Writing ESL Activity/Lesson Plans

Teaching is fun, but struggling to come up with class ideas and activities can take a lot of the fun out of it; so, here are a few tips for writing activity/lesson plans. Coming up with activities to do in a class you are teaching is a pretty daunting task, especially if your school hasn't given you any sort of set curriculum to work with. But it's not that difficult to do once you start thinking about activities within a larger context.

Writing ESL Activity/Lesson Plans Writing ESL Activity/Lesson Plans
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Start With the Big Picture

Start by looking at your long-term goals. What do your students need to have learned by the end of the course?

  1. Divide these goals by the number of weeks you have with your students
  2. Arrange them in the order you think makes the most sense (easiest to hardest, for most subjects)
  3. Aim to complete however many you need to complete each week in order to cover them all during the course.

For example, let's say you are teaching a beginning level ESL course for adults, and you have ten weeks to teach the following:

  • Alphabet
  • Shapes
  • Colors
  • Cardinal and ordinal numbers
  • Days of the week
  • Months of the year
  • Telling time
  • U.S. currency
  • Classroom vocabulary
  • Around-the-house vocabulary
  • Around-town vocabulary
  • Parts of the body
  • Describing yourself
  • Clothing
  • Shopping for food
  • Common ailments and their remedies
  • Common household problems and their solutions
  • Prepositions of place and time
  • Present simple verbs
  • Present continuous verbs

Using the course organization method described, you would have to teach two topics per week in order to cover them all in your ten-week course. In this case, you can have a lot of overlap. Around-the-house vocabulary, for example, can be taught in tandem with prepositions of place (The sheets are on the bed, the lamp is on the table, the table is in the living room, etc.). Or you can teach U.S. currency along with shopping for food.

So, the next thing you have to do is pick a topic and break it down further into teachable chunks that we'll call objectives.

Class Objectives

In each class session, you should have at least one or two objectives. In a math class, your objectives might be for students to be able to solve simple equations or to work word problems using multiplication.

  • In an elementary music class, you might want them to be able to distinguish fast tempo from slow.
  • In a first grade science lesson, one objective could be for students to identify and differentiate between solids and liquids.

Let's go back to our beginning ESL class, though, and talk about the unit on parts of the body. This is a beginning class, remember, so it's not necessary to teach all of the internal organs, just the basics. Your unit objectives are going to be things like:

  • Students will be able to read and pronounce the names of body parts in English.
  • Students will be able to point to body parts when they hear the names of them in English.
  • Students will be able to identify body parts both orally and in writing.
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Presentation, Practice, Production

With these three objectives in mind, you can now come up with activities to achieve them. For every objective, you should have three kinds of activities or parts of your lesson plan:

  • Presentation - The first part of your lesson plan is presentation. You, the teacher, present new material to your students.
  • Practice - In the second part, practice, your students work on guided practice activities to build their understanding of the concept and their confidence in doing it.
  • Production - In the production portion of the lesson, students should be able to do what the objective set out for them without any assistance.

A good practice is to chart out To get ESL students to read and pronounce the names of body parts correctly in English:

  • The teacher would present each word by showing it written down and modeling the pronunciation.
  • In the practice portion of the lesson, the students would listen and repeat each word, with the teacher listening and correcting where necessary.
  • In the production phase of the objective, the students would read the words aloud either individually or as a part of a story.

Provide Activities About the Lesson

By the time you've thought about how you want to present, practice and produce, you've already come up with your lesson activities, but just in case you're still stuck, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Worksheets/book work (It's not really creative, but it gets the job done.)
  • Word games (word searches, crossword puzzles, word scrambles, and hangman-type games)
  • Songs (sing-along, listen and fill-in-the-blanks, listen for incorrect words)
  • Games
  • Group conversation
  • Pair work (dictation, problem solving)
  • Problem-solving (jigsaw activities, decision-making, logic)
  • Anything that lets your students get their hands on the real thing
  • Projects to take the lesson beyond the classroom and into the real world
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Gather Materials

The last thing you need to think about is the kinds of materials you'll need for each activity. These can range from books and charts to paper and markers to song lyrics, CD players, game boards, dice and cards.

Charting the Steps for Writing Plans

If you are more of a visual learner, consider the flow chart above which reinforces the steps for writing activity/lesson plans. Start with your objective, then choose your activities for presentation, practice and production, and finally, make a list of all the materials you will need for each activity to meet each objective.

Once you have charged the steps, you can build your plan easily using a lesson plan template such as the .pdf file shown below.


View & Download PDF

Using the flow chart at the top of this article and the lesson plan template should streamline your planning process and maybe make it just as fun as the teaching itself.