ESL English Teaching Tips – Making a Lesson Plan

How to Organize
Sample Plan I
Sample Plan II
More Activities

How to Organize

While a conversation class may seem like it needs no or limited preparation (“all I have to do is talk to them – I’ll bring in my photos from India and we can talk about my trip there.”), the opposite is true. Students will more than likely be timid, especially at the beginning, and the purpose of the class is to get them talking, not for you to talk the entire time. If all they wanted was to listen to English, they could go to an American movie and save themselves time and money.

ESL Classroom in Xi-an China Photo

So how do you go about planning for a class? Begin by deciding what content you want to cover and what your objectives are for the lesson – this will depend a lot on your class’s level and it might depend on an ESL textbook that the school has provided for you or that you have brought yourself. Ideally, these objectives will include both new vocabulary and new grammatical forms. Then think about what activities you want to use to accomplish these goals. These may include a short introduction to the class, a warm-up activity to get everyone involved, group work on dialogues, presentation of skits or survey results in front of the class, and a short conclusion reviewing what was learned and pointing out common mistakes.

Finally, you should always have a “contingency plan” to fill up any space that might exist at the end of the class. These plans may consist of an additional game/activity, or of an exercise that will help students to build bridges in their minds between structures and vocabulary learned in different lessons and that learned that day.

Sample Plan I (one hour):

Content to be covered: Visit to the doctor/pharmacist


    • Review vocabulary: parts of body, where to go to find something (type of store, where in store)
  • Review grammar: command forms of verbs (“Take two aspirin every morning”)
  • New vocabulary: ways to describe illness and methods of remedying it
  • New grammar: giving advice “I would recommend” + [verb+ing]


Introduction: quick review of parts of body, command forms

    • Warm-up activity: Simon Says (10 minutes)
  • Introduction of new material: common ailment vocabulary, advice language. Write it on the board, and have them copy it into their notebooks.
  • Group work: worksheets with two dialogues – doctor/patient, pharmacist/client
  • Report back to class: Doctors describe patient’s ailments, patients describe doctor’s advice
  • Review of new material, point out common mistakes
  • Contingency plan: review of city directions, combined with advice form. Write a command sequence on the board: take bus #12 to downtown, walk three blocks north.” Next, have your students convert it to advice form: “I would recommend taking bus #12, walking three blocks north.”

Materials: Worksheets with dialogues and word replacement suggestions, large picture of human body to review parts of body.

Sample Plan II (one hour):

Content to be covered: Clothing/Fashion Attitudes


    • Review vocabulary: frequency vocabulary (once a week), commands (stand up, touch your ear)
  • Review grammar: expressing opinions (I think that, I prefer to)
  • New vocabulary: fashion, advertising terms (in style, out of style, good taste, bad taste, traditional style, latest fashion, department store, boutique, model, effective advertisement, ineffective advertisement)
  • New grammatical structure: reporting survey results (all, most, the majority, about half, the minority, some, a few, none + of the students)


      • Introduction: pass out list of new ESL terms, ask if any are familiar. Use pictures of magazines to discuss those that aren’t familiar.
  • Warm-up activity: Ask questions related to vocabulary and write key words on the board, then have students stand up (touch their ears or put their hands up if they agree). Report the results on the board.
  • Stand up if you go to department stores more than once a year. Remain standing if you go to department stores more than once a month. If not, sit down. (Twice a month, three times a month, once a week, twice a week.) [Record the results]
  • Do you think this woman is dressed in the latest fashion? If you do, lift up your book; if you don’t, touch your ear. [Tape the picture on the board, and record the results]
  • Do you think this woman has bad taste? If you do, put your hand up, if you don’t, touch the floor. [Tape the picture on the board, record the results.]
  • Where did you buy your shoes? If you bought them in a department store, touch your nose. If you bought them in a boutique, put your hands under your desk. [Record the results]

    • Introduction of new material: recording results of the survey. Introduce frequency vocabulary and demonstrate it describing results using first two questions: “Most of the class thought . . .”; “Some of the class thought . . .” If the material seems easy for the students, quickly ask for summaries of the results of other questions. If the material seems difficult, give them five minutes to work with their neighbors, then ask.
  • Group work: worksheets with six new survey questions related to personal shopping and fashion preferences. Break class up into groups of six so that each person is responsible for a question. Each student is responsible for asking all others in group his or her question and recording the results.
  • Do you wear the current fashion?
  • Do you dress like your friends?
  • Should people over thirty dress differently than people under thirty?
  • Do you like to wear dark colors?
  • Do you prefer to shop in large shopping malls or small boutiques?
  • When you meet someone new, is their taste in clothing important to you?
    • Report back to class: warn students that they should listen closely because they will need to know the general results for a homework assignment. Have each student report the results for his or her question within the group of six.
  • Homework: Explain to students that you want them to take the survey questions home to ask people in their family. They should then prepare five sentences comparing the preferences of their family with the preferences of the class. The next class will begin with a discussion of their results.
  • Contingency plan: Relay race. Divide the class into three teams. Using three identical stacks of index cards, have each student run to the front of the class, take the top card, and write the answer to the question on the card on the board, then run back to tag next person in line. Questions will ask students to make a judgment based on looking at the rest of the class – “How many students are wearing black shoes? The latest fashion? White shirts?” Students have to write one of five answers on board: all, most, about half, some, none. The winning team is the one that completes all of the questions first without having an answer that disagrees with both other teams.

Materials: Lists of new vocabulary, pictures of models with different styles taken from local magazines and newspapers, worksheets with surveys, index cards with questions.

More Activities

ESL/EFL books abound in activities and games and they can save you a lot of time and energy in thinking of ways to pass the hours. Be sure to think about the suitability of the activities for your particular country and group of students, not only for level but for cultural relevance.

Question and Answer Match-ups

This activity is similar to the cocktail party game of matching famous romantic pairs, where each person is given a famous personality and has to walk around and mingle with other guests until they find their pair (Juliet has to find Romeo, Mickey Mouse has to find Minnie Mouse). In the EFL classroom, however, the activity can be expanded to include entire question and typical response match-ups. Print several questions and typical responses on separate index cards, shuffle them, and distribute them. Students have to memorize what is printed on their card. Collect the cards, and allow the students to mingle around the room until they find their match.

Have the students report back to class, then have the two partners switch places (the old responder asks the question, the old questioner responds.) This activity can be adapted to suit many different lesson topics.


This activity is mentioned in a few older ESL/EFL texts, and works better with high intermediate to advanced students. A crime occurs (be creative – something to do with the vocabulary you are trying to target would be ideal) and three students from the class are accused. They were all together at the time of the crime, and need to submit an alibi. Have them leave the room for five minutes to decide exactly what they were doing. Explain to the students that they will be questioned separately and that the questions will be very specific (“where in the movie theater were you sitting?”) so that they can adequately prepare. Then, each of the three students should enter, one at a time, to answer other students’ questions. Once all three have answered, the rest of the class can compare stories to find inconsistencies.


This is a variation of the popular game where students have to find matches between two cards that have the same thing printed on them. The added difficulty to this game is that they have to find pairs in logical order of a sentence. Break classes into two or more teams. Place the cards with individual words on them face down in a grid, such as the following, that would test knowledge of nouns, verbs, and pronouns:

1 invite The school me The girls
2 The girls educates him me
3 educates invites The school him

Each team is allowed to ask you to turn over two cards (for example, A1 and C2). If the two are the same, and they logically follow the previous pair found in a sentence, they get a point. In this example, the first pair picked to get a point will have to be “The school” or “The girls.” The next pair picked will have to be the verb that agrees with the noun ( “The girls grades,” isn’t correct) and so on until all of the sentences are made. Meaning of the sentences is not as important as noun-verb agreement, as long as students understand the meaning of the sentences they are creating.

Crazy Stories

Find a story, replace several words with blank spaces, and write which type of speech the missing word should be:

The ____________________________ dance gracefully under the _________.
The (number > 1) (adjective) (plural noun) dance gracefully under the (noun).

Students can work in pairs or small groups, share the resulting stories with each other, and later share them all (or the group’s funniest) with the class.

Blackboard Races

Divide the class into two teams. Have two stacks of cards ready with parts of speech written on them, and ordered in such a way that they could make a logical sentence (article, noun, verb, pronoun, noun, preposition, article, noun.) The first person in each team runs to you, you hand the student the first card in his or her team’s stack and the student writes an appropriate word on the board. The students then run back to tag the next person, who comes to get the second grammar card from you, and so on. Stop the game when the first team finishes the sentence. Teams get a point for each word that fits into the appropriate grammatical group and fits into the sentence.

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