Thursday, 2 June 2011

Creating TEFL Lesson Plans

If you are a TEFL/ESL teacher, chances are that at some point you will have to plan a lesson. Sure, some people like to turn up and wing it. If you run conversation classes, you might not have to do any more than talk. Some schools will give you a step-by-step lesson plan to follow. However, sometimes an English teacher will be called upon to produce a lesson plan.

If you teach at elementary school, this is more likely as the homeroom teachers' English level varies greatly and some don't feel at all confident teaching it. At Junior High school, teachers have specialised subjects, so the English teachers might feel confident in creating the lesson plans themselves - in fact, they might feel so confident that they see the presence of an ALT as a hindrance and will have you doing little more than reading out the occasional sentence. If you teach at an eikaiwa (conversation school) or run private lessons, chances are that you will have to produce your own lesson plans.

Sometimes you will receive little more information than "possessive pronouns", "colours" or "I can...", and you will be expected to base a lesson plan around that. What do you do? How do you make sure that they learn the grammar, use it AND remain interested in the lesson? Well, while I'm no expert, I do know a lot of resources to help you create TEFL games, activities and lesson plans. The internet is your friend. So, here's my very brief guide (including great resources further down)!

1) What am I meant to be teaching?

So you've been given a topic like "present perfect verbs"... what are they? Sure, you can speak English, but that doesn't mean that you can name every individual grammar device. Obviously, your first step is to make sure that you understand the grammar before you go teaching it. So - get your arse onto Google and find what it means. Find examples. Make sure that you can complete example exercises yourself before you go trying to teach it.

2) How am I going to teach it?

Well, the way that Interac taught us was "Presentation, Practice, Production". This means that firstly, you need to introduce the target language. For small children this might be nothing more than words (for example, animal names). As young children might not be able to read, pictures are important. Teaching them the new words can be as simple as showing pictures one-by-one and getting them to repeat after you.

For grammar, of course it depends on the age and the level of the class. You could write a few sentences on the board and get students to match them to the right pictures. You could leave blanks and see if they can fill them in. For example, if they have already studied present and past tense (I play soccer, I played soccer) you could draw a time line on the board. Under the current time in the middle of the board, write the present tense. On the left hand side write an earlier time (or yesterday's date) and write the past tense of the same action. Then, on the right hand side write a later time (or tomorrow's date) and write the future tense (e.g. "I will play soccer"). Get them to repeat, and then fill in the past and present tense for another action and see if they can work out the future tense.

For more advanced students, you could give them something to read that mostly uses language that they know, but also contains a couple of examples of the new grammar. After they have read the material, you can concentrate on those sentences, write them on the board and see if they can explain the meaning. Write a couple more examples to see if they understand.

The practice aspect involves getting the students to rehearse using the new language. This could be in the form of speaking or writing, depending on your main lesson focus. For small children, you could use chants or songs, perhaps involving gestures and other ways to keep them active. Making them simply repeat the words over and over will bore them (and you) and mean that their brains are not fully engaged. If you can show them the right picture and elicit the right word, you're doing well.

For more advanced students, you could have them repeat sentences. Grammar is harder to "cement" in the brain than words, and they might not feel confident in using grammar until they've been able to practice it a little. Besides, the more they hear it and practice physically saying it, the more likely they are to come to tell when something sounds "right" and "wrong". There are some fun ways to get them to practice, too. Perhaps you could give them a dialogue that uses the target grammar and get them to rehearse it in pairs (changing parts every time). You could have them race to write down the sentences that you tell them. You could give them the sentences on cut up pieces of paper and get them to arrange them into the right order. There's a game where you tape the sentences to a wall on the far side of the room, and group/team members take turns in running up to the wall, reading the sentence and dictating what they can remember back to the "writer" at their table. The first group to correctly write all the sentences down, wins. Competitive elements work well with teenagers, as it gives them a reason to be interested in the language.

Presentation, or elicitation, means that students can use the language without your direct help. For example, if you've taught present perfect verbs with only the examples "I have been to Canada" and "I have eaten snails", and a student comes out with "I have climbed Mt Fuji" then it's a good sign that they understand. You could introduce a question (e.g. "What interesting things have you done?") and have them reply.

Presentation can range from having students give one original sentence to the class to having them write something for you to check, but if you're working with younger people then you definitely want to keep them interested. This is where all manner of games, activities and worksheets can come in. Think about ways for students to show you that they can use the target language. Perhaps with young children it'll be that they can point to something red when you say "red". For older students, it might be that they can create original questions and sentences using the new grammar. Whatever it is, when planning your lesson, write down your "goal" - what it is that you want your students to know or be able to do by the end of the class. Your task is to create a plan that leads up to that. How will you check and test it? How will you know that they understand? Find or create a game or two that will demonstrate their new-found English abilities.

3) Materials

If your plan involves showing students flashcards, then make those flashcards. If you want your adult class to read and discuss an article, then get searching (or writing!). Most schools will let you freely use their resources, although - of course - you need to consider what materials you'll need to produce when planning your lessons. There are many games that don't require anything but a voice box and perhaps a board and chalk.

My tips for materials: always make more than you need (in case somebody loses or damages their paper, a new person shows up etc - better to have a few surplus than to find that you don't have enough handouts for every student). For children, colourful and simple work best - what I mean is, if you want to show a flashcard of "monkey", use a colourful monkey clip-art rather than a complex photograph with a monkey lurking in the trees. Students at the back of the class need to be able to see the flashcards, too. It's nice to make things look professional - laminate them, cut them out tidily. Think about how much time you have to prepare - games that involve each student having a set of cards will take a *long* time to prepare if you don't have the cards already.

The internet is loaded with resources, flashcards and worksheets that you need to do nothing more than print out. Of course, if you're a control freak like me, you might prefer to make your own. I search for " clip art" if I need to add pictures, and most of the time you can find some useful things, and I make worksheets using Microsoft Publisher (don't judge, I like it). Sometimes I like to make quizzes on PowerPoint, too - using the animation feature, you can make it so that the answer only comes up when you click. If your classrooms have big TVs or projectors that will hook up to your computer, this can be a great idea for waking up the Junior High students! You could use video clips, too. My advice here is make sure that your presentation works as you want it to and that all the equipment works before you actually do the class, or you could spend half the lesson fiddling around with cables.
4) Use resources!

There's no need to struggle alone when the internet is loaded with ESL and TEFL resources. Just type "TEFL ideas" into Google for a taster. Here, I've compiled a few of my favourite lesson resources for ideas, tips, worksheets, games and activities.

For ALTs in Japan:

JHS Englipedia Project - a must-see resource for anyone who teaches at elementary, junior high or high schools in Japan. Every nationally used textbook (Sunshine, New Horizon etc) is listed and categorised by chapter and target language, with worksheets and games uploaded by various ALTs for each lesson. There are some great worksheets on there, although I usually merge a few ideas into one and create my own. It also contains a lot of versatile games for warm-ups or review lessons.

Eigo Note Blog - anybody who teaches 5th and 6th grade at elementary school will surely be familiar with the awful, confusing text book that is Eigo Noto. Containing only Japanese explanations and strange pictures, this book can be a headache for anybody who can't read 日本語. This website details the aims of each lesson in those two dreaded books, and explains how the author conducted lessons. It also contains a flashcard library. If you have to create lesson plans out of Eigo Note, this website might make your life a lot easier.

General teaching resources: - one of my favourite places, as it contains advice, resources, forums etc, but in particular its "Site of the Month" section provides reviews and links of the best TEFL websites out there.

Lesson Stream - beautifully organised, complete lesson plans. You can search by student age, ability, topic or type of activity. You can review the lesson plans online and then download the flashcards on PDF. These lesson plans include a lot of real-life examples and, in my opinion, have some amazing ideas. I'm quite excited about using some of these ideas in my adult classes.

Spelling City - assign online spelling quizzes and assignments for your students - great if they have computer access (or if you want to set homework!).

ESL Flashcards - free flashcards! I wish I remembered about this website more often, instead of trying to find non-copyrighted cliparts on Google...

Lanternfish - lesson plans, flashcards, crosswords, wordsearches, worksheets, loads of great stuff!

Dave's ESL Cafe - a massive online resource for ESL teachers everywhere. Almost every country is covered in the forums, so it's a good place to share advice. There are job postings from all over the world and a large database of game ideas.

ESL Printables - loads of very pretty worksheets. The only catch is that, in order to download them, you have to upload your own worksheets and have people download them, too.

Genki English - although you have to pay to use a lot of the material, this website contains some great ideas for really getting young (mainly Japanese) children excited about English.

5) Things to consider

*Do you know the target language for your class?

*Are you prepared to introduce it? (Do you have the materials ready?)

*Will the games/worksheets/activities test the students' ability to use the target language?

*It could be a good idea to include previously covered material, too, although don't focus too much on it. Students are more likely to remember things if they have to come back to them and review them in later lessons.

*On a similar note, don't suddenly throw extra vocabulary and grammar in there if they haven't covered it before. Too much new information will distract from the target language.

*Are your materials attractive and professional? Do you have enough handouts for everyone?

*It's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Perhaps you won't have time to use all of the planned activities, but it's better to have too many activities than to run out ten minutes before the end of the lesson. You can always keep what you don't use until next time.

*Similarly, don't try to rush through every activity, just because you've prepared them. Gauge the pace of your students and go with the flow. If they seem really bored or confused by an activity, try something else. If they're really enjoying an activity, then you can let it run for a little longer. It often takes a lot longer to explain something that you plan, but it's better to underestimate the time that each activity will take, to make sure that you have enough material.

6) Example - teaching animals to elementary school children

OK, let's say that your task is to teach the names of a few animals to a group of 8-year-old children. If you haven't been told which ones to teach, then think about the best ideas. What are the most useful words? The easiest? The ones they'll probably want to know? For example, from this list, what would you pick? Cat, dog, giraffe, pig, hippopotamus, rhinocerous, duck billed platypus, whale shark, dolphin, mouse, rabbit, aardvark, horse, sheep, heron, flamingo, ring-tailed lemur.

Personally I'd go for the easiest and the most common, so it depends on where you're teaching. If you're in Kenya then safari animals might be a good bet. Over in Japan, they love the cute things. So, I'd go for cat, dog, rabbit, mouse, sheep, horse, pig and... hmm, a giraffe, why not!?

First, we want to introduce the words, so we'll need flashcards. ESL Flashcards has some nice animal flashcards , and does ESL Kids - or you could find/make your own. Print them out (colour is best) and laminate them if you can. We'll introduce them by showing one card at a time and getting the children to repeat each word a few times. Then we'll go through them again. The third time, try to get the kids to say the word without your help. Mix up the order.

To practice saying the words a little more, let's think about songs. Do you know any songs that use animal names? Could you change a popular song to be one about animals? How about typing "animal song (ESL)" into Google? If you don't want to sing, then you could use a chant, either with simple clapping or a beat-box type deal (they have these in some of my schools here). You could hold up cards and pick on individual students to say the animal's name.

Now - presentation! They're children so they won't be writing much down. This is going to be focused on games. A quick search for "ESL animals" on Google brings up a multitude of game ideas. Let's pick a couple...

ESL Kids - "Animal Crackers: Take a big dice and assign an animal to each number. Have the students roll the dice and act like the animal!" - you could assign teams and give one point to each team whenever they correctly guess the animal.

Suite 101 - "Play Pictionary or Charades to Reinforce Animal Vocabulary"

Some other (unsourced) ideas that I've used in the past:

Key Word Game: I choose a "key word". Children make pairs and put an eraser between them. Whenever I say a word, the kids clap "BAM-BAM" and repeat the word. The rhythm will generally increase slowly. When I say the "key word", they grab the eraser - the fastest kid from every pair wins. They will go crazy over this game and do it again and again (changing the key word every time, of course). If you let them choose the key word, they will get very excited.

"Chinese Whispers"/Dengon Game: Each "team" stands in a row, the child at the front of each row near the board. On the board are all the animal cards. You whisper the name of an animal to the child at the back of each row. When you say "GO!" they whisper the word to the child in front of them. When the word reaches the front, the kid at the front runs to the board and touches the right card. Fastest (and correct) team wins one point.

Animal Basket: Get children to sit in a circle and stand in the middle. Assign each child an animal. When the person in the middle names their animal, they must get up and swap seats with all the other standing children. Whoever is slowest to grab a seat will end up standing in the middle, and then it is their turn to choose an animal. When the person in the middle wants everyone to get up and cause seat-swapping chaos, they can say "animal basket!" or "zoo" or something similar.

I'd enter the lesson armed with three ideas, at least. You will probably only have time for two (especially if you need to explain first), but it's better to be prepared in case you end up with extra time or the children really don't enjoy one of your games. At the end of the lesson, review the animals one more time.

That's all for now... I hope it was helpful! Feel free to add your own suggestions and comments!


  1. You are awesome. Thanks for the help/advice! I was feeling lost before, but now I feel confident about the upcoming week! (I've only taught for four days so far :S). Thanks!

  2. As an aspiring EFL Teacher, I found this very useful.