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ESL Lesson Plans: Types and Purpose

ESL Lesson Plans: Types and Purpose

All ESL teachers–regardless of training, experience, or competency–need a carefully drawn lesson plan in order to assist their students in attaining learning objectives, both on a daily basis as well as the long-term. Having a lesson plan is like having a complete and clear visualization of how a learning session is to take place and how students are able to grasp and retain lesson concepts. Numerous research indicate that pre-visualizing success in athletic competitions as well as business endeavors is a concrete step in the process of actually achieving it. The same is true with classroom engagements. Without a lesson plan, this visualization process is blurred at best and the learning outcomes that will be generated will be far from ideal.

That said, the importance of lesson plans in ESL/EFL education is difficult to overstate. ESL educators simply need to visualize daily lessons in advance and build the most appropriate teaching strategies into a comprehensive lesson plan. Otherwise, going to class without adequate preparation will most likely be detrimental to both the teachers and their students. Unprepared teachers will become mediocre at the job and will be viewed as unprofessional by their peers, superiors, and students. On the other hand, students under inadequately prepared language teachers will enjoy less-than optimum knowledge inputs and will generally have a low quality learning and appreciation of lesson concepts, compared with students under highly competent and prepared educators.

Given the substantial resources pooled into the learning session by students and education providers, an unprofessionally managed class is a terrible waste of time, money and effort. Moreover, students and teachers under this scenario generally have very low motivation to improve. Having a lesson plan and effectively using it as a guide for daily teaching will reflect your professionalism and reliability. You also present yourself as a good role model for your students who will come to appreciate the value of coming to class prepared and primed to achieve the lesson targets.

Lesson Plan 101

If you are new to teaching, a lesson plan is basically just a step-by-step guide on how the teacher intends to present a lesson and the ways by which students are expected to learn and appreciate the various lesson concepts. An excellent lesson plan is one that can be easily and effectively used by another educator in your place. This means that the ideal lesson plan is both clear and comprehensive. The details and elements of lesson plans vary, depending on the specific format mandated by the school or organization. However, the common components of good lesson plan include the following:

1. Lesson Title

2. The period of time (in minutes, hours, days, or weeks) necessary to complete the lesson

3. Class details (class name or section, age, skill level, etc.)

4. The lesson objectives

5. Instructional approach(es) to be used (this section describes the sequence of learning events as well as the techniques the teacher will use in helping students achieve the lesson objectives)

6. Instructional materials (such as a film, an image gallery, a music video, etc.)

7. Summary of and derived conclusions from the lesson

8. Methods for practicing the lesson concepts

9. Evaluation and testing methods to be used

10. Contingency plans or elements (This section describes subsidiary topics or additional techniques and materials that can be used to either fortify the learning gains generated during the session or productively fill up excess time. Fun and engaging, seat work, dialogues, and other activities are ideal for this section)

Unless a specific lesson plan format is required by the learning institution, most ESL practitioners tailor their lesson plans according to the teaching philosophies or techniques they believe in or are most comfortable with. In general, however, excellent ESL lesson plans have common characteristics that you should integrate in your own teaching strategies:

· Ideal lesson plans have a concise summary that fits on a single page. The detailed plan proper may–and often–exceeds this number, but the idea is to allow anyone to have a quick overview of the lesson.

· Great lesson plans are organized in a way that is easy and a delight to follow.

· Lesson plans should be strongly aligned with the needs and learning competencies of their intended audience.

· Each individual lesson plan should adhere to a continuity of lesson concepts and should not only fit in the curriculum but also reflect the overall vision of the subject.

· ESL Lesson plans should establish platforms for students to apply language learning to real-world situations.

In ESL education, lesson plans are crucial even in purely conversational classes. In order to establish an environment that encourages high quality learning and draws non-native speakers to articulate themselves extensively, adequate preparation is of paramount importance. Having a haphazardly designed plan is also inexcusable.

Types of ESL Lesson Plans

There are literally dozens of lesson plan types depending on the teaching philosophy followed by an educator or specific mandated by learning institutions. In ESL and EFL education, the most common lesson plans are those based on three main instructional approaches:

A. PPP (Presentation, Practice and Production)

B. TTT (Test, Teach and Test)

C. TBA (Task-based Approach)

Presentation, Practice and Production. PPP is a recommended lesson approach for many educators of ESL/EFL and is commonly taught in institutions that provide TESOL and TEFL certifications. Most English language educators believe that PPP is the root approach from which other approaches have evolved.

In a nutshell, PPP facilitates the presentation (teacher-centric) of new language concepts, the practice (joint participation of teacher and students) of the new language concepts, and the production (student-centric) of new language concepts. During the presentation phase, up to 80 percent of the period may be appropriated for a lecture or a teacher-led explanation of lesson concepts. During this time, the teacher may discuss grammatical issues, spelling, and common use of the new language concept. The teacher also raises concept appreciation checks to verify the students’ understanding of the new concepts. When students clearly understand the new concepts, the teacher may then proceed to the next phase. Otherwise a brief recap of the subject matter should be conducted.

In the practice phase, the teacher encourages students to participate more through orchestrated conversation graded recitation. Ideally, this phase should allow students to articulate 60 to 70 percent of the time, with the teacher assuming a secondary role as moderator. Written and verbal activities and drills should both be used, with varying intensities depending on the new language concept.

Lastly, students should be encouraged to dominate (90 percent participation) the production phase. The teacher only monitors the class dynamics and just give feedback as the lesson ends. By this time, students should be adequately comfortable with the new language concepts that they can accurately and fluently use it to communicate.

Test, Teach and Test. TTT is a frequently used alternative to the PPP method, wherein the production phase is sequentially moved to the first part of the lesson. During the (first) test phase that corresponds to the production phase in the PPP approach, students are more or less abruptly asked to communicatively produce a language concept based on their existing knowledge and without any prior guidance from the teacher. The teacher will then asses the students’ level of competency in the particular language area, determine their needs, and proceed with the teach phase (which corresponds to the presentation phase in the PPP approach) based on an overall assessment. The teach phase allows educators to discuss problem areas and guide students towards the correct use of the language concept.

The final stage of the TTT approach is the second test that aims to check how students have absorbed the new inputs from the teacher. The logic of this sequencing is for students to learn the new language concepts better by differentiating its invalid uses (most likely to be committed during the first test phase) from correct usage (likely to be accomplished after the teacher presented the language concept during the teach phase).

In general, the TTT approach is a good way for teachers to determine the specific needs of students in different language areas. With this knowledge, educators can optimize their teaching strategies to produce optimum learning outcomes. It is best used in intermediate and higher competency levels, as well as in classes where the students have mixed language proficiencies. However, one consistent criticism about the TTT approach is that it has an element of randomness since several, unexpected student needs may arise that is beyond the scope of the intended lesson. Despite this disruptive possibility, the TTT approach is still being adopted by many educators because it is very “economical” and “focused” in the sense that valuable time need not be wasted on teaching language areas students are already proficient with.

Task based Approach. TBA is a good alternative to either the PPP approach or the TTT method. In TBA-structured classes, teachers do not pre-determine the language specifics to study but base their lesson strategies on how a central task is completed by the students. Similar to the other two approaches, TBA follows a sequential progression: 1) a pre-task introduction to be conducted by the teacher; 2) the students’ completion of a central task involving a particular language aspect; 3) reporting, analysis and feedback to be performed by the teacher concerning how the students accomplished the central task; and 4) practice sessions to hone student proficiencies in the language area.

The task-based approach is advocated by many educators because of several clear advantages. For one thing, TBA allows students to employ all their language resources towards the completion of a task and not just pre-selected language areas as in the case of PPP. In addition, TBA utilizes natural, real-life language contexts that are highly relevant to students. Hence, language exploration and learning directly arises from students’ actual needs and not as suggested in textbooks. TBA is also based on the premise that a holistic exposure to language–as opposed to incremental exposures common to PPP–is a better way of learning a new language.


Based on the profusion of online materials, each approach enjoys strong support from their respective proponents. It would not hurt to try out each one depending on your classes’ learning environments. Remember, there is no written rule restricting anyone from modifying, combining, or optimizing any of the three approaches. At least in designing lesson plans, flexibility is a more preferred option than dogmatic rigidity. The bottom line is to customize the lesson plan that will help every one attain the learning objectives and deliver the best value for your students.