Lesson Planning


It’s been a busy week.  I have now given my introduction lesson to every class (sixteen total) at my high school.  Since we started a new term last week, that means I am now planning lessons for every class in every grade based off the curriculum.  The teachers I work with have given me permission to develop my own lessons so long as they correspond loosely to what the students are currently studying in their texts.

So how does a former high school math teacher plan ESL lessons?  Here’s my general method.

Know the Audience

When planning a lesson I need to keep in mind the grade level and English ability of the class.  Each grade has four classes, one of which is an advanced track.  Although the three regular classes share commonalities, they also possess significant differences in attitude, behavior, and ability that can alter the success of a well-intentioned lesson.  Classes that are more genki (cheerful but talkative) may need to be toned down whereas a quiet class may need more encouragement for participation.  Disruptive classes may need more individual work to help them stay focused.  A little extra humor and demonstration in a well-behaved class, on the other hand, can help a concept’s roots dig a little deeper into the minds of the students.

This somewhat dialectic approach to lesson planning is obviously oversimplistic.  There are many other variables to consider.  A single class is generally genki, quiet, disruptive, indifferent, and engaged within a single fifty minute period.  Nevertheless, over time patterns emerge and you can plan around them.


I start my English classes the same way I did in math:  a warm-up.  However, they have completely different purposes.  In math I tried to pick challenging problems for my students that triggered prior knowledge and pushed for deeper understanding (with mixed results).  In Japan my warm-up is usually culturally driven.  In the past week I have used this time to inform my students about the presidential election in the U.S., contemporary slang, handshakes (including secret handshakes), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, and Bob Dylan.  Next week I will discuss Halloween.

This kind of activity serves a few purposes.  First, I get to introduce aspects of my culture.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a trick to grab their attention.  Since I may only visit a class once a week, I can’t use the warm-up as a way to access prior knowledge like I did in my math classes.  Instead I use it to catch them off guard.  For instance I taught a lesson on idioms the other day and began class by walking into the door with an umbrella.  My coworker then proceeded to throw small pictures of dogs and cats at me.  Now, was this the most gutbusting educational joke of all time?  Not even close, but it wasn’t intended to be.  It did, however, wake up ’em up and prepared them for the difficulties that awaited later in the period.


After the warm-up comes the transition.  I make a valiant effort to incorporate the warm-up into the transition activity, but sometimes I can’t quite pull it off.  Recently, however, I managed to link conditional sentences with handshakes and cereal.  I also followed up my presentation on Obama and McCain with two worksheets entitled “Are you all right?”  One worksheet had four pictures of Obama, each one with squiggly lines suggesting pain from a different part of his body (headache, sore legs, toothache, and a sprained ankle).  I then gave the students a worksheet with four ailments and this time they had to draw pictures of McCain under the various assigned conditions.

Main Idea

After the transition activity I generally feel like the neurons are firing at desirable levels and use that opportunity to teach the core lesson of the day.  These main ideas usually relate to conversational English and I try to teach them in simple, direct, and practical ways.  Often my coworker and I will demonstrate the main idea (example, “Are you all right?”  “No, I have a headache.”  “That’s too bad.  Get some rest”) before inviting the students to vocally participate.  We then practice the concept, either orally or through the use of some activity or worksheet.


My most successful lessons usually have some sort of activity at the end to try and get the neurons firing one more time before they leave.  Sometimes we play English games (shiritori, hangtime, crossfire, etc.) and other times we simply practice the main idea using an alternative method.  Today, however, we did not have quite enough time for an enriched English activity.  Instead, I channeled the warm-up one more time and asked the students who they would vote for if they could pick the president of the United States.  Obama won in a landslide in both classes.


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One Response to “Lesson Planning”

  1. sarah austad Says:

    Sounds like you’re pushing Obama, Taylor! You should be fair and balanced. 🙂

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