How to Write a Lesson Plan for ESL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

This lesson will show teachers how to create effective lesson plans for ESL students using various support strategies. These include writing clear lesson objectives, adding support materials, and considering which accommodations to provide.

Lesson Plan Factors

Writing lesson plans for ESL students is similar to writing them for native speakers. The main difference is that you'll want to build supports into the lesson to give all students an opportunity to access the curriculum.

The type of lesson plan you write depends on the group of students you're teaching and the kind of content students are learning:

  • If you're a high school algebra teacher working with a mixed group of native and non-native speakers, your lesson plan would be based on your school's math curriculum.
  • If you're an ESL teacher pulling aside small groups of English learners to work with throughout the week, you might want to write a lesson plan about acquiring English vocabulary or conversational skills.
  • If you're teaching the acquisition of English language skills, as opposed to a content course like language arts or science, you'll first want to determine which domain of English mastery your lesson plan will focus on: listening, speaking, reading, or writing. Many times, your lesson will cover two or more of those areas simultaneously.

There are many different templates for creating lesson plans, but there are a few sections that a lot of them have in common: learning objectives, support materials, and activities.

Learning Objectives

Most lesson plans begin by stating a student objective. An objective should summarize exactly what students will be able to do by the end of the lesson, using clear language and strong action verbs. It's a good practice to make all students aware of the lesson objective so they can understand the goal they should be working toward.

Consider the following example:

Examples of Learning Objectives

In the above example, the unclear objective does not have a solid action verb to show students exactly how they will be meeting the learning goal. The revision is clearer, indicating that students will 'create a model' in order to demonstrate their understanding of a butterfly's life cycle. The revised version for ESL students goes one step further to clarify the ambiguous word 'model' and to reduce unnecessary words.

All students--not just ESL learners--will benefit from clear lesson objectives, so it's a good practice to adopt even if you teach mixed-ability classes. To make objectives even more accessible, you can try the following techniques:

  • Include a translation of the objective in students' native language(s).
  • Add pictures and symbols to enhance comprehension.
  • Engage students in a choral reading of the objective at the start of each lesson.
  • Use clear, concise language and eliminate redundancies.
  • Use cognates, which are words that have similar sounds and spellings to students' native language(s). In the above example, the verb 'create' is similar to the Spanish word with the same meaning, crear.

Support Materials

Many lesson plans include a section that indicates what support materials will be provided for students. This helps teachers prepare for instruction and remember to bring any special materials to class. For example, let's say you want to provide ESL students with bilingual books for a particular lesson. You might need to check them out from the school library, access them from a different part of the school building, or even purchase them. Having a section for support materials can help you stay prepared.

Here are some examples of support materials you may want to include in your lesson plan:

  • Bilingual books
  • Realia, or real-life materials, such as menus, maps, playbills, theater tickets, photographs, and newspapers
  • Charts, graphs, and other visual aids
  • Visual and/or bilingual dictionaries
  • Audio books

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