Lesson Planning: Key to Successful English Language Teaching

Lesson Planning is Key

If you are either an experienced or novice English-language teacher, you probably prepare your lessons.  I know I do, even though I’ve been teaching for over 30 years. And my way of preparing a lesson is probably different from yours. “All outstanding teachers are ideal in their own ways, and as such are different from each other” (Richards 169).



Let me give you an overview of today’s talk. I will share my approach to lesson planning  for a three-hour course at the college level. First, I’ll talk about why lesson planning is important. Second, I’ll look at ways of structuring a lesson using the ESA model, E for engage, S for study, and A for activate. Then, I’ll share some ideas on pacing a lesson. Finally, I’ll talk about ways of closing a lesson.

Hello, my name is Frank Bonkowski, college English language teacher and author of the college textbook Actively Engaged in Academic Writing, published by Bokomaru Publications.  The book is geared to intermediate and advanced English language learners

Why do Lesson Planning

Even though I have been teaching for over 30 years, I still believe that lesson planning is an essential tool in having a successful lesson –  or at least increasing my chances at having a successful lesson.

 Richards lays out six reasons why lesson planning is so important (2015):

  • It provides a “roadmap” for the lesson.  It gives me a clear sense of where I hope to take learners in the lesson.  
  • It helps “think through and rehearse” the lesson. In other words, I get to visualize the content, activities and evaluation.
  • It gives a sense of security. It helps me feel confident in offering value to students and maximizing their learning.
  • It clearly lays out the sequence and timing of activities. It is so important for both me and students to stay on task and not waste time. I might add it gives a first option which I can adjust or modify according to the flow of a lesson.
  • It helps put into practice my beliefs about teaching and learning. For example, putting learners at the centre of the lesson, integrating the language skills through project work, ensuring relevance to student interests and needs, and encouraging social interaction through pair or group work. It also helps reminds me about being passionate and enthusiastic as a teacher.
  • Finally, it provides a record of what’s been done both by me and the students during the lesson. It builds continuity from lesson to lesson.  I’d be lost if I didn’t have that record.

Experienced teacher comment on lesson planning:
Ursula Mueller of Cegep Saint-Laurent

Ursula always prepares very detailed lesson plans. She aims for each lesson to build student self-esteem, have students connect with each other, and use new forms of expressions. For Ursula, “a lesson plan should be detailed and structured, but flexible allowing for provisation.”
Ursula Mueller Interview


Experienced teacher comment on beliefs about teaching:
Becky Mcknight of Cegep Saint-Jean 

Becky believes that you need clear objectives, purposeful objectives. And students have to be aware of them. Let students know you care, Enjoy the assignments you give. You got to have fun and put some humour into it. . . Establish your classroom culture early, especially regarding mutual respect.

Becky McKnight Interview


How to Structure a Lesson Using the ESA Model

Let me paint a broad picture of effective English language teaching and learning by using the ESA model..

I’ll answer the following questions:

  • How can teachers help students learn successfully using a model called ESA: engage, study, activate?
  • What can teachers do to engage students?
  • What are some effective study activities?
  • How can teachers help students activate their learning?

 The ESA model—which involves equally teacher and learners—is based on the ideas of Jeremy Harmer from his influential book, How to Teach English.

In a nutshell, this teaching/learning model is based on these three principles: learners need to be motivated, exposed to meaningful language, and provided chances to use the language. 


In the language classroom, for students to learn it makes good pedagogical sense to engage them. You need to “arouse the students’ interest, thus involving their emotions” (Harmer 25).

In my experience, even before you get students interested, you first have to catch their attention.  When I started second language teaching in high school many years ago, I was lucky to have a brilliant pedagogue as school principal.  He would often remind teachers about the importance of being enthusiastic and engaging ourselves in our subject matter. You can’t expect learners to be interested if you are not passionate about what you’re teaching. I have never forgotten that sound advice.

As you can see in resources 2 the chart showing Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain, the very first level is “receiving phenomena.” Learners need to be aware, show willingness to hear, and be attentive.  In my very first meeting with new second-language learners at the beginning of a new term, I always demonstrate and practice “receiving.” How so? 

First, I tell learners my name. Then, I mention something interesting about myself, such as how I like to do triathlons—a combination of swimming, running, and biking.  This always catches their attention, even if they are not particularly interested in sports.

I then ask students to say their name and something memorable about themselves.  This is not only stimulating but also challenging for learners. By the end of this exercise, an added bonus is that I’m usually able to remember about 80% of the students’ names. 

Notice in Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain, it is at the second level: “response to phenomena”  that learners can be expected to participate actively in the class. 

 Here are some useful activities and materials to engage students’ interest (Harmer 25):

  • Stimulating pictures
  • Games
  • Music
  • Discussions 
  • Dramatic stories, and
  • Amusing anecdotes


In study activities, students focus on language or information and how it is constructed.   For higher-level students, these activities can range from the study and practice of new vocabulary to an analysis of how a writer achieves an effect. 

There are different ways to do study activities: the teacher can explain or demonstrate a particular point or students can work alone, in pairs, or small groups to discover language for themselves.


In this phase of the ESA model, students get to use language as freely and meaningfully as they can.  This gives learners practice in creating language in “a kind of rehearsal for the real world” (Harmer 26).

 Here are some worthwhile activate exercises:

  • Sharing 
  • Role-plays
  • Debates
  • Discussions
  • Story and poem writing
  • Writing in groups

According to Harmer, these three elements need to be present in most lessons or teaching sequences.  Once students have been engaged in learning about language or acquiring information and they have studied a text for example, learners should be given the opportunity to use the language, even for a short period of time.

Tips on Pacing

Pacing is all about the flow and momentum of a lesson; a successful lesson has to move along fluidly, as much as possible.   Of course, the time of the day, who is present in class, and the level of student engagement also play a role in pacing. 


Richards recommends a number of points to keep in mind when planning a lesson (2015) :

  • Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on long-winded explanations and instructions.  In the first 75 minutes of a three-hour class, I work in a smart classroom, using a screen and overhead projector. I selectively present some of the key information from the day’s readings.  I often elicit information from students about key vocabulary or language features.
  • Mix up the activities. In other words, don’t carry on an activity for too long, even though it may be entertaining.  I often mix up individual work, pair work or small group work. 
  • Don’t be overly repetitive, although I’ve learned over the years that learners like familiar patterns in lessons providing a sense of security. In each lesson, for example, I have students do some teaching or making a presentation in what I call a short talk. The short talk is a clearly defined activity scheduled at the beginning of the term.
  • Gear the activities to the students’ level of abilities.  I often have mixed ability classes and finding the right level of difficulty for an activity can sometimes be challenging.
  • Have a clear goal and a specific timeline in mind for each activity.  In fact, I will often write a specific target time on the whiteboard for each segment of the lesson as well as each activity.
  • Pay attention to how students are performing by circulating around class, asking questions, and giving feedback.  It’s hard work, but students usually appreciate the attention you give them. 

How to Close a Lesson

Closing a lesson is just as important as its opening. It wraps up the lesson and sets the stage for the following lesson.  Ideally, you want to summarize the key points of the lesson. I often ask students what is the key learning point they take away from the lesson. 

 Here are three ways I like to close a lesson:

  • Praise students for their good work or participation in the lesson.  Students appreciate the recognition that you give them.
  • Give students a 15 to 20 minute closed-ended quiz on the contents of the lesson found on the web companion.
  • Post homework for the next lesson in the college’s email system which students can access on their mobile.  This is a must to keep students on track; they really appreciate having this kind of reminder.  

Lesson plan outline

Course ________       Lesson Plan: Week _______ Topic ______________ F. J. Bonkowski

A/ 75 mins Time Day _________

Time ________

Class ________

Day _________

Time ________

Class ________

1 Review
B/ 75 mins Time ________

Class ________

Time ________

Class ________

Next class: assignment  

Works Cited

Becky McKnight Interview. Little Rascals, July 19, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUUxi_8p2l0&t=32s

Bonkowski, Frank. “Teaching writing to intermediate and advanced English learners.”  English English Learner Portal, 2018.

Harmer, Jeremy.  How to teach English. Harlow, Essex, Pearson education Limited, 2003.

Richards, Jack C. Key Issues in Language Teaching. Cambridge,. Cambridge University press, 2015.

Ursula Mueller Interview, Little Rascals, Nov. 11, 2019,









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