Standard Lesson Plan Format for ESL Teachers

Classroom full of students raising their hands with the teacher at the center.

Absodels/Getty Images

Teaching English, like teaching any subject, requires lesson plans. Many books and curricula provide advice on teaching English learning materials. However, most ESL teachers like to mix up their classes by providing their own lesson plans and activities.

Sometimes, teachers are required to create their own lesson plans when teaching ESL or EFL at international institutions that are scattered throughout the world. Develop your own lesson plans and activities by using a basic template.

Standard Lesson Plan Format

Generally speaking, a lesson plan has four specific parts. These can be repeated throughout the lesson, but it's important to follow the outline:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Present
  3. Focus on specifics
  4. Usage in a wider context


Use a warm-up to get the brain thinking in the right direction. The warm-up should include the target grammar/function for the lesson. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask small talk questions about the weekend for a lesson on the simple past.
  • Discuss a hypothetical situation for a lesson focusing on conditionals.
  • Challenge students to describe others in class when working towards building descriptive vocabulary. 


The presentation focus on the learning objectives of the lesson. This is the teacher-guided section of the lesson. You might:

  • Explain grammar at the whiteboard.
  • Show a short video to introduce a topic of discussion.
  • Present new vocabulary, making sure to provide lots of contexts.
  • Present written work for a class discussion of structure.

Controlled Practice

Controlled practice allows for close observation to gauge whether the learning objectives are understood. Controlled practice activities include:​

  • Gap-fill exercises on tense conjugation.
  • Complete-the-sentence exercises to encourage specifically-written formulas.
  • Reading and listening comprehension activities.
  • Language function practice on specific activities such as apologizing, negotiating, and thanking.

Free Practice

Free practice allows students to "take control" of their own language learning. These activities should encourage students to explore language with activities such as:

During the free practice section, take note of common mistakes. Use feedback to help everyone, rather than focus on individual students. 

This lesson plan format is popular for many reasons, including:

  • Students have a number of chances to learn a concept through various means.
  • Students have plenty of time to practice.
  • Teachers can give detailed instruction, or students can deduce structures and learning points through practice.
  • The standard lesson plan format provides structure.
  • The lesson provides for variation over the course of 60 to 90 minutes.
  • This lesson plan format moves from teacher-centered to student-centered learning.

Variations on the Lesson Plan Format Theme

In order to keep this standard lesson plan format from becoming boring, it is important to remember that there are a number of variations that can be applied to the various segments of the lesson plan format.

Warm-up: Students might arrive late, tired, stressed or otherwise distracted to class. In order to get their attention, it's best to open with a warm-up activity. The warm-up can be as simple as telling a short story or asking students questions. The warm-up can also be a more thought-out activity, such as playing a song in the background or drawing an elaborate picture on the board. While it's fine to start a lesson with a simple "How are you," it's much better to tie your warm-up into the theme of the lesson.

Presentation: The presentation can take a variety of forms. Your presentation should be clear and straightforward to help students understand new grammar and forms. Here are a few suggestions on how to present new materials to the class:

  • Reading selection
  • Soliciting students' knowledge about a specific point
  • Teacher-centered explanation
  • Listening selection
  • Short video
  • Student presentation

The presentation should include the main "meat" of the lesson. For example, If you are working on phrasal verbs, make the presentation by reading something that's peppered with phrasal verbs.

Controlled practice: This section of the lesson provides students with direct feedback on their comprehension of the task at hand. Generally, a controlled practice involves some type of exercise.  Controlled practice should help the student focus on the main task and provide them with feedback — either from the teacher or the other students.

Free practice: This integrates the focus structure, vocabulary, and functional words and phrases into students' overall language use. Free practice exercises often encourage students to use the target language structures in:

  • Small group discussions
  • Written work (paragraphs and essays)
  • Listening comprehension practice
  • Games

The most important aspect of free practice is that students should be encouraged to integrate language learned into larger structures. This requires more of a "stand-off" approach to teaching. It's often useful to circulate around the room and take notes. Students should be allowed to make more mistakes during this part of the lesson.

Utilizing Feedback

Feedback allows students to check their understanding of the lesson's topic and can be done quickly at the end of the class by asking students questions about the target structures. Another approach is to have students discuss the target structures in small groups, once again giving students the chance to improve understanding on their own.

In general, it is important to use this lesson plan format to facilitate students' English learning. The more opportunities for student-centered learning, the more students acquire language skills for themselves.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Standard Lesson Plan Format for ESL Teachers." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). Standard Lesson Plan Format for ESL Teachers. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Standard Lesson Plan Format for ESL Teachers." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).

Watch Now: How to Make Group Work Go Smoothly