If you’ve been teaching from a textbook or curriculum for a while and want to begin creating your own lesson plans, you may be wondering where to start. There are a lot of different aspects involved in creating a lesson, but one of the most important is planning out the activities that your students will be engaging in. If you'd like to learn more about grouping your students together, check out ESL Activities for Adults: Planning Student Arrangements.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to start completely from scratch when planning a lesson or an activity. There are plenty of activity ideas that you can access with a quick Google search or Pinterest browse. Nevertheless, finding the right activity for you, your students, and your lesson can be a little bit more time-consuming.
There are a few basics to lesson-planning and activity-picking that you can begin with. First, the sequencing of your activities within a lesson, and the sequencing of your lessons within a unit or curriculum, should build upon one another. This may sound obvious, but you want to make sure that your activities are gradually increasing in difficulty as your students progress through the lesson.
You’ll also want to consider recycling language and skills. What this means is, if you teach a grammar point in the first activity and never revisit it, your students are very likely to forget what you’ve taught them. Your students should be practicing the same language skills and vocabulary in multiple activities within your lesson and class, but with increasing difficulty.
Another thing to take into consideration is who your activity is focused on. Traditionally, teachers think about lesson plans as a plan for the teacher. What will the teacher be doing during the class period? However, being aware of this can help tremendously in shifting your thinking towards the idea that a lesson plan is a road map of what the students will be doing during class. Your students should have something specific to do at every stage of the lesson.
If your students are listening to you lecture about something, should they be taking notes? Should they be working on listening for main ideas? ELLs especially have a hard time listening to language without a specific purpose. Most activities within a lesson plan already have a specific thing for students to do, but if not, make sure you identify what the students are doing at all times.
Aside from a specific task, your activities should also have a specific purpose at every stage of the lesson. Being aware of your class goals and lesson goals can help you as you plan activities. If your class goals are to prepare your students for academic writing, you probably shouldn’t plan an activity to practice speaking at a grocery store.
The ESL activities that you plan should reflect the overarching goals of your class, the goals of your lesson, and the real-world needs of your students.
The Overarching Goals of Your Class
Starting with a bird's-eye-view, your activities should reflect the overarching goals of your class. The goals of your class are, more than likely, a synthesis of your personal beliefs about teaching and the type of class you’re placed in.
If you’re unsure about your personal beliefs about teaching, be sure to check out my article, ESL Methods of Teaching, in order to learn about popular methodologies and engage in a little bit of self-reflection to find your own.
Take some time to think about your class in general terms.
What are your goals in the classroom?
What are your students goals in showing up?
What are the administration’s or organization’s goals for your class?
You could be teaching an ESL class to doctors, believe in the importance of creative expression through language, but have to meet strict testing requirements for your administration. If that’s the case, the goals of your class will probably be to teach medical English through the productive skills of speaking and writing, while preparing students for testing. That’s quite an array of factors, but your activities can reflect that.
If the above is the case, I would recommend including activities that enable your students to practice all four language skills (speaking, reading, writing, and listening) with the topic of medicine. You could also begin to incorporate quizzes or tests at the end of every class to prepare your students for their English assessments. But that’s just an example, take a few minutes to identify the purpose of your class before choosing activities for your lesson.
The Goals of Your Lesson
While your activities should reflect the overarching goals of your class, they should also reflect the more specific goals of your lesson plan. If you’re teaching in a school, it’s likely that you’re required to identify your learning objectives or to follow a set curriculum of topics and skills. If this is the case, the goals of your lesson are probably already figured out for you!
However, if you’re in a teaching context that doesn’t require these things, it’s a good idea to take the time to jot down some ideas. I would recommend jotting down a brief “curriculum” of your own of topics you want to teach in a specific order. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity, you should at least have an idea of what your goals are for the lesson plan you’re working on.
A good question to ask yourself in order to identify your goal is, “What do I want my students to leave my classroom knowing?” or “What should my students be able to do when they leave today?” Answering these two questions can give you invaluable insight into what activities you should be planning.
Continuing with my ESL class for doctors above, I may have a lesson plan that is focused on patient care vocabulary. While that’s a broad lesson plan topic that can go in a wide variety of directions, my lesson objectives may include my students being able to define a certain set of words, identify their part-of-speech, and use them within a role-play conversation between a doctor and patient.
With my three lesson objectives, I can begin to choose or craft activities that will give my student the space they need to learn, practice, and use English. While keeping your overarching class objectives in your mind, identify a few lesson objectives for the plan you’re working on. This will allow you to make more intentional choices when it comes to planning out lessons.
The Real-World Needs of Your Students
Why do we teach, if not to meet the needs of our students and enable them to live the life they are capable of? If you share that same belief, then your activities should absolutely, without-a-doubt reflect that.
When put into practice, it’s almost common sense. Why would you teach your class of doctors how to follow a recipe, unless that is something they’re already interested in. There are, of course, situations where you have to teach things your students may not be interested in. If you’re teaching high school ESL, there is probably a set curriculum you’re required to follow. Nevertheless, when it is in your power, you should be teaching things that are practical for the lives your students lead.
One of the first questions I ask myself when planning for a new lesson is what my students’ life circumstances are. My class of ESL doctors find themselves in a point in their lives where they need English for their careers. Their circumstances probably are pretty similar. They’re college-educated, working in a hospital or doctors office, and looking to expand their communication skills to English-speaking patients as well.
The next question I ask is if the topic of my class will be helpful. Will my students benefit from learning patient care vocabulary? I think so. Since this is entirely hypothetical, I can say that my students need to know how to discuss patient care. However, maybe some of them already know it, maybe they’re more interested in being able to read medical publications, or maybe they’re more concerned with surgical vocabulary. Those are all things to consider.
The third question I ask if how I can make the lesson applicable. If I’m required to teach patient vocabulary, but they don’t think they need or want to learn that, how can I make it applicable to them? Some ideas include finding medical publications in English that include those vocabulary terms or relating the vocabulary back to their specific circumstances or specialties.
Finally, how can I equip my students with the confidence to use what they’ve learned? I don’t want to simply teach them patient care vocabulary without enabling them to use it. That’s why I’ve identified one of my objectives as using a roleplay scenario to use the terms in a conversation.
There is way more to planning ESL activities for adults than meets the eye. There’s no simple equation to choose the perfect activity, modify it, and facilitate it with ease. If you’ve never planned your own activities for a lesson, it can seem overwhelming to choose an activity. You may have even found that your lessons end up being a mishmash of random activities and topics.
The trick to having a specially crafted lesson plan that flows together is to know what your class, lesson, and students’ objectives are. When those things are carefully defined, your lesson plan will have more focus and your activities will work well together.
After you've identified your goals and objectives, it's time to start planning or modifying your activities! One of the first steps I take when changing up a lesson plan is to look at how my students are working together. Learn more about how to group your students here!
I Want to Hear From You!
What is one of your favorite activities to use in the classroom? Why?
Do you have any activity flops? What do you think went wrong and what would you do differently the next time?