How to make an effective Lesson Plan (Part II)

Last post I talked about how to make a lesson plan. Continuing the same topic, in those post I want to talk about various issues you may run into in an ESL classroom and what to do if your lesson plan does not work out the way you envisioned.

Why do I need these supplemental activities?

As an ESL teacher in Korea you should expect the unexpected and always be ready. Sometimes regardless of all the careful preparation and planning you may find that you finished your lesson with 15 minutes to spare and nothing to do. This is where your spontaneity and creativity comes into play. May be the lesson was too easy or too advanced for the learners, maybe the class dynamics suddenly changed, maybe due to some unavoidable circumstances you cannot go through with the lesson you prepared.

Whatever the reason you may someday find yourself in a situation where you have to think on your feet. In an ESL classroom you should always be ‘at the ready’ therefore it is advisable to have enough tricks up your sleeve that should you ever run into this kind of a situation you will sail right through.

When am I likely to use these activities?

There are many reasons why these activities are important or why you may need them:


  • When you want to bring energy to the class in the first ten to fifteen minutes
  • When you are helping new students get comfortable and mingle
  • When a lesson runs shorter than you planned and you have time left to spare
  • When the lesson is too easy or advanced for the students
  • When your students are exceptionally tried, bored or not in a mood to learn
  • When you have emergencies such as broken audio-visual equipment or photocopiers
  • When you are called in last-minute to fill in for another teacher


We have various activities and games that ESL teachers around the world have been teaching for millennia. For example:

Small talk

5 minutes fillers

Ice breakers


Warm up activities

In this post I will briefly explain some of these and give a few examples that you can use in your classes.

Small talk:

According to the dictionary it is defined as a polite conversation about unimportant and uncontroversial matters. As the name suggests ‘small talk’ is a casual form of conversation to fill an awkward silence or getting to know each other better. Most people from English speaking countries are familiar with the concept however it’s not so common in Korea. So if you are teaching in Korea ‘small talk ‘ is a good way to start the class. You can go around the class asking each student about their day or something else simple. It not only encourages your students to practice English but also builds a rapport between you and your students.

Ice breakers:

This is a good way to start a class especially effective for group activities. It’s an highly interactive and fun way for students to get to know each other and engage in discussion. It helps ease individuals into group settings.

One example of icebreaker is: Twenty Questions. Think of a category (food, animal etc). Tell your students what category you are thinking of (I’m thinking of a food). Have the students ask you maximum 20 questions to try and figure it out ( what color is it? Is it big or small etc). Divide the students in pairs or teams and have them ask each other. This is a very simple game that requires minimal preparation but students love it. It works specially well with low to lower intermediate level. You can adjust the categories and the difficulty of the questions according to the level of the students.

Warmup activities:

Before you exercise you warm up its the same thing just more of a mental warm up. You use different activities to warm up your students for the lesson. These activities can help students get in the right frame of mind to study the language. It helps students relax and make them less inhibited. As a teacher it helps you to create a positive atmosphere where students can learn and practice.

For example:

Odd one out

Divide the students in groups of two. Give the students a list of words. Have them figure out which one is different and why. There are no right or wrong answers. I encourage my students to make multiple reason. The group with the best reason gets a point. Some examples:

  • apple, peach, banana, tomato(a banana doesn’t have seeds)
  • window, river, envelope, client, oregano(client doesn’t begin and end with the same letter)(river has only 5 alphabets)


As defined by the dictionary is a group activity in which efforts are made to find creative solution to a problem by gathering a list of ideas contributed by the members of the group. Brainstorming activities gives students a chance to practice the language skills but also encourages them to think outside the box. A simple example of an ESL brainstorming activity is:

Before class, write categories down on slips of paper, e.g. seven things you do before you go to bed.

Place a category slip on the teacher’s desk.

Split the students into teams of three or four.

Each team chooses one student to be the runner.

The runners go to the teacher’s desk and read the category, e.g. seven things you do before you go to bed.

The runners go back to their teams and tell their team members the category.

The teams then brainstorm words in the category and write them down.

The first team to finish shouts Stop!

The winning team calls out their answers. If their answers are correct, they win one point for each word in the category.

The next category slip is placed on the table and the game begins again, and so on.

The team with the highest number of points at the end is the winner.

5 minute fillers:

Five minute fillers are simple games and activities that can fill in those last few minutes of your class should you find yourself finishing your lesson early with a few minutes still left on the clock. What’s great about time-fillers is that they require absolutely no preparation and the students think of them as “play” time. A good example is:

Mystery Box– This five minute filler is a terrific way for students to develop their thinking strategies. Place an item into a closed shoe box and ask the students to figure out what is inside the box without opening it. Allow them to use all of their senses to find out what is in the box; touch it, smell it, shake it. Suggest to them to ask “yes” or “no” questions such as, “Can I eat it?” or “Is it bigger than a baseball?” Once they figure out what the item is, open the box and let them see it.

These are just a few examples. There are gazillion different techniques that ESL teachers around the world use to make their lessons more stimulating. Some teachers use short games and activities on a daily basis, and others use them only when the need arises. As a teacher you know your students and therefore are the best person to decide when and how to use these ideas. These ideas are for those few times when you hit a snag in the classroom. You never know when you might need to pull something fun and new out of your teaching hat! Use these in your classes to make them more exciting and fun!

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