Tips to create great lesson plans and pitfalls to avoid


So, how do you create a successful lessons plan that engages your students, keeps them focused (their attention), and helps them learn? Keep reading to find out the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of lesson planning when teaching in an ESL classroom. 

First, make sure that you study a TESOL or CELTA to ensure that you can effectively plan your lessons. A TEFL course will help you know what teaching strategies to use during lesson planning, and the resources required to prepare along with behavior management techniques.

Let us begin with the top 3 ways to create effective lesson plans followed by 3 pitfalls to avoid: 

1. Be prepared and be over-prepared

The worst thing you could do is to go into a class with NO LESSON PLAN. Or almost as bad as – walking with an incomplete lesson plan. Your students, whether children or adults, will pick up on this the moment you enter the room. Therefore, my first advice is to prepare your lesson thoroughly.

Now, I doubt you would enter your class with NO plan, but even a vague or limited lesson plan has the potential to cause disaster. This is because a classroom is unpredictable; you never really know what way the tide will turn! 

To be prepared for a lesson, you not only need an outline of what you will be doing on the day, but you need a detailed plan of what to do in order to adjust to the needs of students, what you will do if time runs out or, what to do if you are left with too much of extra time at the end of the lesson. 

From studying various teaching qualifications, I am taught that there is no such thing as an over-prepared teacher. Just imagine having 20 minutes left of a class and you have no idea what to do.

Even if your school provides a curriculum and lesson plans, always have some warm-ups or cool-downs prepared just in case. 

Plan for every situation that could happen on a given day and have clear, specific objectives and guidelines of what will be achieved that day. This is one aspect of a successful professional teacher, especially when you are first starting your career. 

2. Make the class fun

For younger students, add some Youtube videos or songs, rhymes, anything that helps the content seem more alive.

For teenagers, have them work on real-life scenarios, analyze and develop their own ideas.

For adults, something as simple as a joke can help your class feel more engaged. 

Making a class fun does not have to be extravagant by any means, but it does have to suit the age group you are teaching, and it should definitely be educational. 

3. Use high-quality resources and break them up into reasonable time slots

One mistake teachers make is that they either go over or under the classes time limit. 

It’s great you have found so many resources on teaching English vocabulary to children, for example, but choose the best resources, not the only ones. Use your discretion and knowledge of your learners in reflecting on what resources they would find most useful and questioning the source of these resources. 

Secondly, break this up into different sections of your lesson plans. 

Do not combine your whole lesson plan into one huge paragraph. Break up sections into lots of 15-20 minutes. This will also help you with classroom management, preventing you from going over or under time during the class. 

It may seem like common sense, but it’s always good to be organized. 

Also read: CELTA Lesson Planning Tips

Pitfalls to avoid:

1. Too much TTT (Teacher Talk Time)

While studying to be an English teacher, which is essentially teaching a brand new language to someone unfamiliar with it in the first place, we need to limit the time we are talking in the classroom. 

Yes, some teachers love the lecturing styles and presume that this is a suitable method for any classroom. The ESL classroom is just so different that we cannot base teaching on traditional teaching styles. 

If a student is supposed to learn pronunciation, speaking fluency, and overall confidence with the language, how are they supposed to learn from listening to a teacher speak for a few hours per day? 

Yes, exposure to the language is great, but chances are students won’t understand half of what you are talking about.

Go into ESL classrooms with a different mindset to regular classrooms in your home country or even conversations you are used to having with other people. 

Teaching English requires TPR, body language, new age techniques, visual cues, flexibility, and patience.

Go back to the basics and assess what your students know, where they are currently at and then improve this slowly each day by exposing them to using the language 80% of the time, and you talk only 20%. 

2. Content is too hard or too easy

Know your students level, research their level, prepare, and do not overly accelerate them into studying poetry if they don’t even know what metaphors are yet. 

The lesson will be equally redundant if you teach students things they already know. Over time you should be getting to know your students and place long term goals in extending them. 

Especially if you are teaching an advanced class, don’t be satisfied with the fact that they already are comfortable with the language. Find weaknesses, extend their knowledge, and teach them more complex language concepts. 

Include long term goals and observations into your lesson plans teachers! 

3. Include content relevant to students lives = interesting

Some teachers are so heavily focused on learning tense, nouns, verbs, syntax, etc. that they forget that students learn when content relates to their lives! If students realize the lesson content that day will be useful in real-life situations, they will be much more likely to be motivated. 

Of course, stick to all the basic requirements of English that students need to know, but don’t be afraid to include extra content and activities that will help students use English in real life. There are many ways you can do this for adults, such as teaching proper grammar for writing emails, role-playing conversations, and reviewing common phrases and idioms. 

Content that relates to students lives, no matter their age, will make the difficulty of learning a new language much more bearable. 

So with these “tips and pitfalls to avoid”, I wish you great lesson planning, and if you like this article, please share!

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This article was originally published in Sep-2019 and was last updated in Jan-2023.

Author: Donna J H

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