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How Incorporating a Flexible, Communicative Approach into Lesson Planning for the ESL Classroom Accelerates Students’ Learning

How Incorporating a Flexible, Communicative Approach into Lesson Planning for the ESL Classroom Accelerates Students’ Learning

In the ESL classroom, the importance of lesson planning cannot be stressed enough. There are, however, certain advantages to building flexible activities into a traditional Engage, Study and Activate, or ESA, lesson plan, particularly from a Communicative Language Teaching approach. In the case of ESL classrooms in English-speaking countries, such as the United States, it is essential to allow both flexibility and structured study time so that students may continue to increase their use of the new language once they leave the classroom. Also, the advantage of teaching ESL in an English- speaking country is that students can draw upon knowledge simply by living in that particular country. This advantage can be captured and utilized in lesson planning by simulating real-world experiences, allowing for flexibility in class discussions and participation and using presentations as a way to cement the material.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Savannah C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Engagement Stage

One of the most immediate pieces of language students encounter when arriving in the United States are modal verbs, mainly in the form of signage. Whether it’s in the airport, on the road or dealing with documents, students must interact with modal verbs that express necessity, obligation or possibility daily. I’ve found that an easy way to engage students in discussing these verbs is to ask them what kinds of commands they see in their everyday routines. They may talk about road signs, instructions when taking public transportation or classroom rules. Building upon what students see every day, this type of elicitation activity encourages students to use the language they already know. In doing so, students create their dialogue with the class and form their questions about the material, while decreasing teacher talk time. The teacher’s job is to brainstorm general topics ahead of time, or in other words, write in flexible discussion time to ease into the grammar portion of the lesson.


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Study Stage

In the next phase of the lesson plan, the study phase, the activities do not need to be lengthy. The shorter and more flexible the explanation, the better for the students. Grammar can be introduced by creating a setting, such as an airport or a restaurant, and then prompting the students for the rules of that setting, particularly from those that were discussed earlier in the class. The grammatical differences between, say, “have to” and “don’t have to” can be planned out ahead of time, but specific examples may be elicited from the class. By doing so, students are encouraged to think beyond what they already know and are allowed space to experiment with new ways of using the language. Worksheets with pictures of signage and gap-fill exercises are a few of the ways students can study the material more in-depth. A follow-up of other examples from the class may be necessary, however, to continue connecting the material back to everyday usage.

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Activate Stage

Once students are comfortable with using the old and new language, the activate stage is key for cementing the material in a useful and applicable way. During the activate stage of the lesson is where we can allow students to take the language in the direction of their choosing. To achieve this, the teacher may ask students to observe their surroundings that day as an assignment and report back to the class with other examples of modal verbs they find in their environments. Presenting this type of material to their peers is both applicable and driven by the students’ specific needs. A more formal presentation would be requiring each student to teach the class something for 10 minutes, where the use of modal verbs will naturally arise. By teaching their peers a useful skill and receiving feedback, the language becomes essential and helps with memorization of the new language.

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In conclusion, while the traditional Engage, Study and Activate lesson plan is a firm base for teaching ESL, building in flexibility and encouraging the use of new language inside and outside the classroom is essential for students learning, especially for ESL students living in an English-speaking country. By allowing flexibility in lesson planning, class discussions, and even in the study phases, the learning becomes guided by the students themselves. Finally, by using spoken presentations as a tool to remember language seen in their everyday lives and gain feedback from their peers, students are more likely to accelerate their learning of new material.

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