Guide to Teaching English - ESL Curriculum Planning

Students raising hands in classrooms.

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This continuation of advice for non-trained teachers of ESL / EFL focuses on building a program for your class or private students. The first part focuses on the basics of ESL.

There are a few important aspects to always keep in mind while developing any curriculum, be it only a few lessons or a full course:

  • Language skills need to be recycled many times before they are actively acquired.
  • All language skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening - should be involved in the learning process.
  • Understanding grammar rules do not necessarily mean that a student can use that grammar - students need to actively practice skills they are learning.

Language Recycling

An acquired language needs to be repeated in a various number of guises before it can be actively used by the student. Studies have shown that new linguistic functions need to be repeated at least six times before most learners can consider the new piece of language theirs. After six repetitions, the newly acquired language skills are usually still only passively activated. The learner will require more repetitions before he/she will be able to use the skills actively in everyday conversation!

Here is an example of language recycling using the present simple:

  • Work on the present simple rules.
  • Read an article about the daily routines of someone.
  • Listen to someone who describes his/her daily tasks.
  • Have a discussion asking him to describe what he does on a daily basis, his wife, ask you questions etc.

Use All Four Skills

Employing all four linguistic skills - reading, writing, listening and speaking - when working through a lesson will help you recycle language during the lesson. Learning rules are important, but, in my opinion, practicing the language is even more important. Bringing all these aspects into a lesson will add variety to the lesson - and help the learner pragmatically practice the language. I've met many learners who can knock off a grammar sheet without a mistake and then when asked, "Could you describe your sister?", have problems. This is generally due to the emphasis in many school systems for learning grammar.

Putting It All Together

So, now you understand the basic tenets of teaching English effectively. You might be asking yourself the question: "What do I teach?"! When planning a course most coursebooks build their curriculum around certain themes which help glue everything together. While this can be rather complicated, I would like to provide a simple example developing the present simple and past simple. Use this type of outline to build your lesson and remember to provide a number of elements including listening, reading, writing, and speaking and you should find that your lessons will have a purpose and specific objectives which are clearly definable - helping you and your learners recognize the progress you are making!

  1. Who are you? What do you do? - Daily Routines
    • Present simple Example: What do you do? I work at Smith's. I get up at seven. etc.
    • "to be" present Example: I'm married. She's thirty-four.
    • Descriptive adjectives Example: I am tall. He is short.
  2. Tell me about your past - Where did you go on your last holiday
    • Past simple Example: What did you go on holiday when you were a child? I work
    • "to be" past Example: The weather was fantastic.
    • Irregular verbs Example: go - went, shine - shone

Finally, the lesson generally will be divided into three principle sections

  • Introduction: introducing or reviewing the grammar or function.
  • Development: taking that grammar and working on it in a reading, listening, or other forms. This section should make up the bulk of your lesson and include a number of different activities if possible.
  • ​Review: review the principle concepts covered during the lesson. This can be very straightforward and either student or teacher-led depending on the level of your learners. Take a look at some of the lesson plans here at (feel free to use them!) and notice how the various methods mentioned above are employed while focusing on one specific linguistic function.