vocabulary, present each new word along with as much information as you want your students to have about it (parts of speech, transitive/intransitive verbs, other parts of speech related to the new word, pronunciation, etc.).


After you explain something new, you should give your students several opportunities to practice using it, but in a controlled way. You can't turn them loose to start using it however they please just yet. This part of the lesson is like riding a bike with training wheels. For example:

  • Rather than asking students to write original sentences with their new vocabulary words, have some fill-in-the-blank sentences prepared for them, or ask them to put words into categories. If you've taught body parts, for example, they can categorize them based on whether they come in pairs or where they are on the body (head, arms, legs, torso).
  • In the same way, instead of telling students to write a story using the past tense, give them a story written in the present tense, and have them change the verbs into the past.

The idea behind the "practice" portion of the lesson is to let students practice using the new information without having to worry about any other variables.


After a few practice activities, students should have a relatively firm grasp on the material you presented. If they are still struggling, put the rest of your lesson on hold and give them some more practice. Once they seem to have mastered the practice activities, though, it's time to move on to production.

Production is the removal of the training wheels, so to speak. The "production" portion of the lesson lets you see what your students are really capable of on their own.

  • It's when you assign each student a vocabulary word, have them write a sentence with it, and see if they really know what it means and how to use it in context.
  • It's when you say, "Tell me what you did last weekend," and listen for the correct pronunciation of the -ed endings on past tense regular verbs.
  • It's when you tell them to write five sentences about what they're doing right now and five sentences about what they do every day.

They aren't just filling in blanks anymore. They are actually producing original sentences in the target language.

This part of the lesson is also where you do any necessary "tweaking." That is, the students will likely not be producing perfectly correct English at this point, but this is the perfect opportunity to clarify anything that might be causing confusion for them.

It's important here to create a safe environment where students can make mistakes. They need to know that they're not being judged or even graded here. They're just practicing, and practice makes perfect, but maybe not immediately.


When practice has made perfect enough, it's time for evaluation - a spelling test, a vocabulary quiz, an oral report, a picture to label.

Go back to your objective, and see what you said the students should be able to do at the end of your lesson. There, you will also find your evaluation. Whether it's for a grade or not, students like to see that they're making progress, and this is also an opportunity for you to see any areas where the students need more instruction.


Building a successful ESL lesson plan without any materials at all is possible if you really don't have anything, but everything you use in class should be counted in your materials "inventory" list. For example:

  • Books
  • Pens/pencils
  • Paper
  • Markers/crayons
  • White board/chalkboard
  • Magazines
  • Hand-outs
  • Manipulatives/realia
  • Games
  • Computers/tablets
  • Anything else you use in class that is not on, or a part of, you

It's important to consider what materials you will need for your lesson while you're planning it so that you can make arrangements to get anything you don't already have. Planning your lesson in advance and making a list of materials needed means that you don't find yourself at a 24-hour copy shop the night before your class trying to find the most economical way to give your whole class the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. Do yourself a favor - plan ahead.

For those of you who aren't such linear thinkers but, rather, like to let the lesson take its own shape on its own terms, these tips are still for you. Honestly, you can start planning a lesson anywhere in the process. Don't feel like you need to do everything in order.

  • If you find a worksheet, book, article, or topic you'd like to use in class, feel free to start with the materials and work around those.
  • If you have a specific goal in mind for your students, start with the objective.
  • If you've found a cool activity or heard about an interesting game you want to try, those are good starting points too.

Whatever your planning process, the lesson planning template provided with this article will help you keep everything organized as you go. And don't forget to evaluate your lessons after you teach them to make improvements for next time!

Building a Successful ESL Lesson Plan
    Building a Successful ESL Lesson Plan

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