The Easy Way To Plan Your English Lessons

The first time I set foot in a classroom as an ESL teacher was a complete shock for me and the students. I had arrived in South Korea two nights before, full of wonder and awe, and hadn't really considered the reason I was there in the first place. Then my wongjan-nim (school director) opened the door to a classroom and gently pushed me in. Ten students turned and stared at me in anticipation. There was complete silence. At that moment I suddenly realized that when it came to teaching I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do!

There had been no reason to take a TEFL course before going to Korea. All they required was a bachelor's degree in any subject and I hadn't studied teaching (or English). What the heck was I supposed to do?

I felt bad for those students, and for the next couple of classes who wasted their money on my pathetic teaching attempts. I flailed and struggled and sloshed around for a few months until I managed to find some online resources, like Dave's ESL Cafe, to help me learn how to teach English.

Three years later I left South Korea after having honed my skills enough to have a spot on a local TV show geared to housewives and having been requested to tutor by several rather rich executives in the center of Seoul. It took a few years of trial and error to reach that point, so when I knew I was going to head to Russia to teach English there I enrolled in an accredited TEFL/TESOL course in Prague. This 120-hour course included 20 hours of observed teaching time, which I breezed through (I was the only teacher in my class who had previous experience). This course was worth every penny I dropped on it. Although I already had 3 years of teaching experience under my belt, my methods were unorthodox and prone to going off the rails. This TESOL course taught me how to manage my classes and, most importantly, how to plan my lessons.

This is the key to any successful ESL class. A good lesson plan will not only make the lesson easier to deliver, but it will benefit the students and can be used time and again for future classes. I had already honed my personal classroom style in Korea and armed with the knowledge that the TESOL course gave me I was primed to be a fantastic ESL teacher in Russia.

So if lesson planning is the key to a successful class, how do you make a lesson plan? The truth is that it is actually rather formulaic and simple. There are several different methods, but for me, the easiest, fastest and most effective way to plan is to use the PPP method.

PPP (or 3 Ps) stands for Presentation, Practice, Production. The idea is that the mind retains information best through repetition and by actively using new information. PPP provides this for students of all ages and creates a simple and effective framework for preparing your lesson plans.

You'll require a notebook where you can keep all your lesson plans. Although I finished teaching overseas a couple of years ago, I still have all my notebooks filled with my lesson plans! Go and buy a decent book that won't fall apart on you, because each lesson plan you write can be used again in another class, saving you even more time.

First, you, the teacher, decides what the focus of today's lesson will be. Do this by determining the end goal of the class. Do you want your students to understand the second conditional? Will they be able to properly pronounce "th" sound combinations? At the top of the page, write the date and then your class focus.

Focus: Second Conditional

Next, you will present the new information to the students. Today your class is studying the second conditional, so you need to explain what this is, why we use it in English and give a few examples. Adult students love seeing a logical breakdown of the rules involved, although children don't really care. You'll write this in your plan:

Presentation: We use the 2nd Cond. when talking about unreal situations in the future. "If I won the lottery, I would buy a house." 

If + past simple + would/could/might + infinitive

Examples: If the earth were flat, we would fall off the edge. 

10 minutes

After the presentation section, you're going to plan the practice portion of it. This is where students are given a chance to learn the new information through several steps. If you're using a course book then this where you'll have students open it up. If not, give some handouts. You're going to need to get the class to repeat through some rote learning before you dive into the exercises, and you need to confirm understanding. Be heavy on the corrections at this point, and don't be afraid to interrupt the students in order to correct them.

Practice: Have students repeat two or three 2nd Cond. phrases. Write on the whiteboard: ____ you ____ me a cake, I ____ ____ it (If you baked me a cake, I would eat it). Have class complete this out loud as a group. Do a few more like this. 

Open books to page 22. Pair students up and have them work together to complete exercises 3 and 4. Review with class afterward.

20 minutes

The final stage of the lesson plan is the production stage. This is the part of the lesson where the students get to actively use the new information in a real-world way, which will help solidify the information in their brains. This is the fun part of the class and this is where you will separate yourself from the other teachers. Students will love coming to your class because of this stage.

Basically, you're going to plan a role-play or group activity. For the second condition, I loved having the class play a version of the relationship game where they had to guess how their partner would answer in a moral dilemma.

Production: Print 20 cards with moral dilemmas on them (What would you do if....). Pair students up. Give each pair two cards. One at a time have each pair read their moral dilemma and then guess how their partner would answer. Correct as needed to keep the focus on the 2nd Cond.

20 minutes

You'll close up your class with a recap of the lesson, answer any remaining questions and hand out any homework (which I strongly advise against, but that's just me).

Let's look at your completed lesson plan:

Presentation: We use the 2nd Cond. when talking about unreal situations in the future. "If I won the lottery, I would buy a house." 

If + past simple + would/could/might + infinitive

Examples: If the earth were flat, we would fall off the edge. 

10 minutes

Practice: Have students repeat two or three 2nd Cond. phrases. Write on the whiteboard: ____ you ____ me a cake, I ____ ____ it (If you baked me a cake, I would eat it). Have class complete this out loud as a group. Do a few more like this. 

Open books to page 22. Pair students up and have them work together to complete exercises 3 and 4. Review with class afterward.

20 minutes

Production: Print 20 cards with moral dilemmas on them (What would you do if....). Pair students up. Give each pair two cards. One at a time have each pair read their moral dilemma and then guess how their partner would answer. Correct as needed to keep the focus on the 2nd Cond.

20 minutes

This formula can be repeated for every single class you have, for the rest of your teaching career, and will work every single time. As you grow more proficient at using the PPP method you'll spend less and less time planning your classes, and your students will leave class every day actually having learned something (and feeling like they've learned, which is half the battle). So long as you keep the production portion of your class fun and engaging, you'll quickly develop a reputation as a great teacher and you'll become a valuable asset to your employer, which is always a good thing.

Now, go plan your next lesson!

About Nate Drescher

Nate spent 10 years teaching overseas before returning home to Canada to start his own publishing business. In that time he taught in South Korea, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine and Poland!

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