I’ve already written a little bit about some activities that can be used in the ESL classroom and about how to forge an effective worksheet but how do these elements come together to make a decent lesson?
Here I’m going to go through a standard lesson plan for Junior High or High School based on my experiences in Japan. It’s structured around a fictional High School textbook page that I cobbled together and covers a simple, straight-forward lesson that is of a style many JTEs will expect. The lesson is technically focused on reading but I’ve tried to cover the other core skills of listening, speaking and writing too.
Most textbooks are divided into different “Lessons” which are then also divided into “Parts”. The way it works is each Lesson has a topic and each Part has a piece of text or dialogue related to the topic, plus one or more grammar points. In-between the Lessons there’s usually some special activities such as short stories to read or games to play or speeches to write. The Parts themselves tend to be two pages long. The first page is the text page, filled with either copy from a longer piece or a dialogue between two plus characters. The second page often contains activities associated with that Part and a breakdown of a particular grammar point that was used in the text.
What I’ve found many JTEs will do is give the foreign teacher a page number and ask them to make a lesson plan based on that page. For a grammar page the lesson would then normally focus on practising that grammar point, ideally using it in some writing or speaking activity. If the JTE requests a lesson based on the text then they most likely desire a lesson focused on reading and understanding the text. This is the type of lesson we’ll be looking at here.
This fake page is made to look similar to a High School first year textbook. Many Junior High textbooks follow a similar pattern but their text would be shorter and simpler. Junior High textbooks also have more pictures and graphics to make the grammar and Lesson theme clearer. Notice that the new words for this Part are written in bold down the side along with their pronunciations, written in the International Phonetic Alphabet. What’s excluded from this example is any Japanese content. Often at the bottom of the “text page” there’s a box or two explaining some of the phrases used. For example, on this page there might be a bit of info about Alabama or explaining the term civil rights.
Warm-Up – Shiritori
After greeting the class divide the blackboard up into sections and play Shiritori. There are certainly more appropriate warm-up activities out there but for this lesson I’m trying to focus on simple, basic ideas. Tying Shiritori into the theme of the lesson can be tough. In this case the main grammar point is past simple, as indicated by the little green arrow with a “G” in it.
So I would probably play two rounds of Shiritori. The first would have no extra rules beyond a two-minute timer but the second would be verbs only. This way they’ve started thinking about verbs before we even get into changing tenses.
Presentation – Today’s Goal
This step is only really for High School, but it can be done in Junior High too. The Ministry of Education (MEXT)in Japan has set out guidelines that say students must be given a goal to achieve for each lesson. Aside from these guidelines I do think it’s a good idea to set out a goal for the lesson. It gives everyone (including the teacher) a focus point and by coming back to the goal again at the end of the lesson you can show that something has been accomplished.
I put the day’s goal at the top of the worksheet and in a corner of the board. I ask students to try to read the goal aloud. If they struggle with any words then this is the time to introduce and practice those words. In today’s lesson they may struggle with the name “Rosa Parks”. So after practicing this just ask them
So, who is Rosa Parks? Do you know about her?
It’s possible some of them will know, so try to encourage a response – even if it’s just a few tentative nods.
PRO TIP: Instead of writing the goal on the board, write it on a small magnetic white-board before the lesson. This way no time is wasted once in class.
Practice – New Words
On the textbook page there’s a series of bold words. These are the new words in this Part. After clearing some space on the board, write up each word as neatly as possible, saying each word as you write. Next, point to each word in turn, say the word whilst also pointing at yourself, and gesture for the class to repeat. Note that I said “gesture for the class to repeat”. Many teachers use phrases like “Please repeat after me” ad nauseam. Why do they do it? With a simple, open-palmed gesture students will know exactly what’s expected of them.
As the students repeat after you, write a number next to each word sequentially. You’ll end up with a numbered list of words up on the board, in this case ranging from one to seven. Then use gestures to set up this pattern: you say a word, students say the number next to that word. Once the class gets the idea, pick up the pace a little until it’s clear that their listening skills are on point. The next step is to switch up the routine. Say a number and wait for them to respond with the word. If they don’t quite get it you can always use gestures as before. After a few goes through the list, mixing up the order as you go, it’s time to hand out the amazingly well-made worksheets (huh) and get stuck in.
For the Listening activity steadily, clearly read the complete body of text from the textbook. The class has to listen and write in the gaps.
You may notice that most of the missing words are straight from the new words list. For those words you’ll see students bobbing their heads up to copy from the board. The other ones I removed are quite simple words that first grade High Schoolers should know. For Junior High it helps to have all words up on the board or in a Text Box on the worksheet. Once you’ve finished, ask students to open their own textbooks to the relevant page and check their answers. Give them a couple of minutes then ask for the answers, write them up on the board and practice pronunciation of any they sound unsure of.
Comprehension – True or False
Direct the class’ attention to the next section on the worksheet. Here they have to decide whether the sentences are True or False. The first time this activity is done it’ll need to be explained. This can be done with an example on the board, but I usually find that the quickest way to do it is to cross your arms when you say “False” (the Japanese symbol for batsu – no/wrong/stop) and make a circle (imagine an O in the YMCA dance) when you say “True” (the Japanese symbol for maru – yes/OK/check). When checking their answers I tend to ask the class to try and read each sentence before asking for a show of hands to see who answered with what.
The first time students see a new text it’s often beyond their grasp to simply start reading it aloud, especially for younger students. So, to introduce them to the text for the first time it’s standard practice for the foreign teacher to read the text and let the students repeat. The level of the class will determine what size chunks to read out. For a high level class the teacher can read full sentences out before gesturing for repetition. However most classes will feel more comfortable with repeating shorter phrases. Many teachers make their classes stand during the reading and repeating part of the lesson. This is to help them focus. I try to judge this based on the energy level in the room. If everyone’s a bit sleepy then it’s usually best to get them standing.
Once the text has been read through once, ask students to stand (if they’re not already) and read the whole page through. As soon as they’ve finished reading they’re allowed to sit.
PRO TIP: For younger or easily distracted classes it can be fun to mess around during reading practice. Alter the pitch or volume of some words and try to get students to echo in the same way. This makes for good vocal practice should help their confidence.
Comprehension – Questions and Answers
Whenever I ask students to answer questions I always give them most of the answer to the first question, leaving a simple-ish blank for them to fill out. If studying is a ball then confidence in the first answer gets it rolling. I then usually give students increasingly fewer hints with each question. Check answers as a whole class by asking each question and writing the answers up on the board. To save time I just write up what the students are expected to write (so, none of the text I gave them). This can then lead nicely into a quick bit of pair work where one student asks the questions and the other reads the answers.
At this stage students have accomplished their goal, but they haven’t really done anything especially creative or communicative this lesson. So, if there’s time, take a quick look at the grammar point.
For this I’ve chosen to do a simple Interview. First of all, write a number of verbs on the board and elicit from the student their simple past tense forms. Start with the easiest such as play and make sure to include a few oddities such as eat. Then direct their attention to the back of the worksheet and ask them to complete the sentence about what they did on the weekend. After a couple of minutes ask them to stand and interview each other. Explain via an example or two on the board that they need to write down the interviewee’s name and answer. Give them a set time limit to ask as many people the given question as possible. Once time is up turn to the board once again to show them how to complete the sentences about the people they talked to. Don’t worry too much if there’s not enough time for writing these final sentences, I think it’s more important to devote time to the speaking portion of the activity.
Finally, make sure to look again at the day’s goal and congratulate the class on reaching it. Throughout the course of the lesson I suggested checking answers on the blackboard. If you’d rather the students spend more time in class doing the activities rather than correcting as a class, then these parts can be omitted and then it’s up to you to collect the worksheets and check them. This can be time consuming, especially in a big school, so I usually opt to try and check as much work in-class as possible, without letting it drag.
This basic lesson structure can be re-used quite regularly and it’s also totally cool to change out different sections or spruce them up with some extra twists. Just remember that the first lesson doesn’t need to be loaded with peacock feathers, it simply has to work.
Have you done a lesson like this? What changes would you make to this lesson plan? Let us know below.