Teaching Tips Tuesday: How to Structure a Basic ESL Lesson Plan

Teaching English at an orphanage in Myanmar.

Lesson planning is one of the most crucial aspects of teaching English abroad, but it’s also one of the most time-consuming and tedious. Many plans even include exactly what the teacher should say during a class, and the anticipated response from students. While this may be necessary at times, the more comfortable you get in the classroom, the less of a structured plan you’ll need to follow.

There are many effective ways to structure ESL lesson plans depending on which TEFL certification course you take. The lesson plan below highlights student-centered activities for speaking and listening, as most Native English teachers abroad seem to focus on these aspects of language acquisition. But, the template structure could easily be adapted for reading and writing as well.

This basic English lesson plan will help get you started whether you, the teacher, will be instructing in a classroom, in a home setting, or in another type of learning environment abroad. It’s especially helpful for our Greenheart Travelers planning to teach English in Colombia.

Important Items to Include in Every English Lesson Plan

Learning Objectives

Highlight the learning objectives in your lesson plan, but don’t stress too much about this portion. The general objective is for students to grasp what you’re trying to teach them.

An antique clock from Myanmar.Timing

Lesson plans usually include an allocated amount of time per part. Timing is important, but don’t worry so much if you don’t follow the timing of your plans to the second. Oftentimes activities run shorter or longer than anticipated. Go with the flow as you’ll likely be dealing with differing cultural concepts of time and a language barrier to boot.


Having a list of necessary materials in your lesson plan is essential, but even more so is making sure to prepare and bring the items you want to use – and/or triple check the classroom space ahead of time to ensure everything you need is properly working and/or available.

The Basic Structure of an ESL Lesson Plan

The basic structure of an English lesson plan usually includes the following parts:

  • Warmer
  • Presentation
  • Practice
  • Production
  • Review

Small balls with faces.


A “warmer” begins a lesson with energy and gets students excited to learn. Oftentimes warmers are a review of previously learned material, or they introduce what’s going to be covered in the lesson. Warmers should be short and motivational.

Suggestion for a warmer activity: Something like “Pass the Ball” is a great way to begin an English lesson for any age group.

Recommended time: 5 minutes (out of a 45-60 minute lesson)


The “presentation” of an ESL lesson generally introduces the topic, grammar points, vocabulary, and/or key expressions to be taught. This segment of the plan is where the teacher takes on the lead role, and has students listen to and repeat phrases.

Suggestions for presentation activities: A quick video, sound bite, or another type of visual works well here to pull students in. Asking lots of questions to get students engaged with the new material works great, too.

Recommended time: 5 minutes (out of a 45-60 minute lesson)

Role of the teacher: Leader

Teaching visuals for the practice portion of an ESL lesson.


Here students begin to practice with the target language. This is a guided section of the class, one in which the role of the teacher is to give examples and monitor student responses.

Suggestion for a practice activity: Pairing English expressions in question and answer form, sometimes referred to as ‘couplets’, is helpful for younger beginners, particularly.

How to incorporate couplets for practice:

  • Create two visual aids out of materials you have available such as a marker, two larger pieces of paper, two straws and some tape.
  • Write ‘T’ for teacher on one paper, and ‘S’ for student on the other.
  • T not only refers to ‘teacher’, but also ‘question’.
  • S stands for ‘answer’ as well.

Each question and answer should be practiced in this order:

TT = The teacher first asks the question as well as answers it so students can hear an example of proper pronunciation and intonation for both.
TS = The teacher then asks the same question, while keeping the ‘T’ visual in hand, and passes the ‘S’ for students to answer individually, in pairs, or in small groups.
ST = Various students ask the question, all the while passing the ‘S’ about the room, and the teacher answers while holding the ‘T’.
SS = Individual students, pairs, or small groups take turns asking and answering the question, making sure to hand off both the ‘T’ and the ‘S’ visuals in turn.

Each pair of expressions should be asked and answered two or three times, in the order above, so many students get a chance to practice, and all hear the key expression(s) numerous times.

Recommended time: 10 minutes (out of a 45-60 minute lesson)


  • Using this type of visual example provides students with a clear way to demonstrate who is asking and/or answering.
  • Instead of writing ‘T’ for teacher and ‘S’ for student on the paper cards, you could also write ‘Q’ for question and ‘A’ for answer.

Students playing the Straw Relay in Myanmar.Production

The Production is perhaps the most important part of an ESL lesson to get the students producing the language practiced. At least one, but usually two student-centered activities should be done during the production segment of a class. The teacher should simply monitor students at this point, jumping in only to help with major mistakes or to clarify instructions.

Suggestions for production activities:

  • Consider doing at least one all-class activity like a “Straw Relay Race” (taking class size and space into consideration), or split students into pairs or small groups.
  • Active and engaging games are key at this point, even when instructing one-on-one.

How to do the ‘Straw Relay’:

  • You’ll need enough straws and various small pieces of paper for each student.
  • Have students write a target vocabulary word and/or a key expression (question or answer) on the pieces of paper, and then fold them once or twice.
  • Give students time to practice picking up their piece of paper by using the straw as if to drink a beverage.
  • Once students have had a chance to practice, split the class into teams of five or six. Or, one group if your class is small enough.
  • Arrange desks or tables in the room to be in a straight line, allowing for a little space in between each student.
  • When students are in line and ready to go, collect all the small pieces of paper and place them at one end of the line(s).
  • The first student starts by picking up one piece of paper with his or her straw, and then passes it down the line.
  • Each of the following students do the same, making sure not to use hands to help pass the piece of paper.
  • Once the last student in line gets the note, he or she must open it and correctly say what’s written to the teacher.
  • As soon as the student says the word or phrase accurately, he or she must run to the beginning of the line.
  • The line of student shifts, and the last student now becomes the first to pick up the next piece of paper to start the process all over again.
  • Time the activity, and after the time is up, whichever team passed the most pieces of paper down the line is the winner.


  • Some students might not have enough strength to suck up the paper with the straw, so the game may be adapted to blow the pieces of paper from desk to desk or flat surface instead.
  • The ‘Straw Relay’ is very adaptable and could also be done individually, where the student needs to carry the piece of paper from wall to wall.

Recommended time: Each production activity should take around 10-15 minutes, including time to set up and instruct (out of a 45-60 minute lesson)


Leaving time for review helps to assess student learning while ending on a high note.

Some things to think about for review:

  • Was there a common mistake students were making with the lesson material? If so, address this now.
  • Are students tired? Quiet? Too noisy? What should the tone of this review be? Energetic? Calming?

Korean candy for rewarding students.Suggestions for review activities:

  • Develop an established way to review at the end of every class, something that your students will get used to, expect and enjoy.
  • During a lesson review you could award students for participation and/or behavior.
  • Asking questions or facilitating some sort of quiz is another wonderful idea.

Recommended time: 5 minutes (out of a 45-60 minute lesson)

Extra Activities

Also have an extra activity or two up your sleeve just in case. You never know when something will run short or long!

Have a Backup Plan

A backup plan is a must. If you hope to use technology in your lesson, plan for it not to work, or for there to be glitches. Make sure you have all backup materials ready ahead of time, and check computers and projectors before class. In some countries abroad, power outages happen frequently. If you rely too much on electricity to power your lesson, what would you do if the electricity goes out?

Lesson Plan Notes

Leave some notes at the end of your lesson plan document to jot down what went well, and what could be improved. As with anything, you only get better with time and experience. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes – even as the teacher – as you test new ways and try different activities.

One of the best parts about making a basic lesson plan is once you have a stock of them, they can be reused in the future. You’ll save yourself a lot of time as a teacher in years to come – especially if you plan on continuing to teach English overseas.

Keep in mind some teaching situations will require you to turn in lesson plans, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of documenting what you teach anyway.

Here’s a Greenheart Travel Basic ESL Lesson Plan Template to get you started!

Would you like to learn even more about how to structure ESL lesson plans?

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2 thoughts on "Teaching Tips Tuesday: How to Structure a Basic ESL Lesson Plan"

  1. Daniel says:

    Morning i give classes in Bolivia and would like to give a basic english grammar structure plan 6 months

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