Tips for Perfect TEFL Lesson Plans, Every Time

Now that I’m a professional writer, I see the immense value in making outlines before I dive into an article. They help me organize research that I’ve gathered and find a logical progression for the information I want to present to readers.

But I wasn’t always this way. For many of my pre-college school years, I thought outlining writing assignments was basically extra work.

As time went on and my assignments became longer and more complex, I realized that actually writing outlines rather than simply creating a paper’s structure in my head could make a big difference. This seems a bit tangental, but I promise it’s relevant to your life as an ESL teacher.

I took one of the best TEFL courses and attended a new teacher orientation, so I knew that I SHOULD write out TEFL lesson plans prior to teaching a class. But when school began, I would just jot down quick notes about what I wanted to achieve during each period and I wasn’t putting all that much effort into formal written plans.

tefl lesson plans

During those first few weeks, I found myself in the same stressful situation more than once: There’s plenty of time left in class but we’ve gone through everything I had (sort of) planned. While I scrambled to think of a relevant activity, face turning red and palms sweating, I saw why well-thought out TEFL lesson plans were important. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

Pun intended.

Depending on the school you work in, you might be expected to teach English without a textbook or curriculum. If you’re in this situation, TEFL lesson plans are absolutely essential. That being said, becoming an ESL teacher is a trial-and-error process so it may take a few weeks to find the perfect TEFL lesson plan outline for your style and students.

Start with a clear aim

tefl lesson plans

Before you can figure out what materials you should have or which activities will work best, you need to settle on a goal for the lesson. Are you reviewing material the students have already learned or introducing new vocabulary and skills? Does this section focus on speaking, listening, reading, writing or a combination? Will you have a co-teacher to help with translation and classroom management, or are you on your own?

It’s important to choose a goal that’s realistic for the class length and student skill level. For example, should you be presenting a whole list of vocabulary words or just a few at a time? Many of my 10th grade students are nearly fluent so I tried to review 12 verb tenses in one lesson. That was a little overzealous of me and I learned to make my future lessons less dense. After you get to know the classes, you’ll have a better idea of how much material they can handle in one period.

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Record the basics

Some schools have a specific lesson plan format that’s required or you might have freedom to choose your own design. Regardless of the template you use, a few facts should be near the top of the page.

  • Date
  • Topic
  • Class age, skill level and name
  • Materials you’ll use, including textbooks
  • Main goal of the lesson

Not only will this help you maintain an organized semester plan and keep track of what you’ve taught, the straightforward and informative can be helpful for future teachers who take over the subjects you have.

Mix it up

tefl lesson plans

As you know from experience as a student, listening to a teacher talk for an entire class period is extremely boring. In college, you usually have to suck it up, sit quietly and take notes, but you can’t expect rambunctious school children to do the same. And because you’re teaching English, it’s more important to get the students talking than keep them listening. Kids need stimulation, so you should plan more than one type of activity for each class.

Your TEFL certification course will give you many more ideas, but a few different methods I’ve used are teacher presentation, individual work, group work, review and games.

I start a new lesson by presenting the information we’re discussing that day. This often includes showing students the appropriate page in the textbook, explaining the book’s examples and providing my own sample sentences. If the subject lends itself to visuals, I’ll make a PowerPoint to make the information more dynamic. Because my students are always curious about American culture and my non-teacher life, I try to use photos of myself, my dog or my friends and family to demonstrate my points.

Workbook exercises are great for individual or group work. You can even combine the two by asking students to complete the work on their own then check answers in partners or small groups.

Adding a game to your lessons can make learning more enjoyable for your students. Some ESL teachers get a bit carried away with games and end up playing more than teaching. I try to use games that are directly related to my lesson and that I could justify to my boss if necessary. For example, I used a class-wide MadLibs game to review parts of speech.

Estimating the time

tefl lesson plans

Many TEFL certification courses recommend noting the duration of each activity during class. I found this portion of my lesson plans to be the most difficult, especially in the beginning. I had no idea how long it would take for students to arrive or transition between different activities. My best advice is to start off with an educated guess and adjust the times as you learn more about the way your students operate.

Keeping track of how long activities take will make planning future lessons much simpler. You’re less likely to end up like me, aggressively perspiring at the front of the classroom with 30 little faces staring at you and waiting for further instructions while your mind is blank.

The best way to avoid “pulling-a-Christine” (as it will be henceforth known) is by having an extra activity planned for every single class. This should be written in your lesson plan and you should have the necessary materials on deck.

Once you complete a TEFL certification course, you’ll feel much more confident about your ability to plan an English lesson and thus teach English abroad. After a few weeks of teaching abroad, writing these plans out will just be second nature to you!


Words by Christine Hayes.