Lesson Planning for ESL Teachers


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Nobody enjoys lesson planning – well at least nobody I know! But it’s such an important part of teaching. Without properly planned lessons, the content effectiveness is next to zero. It also makes the teacher look unprepared and students (and administrators) take that in and form unfavorable opinions.

How do you write an effective lesson plan?

An effective lesson plan should have the following things:

  • Clear learning objectives – What will the students know or be able to do after the lesson?
  • Clear language objectives – What language will students be able to use after the lesson?
  • Academic standards outlined – The state and national benchmarks students are expected to reach
  • Outlined materials, teaching methods, and amount of time for each activity
  • Accommodations for students with special needs (if applicable)
  • Accommodations for students with different learning styles (differentiation)
  • Ways to assess/check for student understanding

It seems simple, but it takes a lot of time to write (which is why most teachers hate it).


This is something you don’t want.

How does this apply to ESL teachers?

Most lesson planning centers around mainstream/content classrooms (math, science, social studies, etc.). Most teachers are in classrooms where English is the first language of most of their students.

ESL teachers deal with students whose first language is NOT English. That presents some challenges when writing lessons.

One of those challenges is content vocabulary. Which words do students need to focus? Which words will they encounter in the text that aren’t part of the target vocabulary? How do you summarize complex ideas into simple chunks of information for students to process? (These challenges also happen to mainstream teachers, too)

This ties into another challenge that faces ESL teachers: ESL students typically have a low CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). Teaching academic language is not easy since most terms won’t be frequently encountered outside of the classroom. If you want tips on teaching academic language, Edutopia has an excellent article here.


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What language output do I expect from my students?

This is one of the key areas of lesson planning for ESL teachers. If we cannot get our students to produce language in a way that’s communicable, then why exactly are we teaching?

This brings up whether to help students develop BICS or CALP.

BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

In the end, both types of language are necessary for success in, and out of, the classroom. Students should learn how to communicate with others effectively, but also be aware of when and how to use academic language.

An example of BICS output, would be an activity where students need to ask for directions, or give a basic introduction about themselves. These skills are necessary to learn as students interact with others on a daily basis outside the classroom – and especially if they travel abroad.

An example of CALP output, would be an activity where the students identify and classify animals according to type (reptile, mammal, bird, fish, etc.), and then discuss how each type differs from the other. The activity would require higher-order thinking skills as well as knowledge acquired about animals, as well as appropriate vocabulary (“Characteristics of mammals are..”, “Characteristics of reptiles are…”, etc.).

Whether it’s language production through speech or in writing, a good lesson plan should focus on both developing students’ BICS and CALP skills.


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Ultimately, we want our students to be successful, and an engaging lesson plan that’s tailored to students’ needs will help them achieve success.

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Filed under EFL, ELL, ESL, Korea, Lesson Planning, Teaching

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