If you’ve ever wondered about becoming an ESOL tutor, or you’ve already made it but you’re just starting out, you’ve probably pondered what the best way to plan out your lessons is.
Once you’ve figured out if you need qualifications, and marketed your ESOL teaching services adequately enough to find students, you’ll want to turn your attention to the planning, which is the second most important role that comes with being an ESOL tutor aside from giving the class itself.
Planning is important because it gives you something to work with when you’re sitting down with your student/s, and it can act as a guide to reference whenever you lose your way or run out of things to say or activities.
As well as providing this safety net, good planning can lead to a higher rate of long-term students. The better your ESOL lessons, and the more thought you put into them, the more likely it is that the student will decide to stick with you, and perhaps even spread the word about your tutoring services.
In this guide we’re going to explore all the important factors that go into a good lesson plan, the basics which will ensure you always have great structure to your lessons, and how to plan for the different types of lessons you might have.
The basics of lesson planning
As always, a great place to start with a new skill is the basics.
To be a good at lesson planning, you need a solid grasp of the basics, which for this article we’re going to call reviewing, structure, and personalisation.
To ensure everything runs smoothly during your lessons, and to give your student the best chance of feeling comfortable in them, it’s worth giving structure some real thought.
Just like in school, it can be very useful to have routines that you establish from the start, that serve to put the student at ease at the beginning of each class, as well as drill and review important content.
A good introduction to a class typically involves going over or reviewing what you covered with the student in the previous class.
Then, you can divide up the main content of the lesson however you see fit. You can either take a pragmatic approach and leave a lot of open space for organic conversation to emerge, or adopt a strictly timed approach to make sure you cover everything you want to go over.
There are benefits to both approaches depending on the student and a number of other factors which we’ll touch upon later.
Finally, a good outro or conclusion to the lesson will typically test the student on what they just learned, and perhaps set up some homework to encourage independent learning.
Reviewing refers to the act of bringing up the student’s prior knowledge and content from previous classes in order to keep it fresh in their mind.
Reviewing should be employed throughout the lesson to keep the student on their toes, but above all it is important to include it in your lesson plans.
If you keep notes of the content you have covered with each student, which I strongly recommend you do, then you should be able to plan a short review activity for the beginning of each class to build upon what you’ve already studied together.
Knowing what you covered in the last lesson will also help give you ideas for the next lesson, so it can make planning much easier.
The ability to recall information is huge for any language-learner, especially given the daunting prospect that is learning thousands of new words.
You could even incorporate sessions with spaced repetition apps such as Anki into your lessons, as they will test the language-learner on a vocabulary word the moment at which they are likely to forget it.
Finally, personalisation is something you should always keep in mind when planning your ESOL lessons.
Whereas at school it’s expected that each class will follow a certain pattern, and only cover the material outlined in the curriculum, with private classes you can adapt the lesson to the individual.
What this means is you can hone in on the student’s weak points, and work with them to plan lessons that are both fun, and give them the best chance of success with their English goals.
Factor in the experience level of the student with regards to the language too, since you don’t want them to feel out of their depth, or insufficiently challenged with the lesson you have planned.
Personalising classes will also help you determine how much to charge your students, since the more time you invest in creating individualised lesson plans, the more likely they are to see the value of your lessons and be willing to pay a little extra.
Dilemmas involved in planning
Planning is most effective when you take into account the students you are teaching, and their goals with the language.
Introvert vs extrovert
Speaking from experience as a naturally introverted person, it can be overwhelming sometimes to speak freely on a topic in a second language which I still don’t know very well.
While extroverts might thrive with conversation activities and having the spotlight on them, introverts might prefer to do more guided speaking activities, with plenty of assistance from the tutor.
Knowing a little about the personality of the student in front of you will help you get the best out of them, and help you to steer them towards their language goals without putting too much pressure on them.
For younger students, activities that involve drawing can be very effective for conversation practise. While that might seem like an odd statement to make, once you get the student feeling comfortable, they will be more willing to open up and express themselves.
Ask the student to draw a far fetched scenario, using prompts if they need a little guidance, and then ask them questions about what is happening, filling in the blanks in their vocabulary if necessary.
School content vs interactive activities
This brings me to the next point, which is whether you should plan lessons that go over the content your student has already covered in school/university, or whether to go off-piste with interactive activities and resources like videos and games.
Depending on the goals of the student, you can make a judgement call on which type of content you deliver in your lessons.
If the ultimate goal is freedom of expression, then it’s in their interest to engage with authentic material from their target language (in this case English) of which there is an abundance to say the least.
This could include watching English videos together and playing games such as asking them ‘what happened next?’, filling in the gaps to music lyrics with websites such as lyrictraining, or even sitting down for a pleasant game of Scrabble.
On the other hand, if the student is looking to pass a proficiency exam in English, or a school/university exam, then you’ll be better off sticking to content that will come up in the exam.
That isn’t to say you can't sprinkle in some fun activities to mix it up, but learning English to pass an exam is different from learning it for enjoyment.
Grammar vs Conversation
Another big dilemma while planning is whether to focus more on the grammar of English, or on conversation.
Again, this could be determined largely by the goals of the student, but it also depends on how they enjoy learning.
Some people absolutely love grammar, and can’t get enough of conjugation and vocabulary drills, others can’t stand it.
On the flip side, there are those who detest grammar, and want to learn to speak a language without needing to stare at a book for a few hours a day.
The answer here is in striking a balance.
A good way to plan an ESOL lesson is to introduce a new grammar concept to the student at the beginning of the class, and then play around with it and use it in conversation during the main part of class.
Then, depending on what the student prefers, you can lean more towards drilling the grammar with practise sentences, or throwing conversation topics at them with the aim of using the grammar point naturally through speaking.
Individual vs group
Whether you are teaching an individual class or a group class will have a big impact on your planning process.
With individual classes you will likely have to go into more detail with your plan, and make sure you have enough activities and exercises to last the duration, since some learners work faster than others and you don’t want to run out of content.
With group glasses though, you will have to allow time for each student to participate, meaning you can plan fewer activities.
Also, group classes tend to revolve more around conversation, since the students can work together and learn from each other’s mistakes.
Conversely, individual classes can consist of writing, reading, listening, and speaking all within one hour.