11 Steps to Effective ESL Lesson Planning

Korean students are notoriously shy. Plan activities that build rapport from the start. Photo: P. DeMarco

“Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” – Richard C. Cushing

Donald D. Quinn once said, “If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”

Yes, teaching can be difficult at times, but with the right preparation and planning it can be one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever love. Some say teaching is an art, not a science. Well, not exactly. Yes, it is true that after some practice you will find your natural teaching style.

Your lessons will gain a zen-like quality and you will start to flow, or act without thinking, as you teach. Like putting one foot in front of the other, teaching will become as natural as walking is to you. There will always be challenges but you will feel much more comfortable in your role as a teacher.

However, even the best most experienced teachers use lesson plans. A lesson plan is a working document that helps you stay on task and reach your educational goals. You can’t get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re going. Furthermore, lesson plans act as a record of your progress with your students.

So how do you write a lesson plan? Well, any way you want. There is no set form or formula for lesson planning. But one thing is for certain, there are some basic steps everyone must take in order to make and deliver a quality lesson plan. Let’s take a look.

Step 1: Know yourself.

William’s Shakespeare’s advice, “know thyself”, is one of the most import things a teacher can do. The more you know about yourself and your reasons for teaching, the more motivated and focused you’ll be when you teach. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I an ESL teacher?
  • What values and beliefs do I want to pass on to my students?
  • What type of role model do I want to be?
  • If I could only teach my students one thing, what would it be?

Step 2: Know your students.

The more you know about your students, the better you will be able to tailor your lesson. Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself are:

  • How much do my student’s already know (i.e. what’s their level)?
  • How eager are my students to learn English?
  • Are they well behaved or unruly?
  • What are they interested in (favorite TV shows, groups, movies, sports, etc…)?
  • Which activities do they react best to: visual, auditory, kinesthetic?

Step 3: Start with the end in mind.

“A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.” – H. Stanley Judd

Know your key objectives. What do you want your students to know by the end of the class? For example, by the end of the lesson, students should be able to introduce themselves to someone and then get basic information from them (i.e. country, age, job, etc…).

Know your key expressions. What vocabulary or phrases would you like you students to know? “Where are you from?” or “What’s your job?” for example.

Step 4: Find a formula that works for you.

There are many different ways you can structure your lesson. For instance, one of the more popular ESL lesson formats is the ESA (Engage Study Activate) method, which you can read about in more detail later. However, there is no set way to structure your lesson plan. Find the way which works best for you.

Step 5: Keep it simple.

No matter how easy you think your lesson or activities are, your students will surely find them more difficult than you. Even the simplest exercises can be confusing for students. When you plan your classes, remember that you may have to simply your lesson in order to meet your students where they are at.

Step 6: Develop a good progression and balance of activities.

It’s natural for students to feel shy or not want to make mistakes in front of the teacher. Set your students up for success from the start. Give them activities you know they can’t fail at. Only ask them questions you know they can answer. Get them warmed up to English and your class. As the class moves on, you can raise the level of difficulty.

Also, try to vary the types of activities you do in class. Try to mix it up so you reach different types of learners. For instance, activities that require students to draw or paint are great for visual learners. Try using songs and music for auditory learners. Finally, use drama or role-plays for kinesthetic or active learners.

Step 7: Be structured yet flexible.

Think of your teaching as a Tokyo sky-scraper. Even though Tokyo has many earthquakes, it still has numerous high-rise office towers. These structures have a strong foundation and frame, but when there’s an earthquake, the buildings bend and flex with the vibrations.

Your lesson plan should be the same way, solid and structured, yet flexible enough to roll with the inevitable changes that happen during a typical class. Think of your lesson plan as a living document that is co-created with your students, almost like a semi-scripted play or dance.

Step 8: Be organized!

Do you have your markers or chalk? How about your books and attendance sheet? Will you be using an overhead projector or computer during class? Does it work? Do the speakers work? Do you have a PPT presentation? Can you get it to work on a Korean computer? What about the layout of your classroom? Will you need to move desks around? What materials will you need for your class?

These are all questions you should ask yourself before you set foot in the classroom. Be prepared.

Step 9: Over-plan.

Your lessons will not always go as planned, especially in the beginning. You may find that some lessons take longer, or shorter, than you planned for. Therefore, make sure to ad in an extra activity or two. Sometimes you might even need to jettison an activity all together and replace it with something else.

Step 10: Check to see if you reached your educational goals.

How do you know if your class was successful? What was your goal for the class? Remember to end your class with some type of review that not only bring s closure to your lesson, but shows you that your students learned the target language.

Step 11: Make the lesson yours.

In conclusion, learning should be both educational and engaging. The more fun you are having, the more fun your students will have. If you are bored and disconnected from what you are teaching then your students will be too.

Use what inspires you as a springboard to your teaching. For instance, if you like music and play an instrument then try to find some way to incorporate that into your lessons. Not only will your students appreciate it but you will walk away with a richer experience of your time spent here in Korea.