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planning an esl lesson

step 1

Setting objectives

Understanding what your lesson objectives are, is the first step to planning. When setting a goal think about what is it that you would like students to take away from the class. Having a clear understanding of where your students are and where you want them to be by the end of the lesson, helps you structure the class. 


Lesson goals need to be clear, simple, and achievable.

step 2

Lesson Structure

No matter the length of your class, there is a very simple structure that you can follow when planning your ESL lesson: 

warm up

The warm up captures students’ attention and readies them for class.

Introduction content

Introduce the language objectives for the lesson


Enable memorization and deepen comprehension by providing ample opportunities use target language.  This part of the lesson is more fun and effective if in the form of a game. 


How to wrap it up!

Remember that your lesson structure is a guide and not set in stone. If you feel you need to make adjustments to cater to the students’ needs, then do so! Keep in mind that every activity you plan is the tool to achieving your objectives. The goal, is to create a fun, relaxed environment that allows for ample opportunity to use target language. 

warm up

The warmup, is a vital part of any English lesson. A successful, five-minute activity directs students’ focus and creates the right conditions to introduce new material. These activities need to be fun, engaging and simple. So, how do we do it?


For younger students (2-4 years old) a song works best. This can be a song that they have previously learned and loved, or a new nursery rhyme, chant, or finger play. Make sure that you learn the song before the lesson and add some actions to the words (TPR) to help capture student’s attention.


For older students (4+ years) a short game reviewing previously taught materials works well. This should be a game that students have previously played and enjoyed so that we don’t need to spend time explaining the rules, or a very simple game that is easy to play. Switch is a great example of a warm up game that can be used to review previously taught language points. You can also watch my video on ESL warm up ideas for some ideas.

Introduction of New Content

After the warm up students are ready to learn something new. Simply holding up flashcards and having students repeat words, is a quick way for students to lose interest so as a next step, we need to plan an engaging way to introduce new language points to students. There are two parts to this; the first is the introduction of the flashcard and the second is repetition of the target language.


Flashcard/Realia introduction needs to be done in a way that captures students’ attention. This can involve students discovering the flashcard in a fun way or completing a simple task in order to be rewarded with a flashcard. Cups, bowling, and bounce are some simple examples of this.


Each time we are introducing a new word, repetition and TPR are essential. Most especially for younger learners, new words need to be repeated 3-5 times when we introduce them. Adding an action for the word or clapping out the syllables helps students retain these new words faster.

Practice/ Production of New Content

Now that we have introduced the new language points, we want to get students practicing them and ESL games are a fantastic way to do this! But how do we choose the right game?


When choosing an ESL game, we need to consider the students age, their English level, and the number of students in the class. Competitive team games don’t work as well as for younger students (2-4 years old) as the games tend to be too complex and students don’t understand the concept of competition. Older students however (4 years +), love competitive team games and the competition between peers can be very motivating. Another element to consider is the length of time it will take to play the game. If the game takes too long to play or too long to explain you might not have enough time to finish. Be sure to check out the games section for some fun ESL game ideas for all ages.


Lastly, when and choosing a game, it’s important to consider how you will keep the whole class engaged as you play. If we choose a fun game that involves only a few students playing at one time, what strategies can we use to keep everyone engaged? I explain more on this in my video on classroom management.


When planning the end of your class there are a few points to consider. Firstly, we need to think about the next activity after class. If students are leaving after class, perhaps a goodbye song would be a good way to end the class. Maybe students will go to the bathroom after class, in which case we should stagger students’ dismissal so that the bathroom isn’t crowded. We can do this by asking students a review question one by one.

step 3


Each section of your class should be allocated a time frame. The timing of each section will depend of the length of your class. However, a longer period of time should be given to the introduction of new content and practice sections of the class as these are the main elements that will help us achieve our lesson goal. You can use the table below as a guide but remember to make adjustments where needed to best suit your students’ needs.

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  • Plan activities that have a logical link. If the class flows well from one activity into another, students are more likely to stay engaged and learn more.


  • Think about and plan the pace of your class. If you have an activity that you know will get students energetic and excited, plan a calmer activity to follow it.


  • Adjust for the different language levels in your class. If you have students that are behind or ahead in your class, think about ways in which you can include them.


  • Plan how you will explain each activity in a way that will be understood by students. Explanations should be clear and visual, especially for lower level students. Demonstrate how to do an activity with an assistant teacher if needed.


  • Review your class after teaching it. What went well, what didn’t, and why? What do you think you can change to improve the lesson when teaching it again?

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