Mark Beales

More on lesson planning

looking at three lesson components; warmer, lesson stages and plenary.

Let's look at the three main components of a typical EFL lesson

Warmer: Schools like to put this kind of thing in lesson plans. It doesn’t mean you have to play a game every time, indeed you probably shouldn’t. A warmer simply means that students are settled, ready to learn and are prepared for what’s to come. 

You could start off by reviewing the last lesson, you could look to engage students with a simple, fun activity, or you could just state the learning objective for the day. Anything that gets students focused and ready will do. 

Learning Stages: Your school may well call this something different, but essentially this is the body of the lesson. This part should involve students doing as much as possible, as opposed to teachers talking.  

Plenary: A funny word that simply means a short activity at the end of the lesson to ensure students have actually got it. 

Make it real, make it relevant

OK, so in practice how does all that combine to make a lesson? Chances are you’ll be presented with a course book that the students are expected to work through. There are many great course books available that make life an awful lot easier. They tend to be grammar-based and fairly formulaic, often starting with a theme, hanging some grammar around it and then developing this with listening and speaking exercises. Nothing wrong with that.

The real trick to good teaching is lifting those ideas from the pages and making them something a student can relate to. 

Imagine you have a lesson on Christmas. Your students are Buddhist and don’t have a clue who Mary was. It doesn’t matter. Begin with talking about festivals in their own country, list them, briefly discuss them, ask questions about them. One of the simplest ways to get students’ attention is to slip in the name of their homeland. Just say: ‘Now, in China…’ and you’re guaranteed to have their ears.

As the lesson progresses, be sure of what you need to teach and don’t get bogged down by superfluous material. So talk about festivities in China as a warmer, but don’t still be there 20 minutes later.  

Keep an eye on the lesson plan, even if it’s only in your head, and keep things moving along. Once teaching, it’s easy to over-explain or hog the limelight, so build elements into your lesson plan that will allow students to participate. 

Quick, easy comprehension questions ensure students are engaged and also feel they can contribute. Keeping students on-task is a major ESL issue, and you should include students whenever possible. For example, many course books offer basic gap-fill or information-matching activities that can seem monotonous. 

When you want to go through the answers, put the class in groups and award points for correct answers, give individuals marks for answering, randomly ask students – just make sure everyone is on their toes and has a reason to answer. 

When asking questions to a class, don’t begin by saying who the question is for. As soon as you mention a student’s name, the rest of the class will breathe a collective sigh of relief as they know it’s not their turn. Also, they won’t listen as carefully to the question as they know they won’t be answering it. So ask the question, and then nominate someone to provide an answer.

With a little bit of practice, lesson planning will become second-nature and, once you have everything in place, the actual teaching side of things will also become a whole lot easier - and more rewarding.


Think of how you could start a lesson on the following topics:

1) Birthdays (learning objective: writing an invitation)  

2) Valentine's Day (learning objective: understanding a love song)

3) Hobbies (learning objective: speaking for a minute about free time activities)

4) Animals (learning objective: answering comprehension questions based on a text)

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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