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Notes On ESL Lesson Plans

A potential EFL teacher recently contacted me to ask: what’s involved in planning a lesson? Of course it’s hard to give a definitive answer, but it’s a good question because it’s a large part of the job, and a part that’s often neglected in EFL blogs, at least this one.

I should start with the standard “cover yourself” answers of: it depends on a plethora of factors, you’ll learn that in a course. But fairly enough, I think people want to get some sense of it – even if just an example – before they commit to a course and invest the money and so on.

And so I will oblige with an example of my own.

What the lesson will cover:
I’ll take as an example a text that I personally like (twins with surprising life coincidences) – and a tense that I don’t (present perfect) – from Cutting Edge Intermediate.

The story talks about a study of twins who were separated at birth but reunited much later. All the twins mentioned turn out to have truly bizarre similarities in their lives, not just their respective appearances. One pair had both divorced a woman with the same first name, had a dog of the same name growing up, and held a series of similar jobs. Others experienced important events like marriages or serious (probably non-genetic) illnesses around the same time. The book presentation actually starts with a vocabulary activity, then comes the text, some questions on content, some questions on grammar (in fact this may come up much later, but let’s pretend), and finally some practice.

And now: what’s involved in planning a lesson?

There are probably steps I’ve left out, but this is an overview. Over time, as you would expect, I get through them more quickly. Instructions, for example, are not something I focus on explicitly much any more, and once I’ve gone through a set of exercises once, I don’t usually need to do it again. I notice especially that once I get a sense of speaking or communicative activities or games that can go with particular grammar points or vocabulary (or good recyclable activities) this saves me a lot of time.

There are of course tips and strategies for doing all of these things that you will learn about and practice in a TEFL course, and you will also develop your own.

Disclaimer: this is based on my experience teaching primarily adult learners in private language schools in Eastern Europe. In the vast majority of group classes I’ve dealt with, there has been a textbook that teachers are more or less bound to follow, a test at the end, and a general expectation that the class should be taught in English and involve communicative activities. This is an example of how I would likely prepare a particular lesson. I’m not saying everyone has to or should prepare in this way, but I think for the context I taught in, especially for a new teacher, this wouldn’t be untypical. If you do it differently…let me know how!