How to Plan a TEFL Lesson

What is a TEFL lesson plan and what should it include? A step by step guide to planning lessons for English language teaching.

Keith Taylor
Lesson planning

Why plan lessons?

Every TEFL lesson needs a plan. The level of detail it contains, and whether it is mainly in your head or mainly on paper, will vary depending on your training and experience, the type of class (one-to-one classes often have a much more fluid plan, for example) and the time that you have available to plan.

The main reason to have a plan for a TEFL lesson is to know, firstly, the aim of your lesson and, secondly, what you’re going to do during the lesson in order to achieve that aim. If you don’t know what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the lesson, you risk them going away feeling that they haven’t achieved anything.

What should a TEFL lesson plan include?

Everything that you might want to include in your plan derives from the main aim and how you’re going to achieve it. What materials do you need for the activities that you’ve planned in order to achieve your aim? How long will each of these activities take? What problems might your students have in dealing with a particular activity or language point? And so on.

As we said, for most teachers it is impractical to plan every lesson with this amount of detail. But these kinds of detail should at the very least be in your head, even if the paper version is just a few scribbled lines – and writing a few plans in this way is the best way to get yourself into the habit of thinking about these kinds of detail when you’re planning, even if you don’t have the time to actually write them.

Although there are other possibilities, here’s a list of the main things to include in a detailed lesson plan:

Main aim
Subsidiary aims
Personal aims
Anticipated problems and solutions

And for each stage of the lesson itself:

Stage aims

We’ll have a look at each one more closely. At the end is an example plan for this Used to lesson.

Main aim

What should the main aim be? Ideally it should come from a course plan which outlines a logical progression of aims for every lesson in a course. How does this lesson that you’re teaching today fit into the bigger picture of what your students want or need to achieve on the course? The aim might be based on a language point (grammatical, lexical or phonological), or it might be based on a skill (reading, writing, listening or speaking).

The key is to think not in terms of what you want to teach, but in terms of what you want your students to be able to do. By thinking from your students’ perspective you are more likely to choose activities which will help them achieve this aim, rather than activities which are easy for you to teach. If your aim is grammar or vocabulary based, you also avoid the risk of “teaching” the form and then thinking “okay, they’ve got it, job done”.

So, instead of “to teach will and going to” or “to practice listing for gist” try “to enable students to discuss future plans using will and going to” or “to develop students’ ability to identify the main ideas in a reading text”. Think along the lines of “to help / to enable / to develop/ to improve…” rather than “to teach / to practice”.

It’s also a good idea to make a note of how you will recognise when your students have achieved the main aim. This can help you afterwards to critically analyse your lesson, think about ways to improve it if they didn’t achieve the aim, and decide what further work is needed on a particular language point or skill.

Subsidiary aims

You may also have some secondary aims that you would like to work on. In the “Used to” lesson below the main aim is based on a language point, but we do some listening work to provide the context for presenting this language, so we take the opportunity to develop the students’ listening skills. We also introduce some vocabulary, not just because we need it to understand the text, but because we would like our students to be able to use this vocabulary outside the lesson.

Personal aims

You might also have something that you want to achieve on a more personal level. Maybe in your last lesson you weren’t happy with your board work and you want to improve on this. If there are several aspects of your teaching that you want to improve or develop, try focusing on one at a time here – work on it for a few lessons until you’re happy with it, then move on to the next one.


What materials will you need for each of your activities? Make sure you won’t need to run back to the photocopier during the class by going through all the stages of your lesson one by one – have you forgotten anything?

Anticipated problems and solutions

Take a little time to go through the stages of your lesson and anticipate the problems your students may have and what you will do if these problems crop up. Anticipating the unexpected allows you to, as far as is possible, avoid the danger of being left stranded without an answer. This can help you feel more confident and deliver a more effective lesson.

Think in terms of vocabulary in a text that you may have to pre-teach in some way, potential issues with pronunciation and how you’re going to deal with them, possible lack of student imagination in creative tasks, possible confusion of tenses and how you’re going to resolve this, and so on. It’s important to be precise here. If you say “students may be unfamiliar with some words in the text” it doesn’t really help you to prepare a solution. If you say “students may be unfamiliar with the words “to give up, to quit…”, you can think about the best way to present or elicit the meaning of each.

Stages of the lesson

Now we come to the lesson itself. There are four things to consider here:


Your lesson has a fixed length and so you’ll need to think about the timing of each activity. This helps you to know that you have planned a long enough lesson, and during the lesson itself will serve as a self-check to make sure you achieve what you want to achieve. If you find that you haven’t planned enough material, make sure any new activities you add contribute to your lesson aim – avoid the temptation to crow-bar in activities that don’t really fit. You could also go back and think about the activities you already have – could you expand on them or change them in any way?

Stage aims

These are the aims of the individual stages of your lesson, as opposed to the main aim of the lesson as a whole. There should be a logical progression here towards achieving the main aim. Stage aims should answer the question “Why am I doing this?” rather than “What am I doing?” – the answer to this second question comes in the next column.

The stages that you include in your lesson will depend, of course, on the type of lesson. The “Used to” lesson follows a traditional PPP (presentation, practice, production) model. We therefore expect to see a stage where the language is presented in some way. This could be a situational presentation, a presentation from a text, or one of a number of different techniques to present new language. We also expect to see some practice stages, probably some restricted followed by some freer practice. These stages could be either oral or written. Finally, we expect to see a production stage or, as we have called it in this lesson, authentic practice.


This is what you actually do at each stage of the lesson. Be specific here. Instead of “Look at and discuss pictures”, break it down and say exactly how you’re going to do this: “Students look at photos of children doing things; Students discuss in pairs whether or not they did these things in the past and whether or not they do them now”. Being this specific will help keep you on track and ensure that you don’t forget a crucial part of an activity.


This tells you whether the activity is pair-work (S-S), group work (S-S-S), a teacher-led activity (during the presentation stage, for example – T-Ss) and so on. This can show you whether or not you have a range of different activity types – is your lesson too teacher-centred? Is every activity pairwork? Have you mixed up the groups for different activities?

Here’s the used to lesson plan:

Main aim
  • To develop students’ ability to talk about past habits using used to in the context of childhood and addictions.
  • Students will, during the less restricted practice stage, use the target language with sufficient accuracy for their partner to understand their past habits.
Subsidiary aims
  • To develop students’ ability to listen for the main ideas in a text.
  • To improve students’ ability to talk about the topic of addictions by introducing an addiction lexical set.
Personal aims
  • Give students more time to discuss in pairs after a listening activity before feedback.
  • Realia – chocolate, cigarettes, coffee, a PC
  • Pictures or short video clips of children playing on swings, dressing up for Halloween, studying at school.
  • Listening CD and photocopies of tapescript from Language To Go Intermediate (Longman, 2002) lesson 11.
  • Photocopies of handout for each student.
Anticipated problems and solutions
  • Problem: Students may be unable to think of three things they did as a child but don’t do now on the spur of the moment.
    Solution: Provide prompts and examples if necessary.
  • Problem: Students will not be familiar with “to give up”, to quit”, “to cut down on” in the listening text.
    Solution: Elicit these items in the context of addictions.
  • Problem: Students will be unfamiliar with the pronunciation of “used to” – /juːstə/
    Solutuon: Drill in affirmative, negative and question forms
Timing Aims Activity Focus
8 mins Lead in
to set the context for the lesson and generate interest
  • Ss look at photos of children doing things
  • Ss discuss whether or not they did these things in the past and whether or not they do them now
  • Ss write three things they did as a child but don’t do now and give them to T
7 mins Lexis
to introduce vocabulary for listening stage
  • Ss look at coffee, cigarettes, chocolate and a PC
  • Ss discuss whether or not they use these things, how often, and whether they can stop
  • T elicits addict, addicted, addiction, to quit, to give up, to cut down on, willpower
10 mins Listening
to practise listening for gist
  • Ss listen to four people describing their addictions: Does the person have the same addiction as you? If not, what are they addicted to; Have they given up?
  • Feedback on board
12 mins Presentation


  • to introduce target language
  • to manipulate form
  • to provide restricted practice in using target language and standardise pronunciation
  • T elicits target language:- Did he smoke in the past? Yes- Once or many times? Many times- Does he smoke now? No“He used to smoke”
  • T repeats with other examples and elicits negative and question
  • T drills target language
10 mins Less restricted practice
to give students restricted practise in using target language
  • T writes on board one thing that each student used to do as a child
  • Ss circulate, asking each other questions to find out who used to do what
  • Feedback
3 mins Less resticted written practice
to provide a written record of the target language
  • Sts write 2 sentences about themselves and two about other sts using target language
  • Feedback
10 mins Authentic practice
to give students authentic practice in using target language
  • T gives handout with prompts – last house, last job, appearance 10 years ago
  • Ss circulate and ask and answer questions based on prompts
  • Feedback

This lesson follows a typical PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) model. With this model we first present or elicit the language in some way. The students then practise it in more or less controlled situations and finally produce it in a more authentic situation. Have a look below for more about these practice and production stages.

PPP is just one of several possible lesson models – as such we have not covered all of the possible lesson stage types and have only touched on some of the terminology that you might include in these stages. But we’ll expand on some of the terminology and stages that we have mentioned in more detail here:

Lead in

A lead in activity is designed to “warm the students up” – to generate interest and get them thinking about the topic. When you introduce a topic, for example with pictures, a video or some questions, you activate in your students’ minds a mental image or expectation based on their existing knowledge of the topic. This mental image is often called a schema, and so we can say that the aim of a lead-in stage is to “activate your students’ schemata”. Your students’ existing knowledge and experience can then be used to personalise the lesson.

Target language

The aim of the presentation stage is to present or elicit the target language – the language that we want the students to be able to use correctly in order to achieve the aim of our lesson. There are different ways to do this – in this case the teacher elicits the meaning of the target language with a series of concept questions before giving the target sentence itself.

Manipulating form

By this we mean that the teacher presents (or elicits) the question and negative forms of the target language, as well as, perhaps, other examples in the first, second or third person.

Restricted/controlled practice

The first practice stage, where the teacher drills the pronunciation of the target language, is very restricted, in the sense that students focus entirely on the sentence containing the target language. There is no opportunity at this stage to incorporate other language. The practice stage of PPP lessons tends to start with restricted practice in this way, and then gradually move on to less restricted and eventually much more authentic practice.

In the less restricted practice stage of this lesson, students are given the chance to circulate and ask each other questions (using the material that was gathered during the lead in). The focus is still very much on the target language, but much less restricted or controlled than the previous exercise.

Authentic/Free/Fluency practice

Finally, the students are given the opportunity to produce the target language in a much freer context. The activity in this lesson encourages them to talk about the past, and they may naturally use the target language during their conversations, but they are also free to use other language. There shouldn’t be any pressure on the students at this stage to use the target language, and you may find that they don’t use it very much at all. This is why we can call this stage authentic practice – in an authentic situation we wouldn’t use “used to” in every sentence when communicating with someone – we would maybe use it once or twice in addition to other forms.

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Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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  • Gordon Ross

    Thank you for this. I am currently studying to be a TEFL teacher, and I’m glad I have found your website. The information you are sharing is very clear and well explained.

  • Yasmine Almokhtar

    It’s well organized and so helpful, thank you so much for this clarification

  • Maisaa Dahdal

    Very useful. Many thanks.

  • Mona

    That was clear and well explained. Thank you

  • Patrick Serge MONGBO

    So happy to have these cues on lesson planning. Very simple understandable and useful for teachers especially beginners. Pat Serge tefl Inspector

  • Spastic-Tactician

    I love the emphasis on thematic connection between lesson stages. I train public school teachers in Japan and the most important thing I do for them is to help them begin to plan the connections in their lessons, their units, and their terms. Student motivation is a fragile thing. Creating and maintaining engaging thematic connections that carry through every stage, every activity, each one informing the next and building on the previous is absolutely crucial to supporting that motivation. Textbooks don’t provide this kind of goal-focused thematic connection. It can only come from the dedicated preparation of the teacher. Your section about the importance of putting the work in before lessons is, as such, a super important part of this article.
    One suggestion: I am not a fan of calling the final stage “production”. Production is a word that carries a machine-like, robotic connotation and… alarmingly, that is exactly what I often see in the final stages of lessons I observe. Students robotically spitting out what they think they should say. I prefer calling the final stage “Use” (My preferred acronym is SPU, Show, Practice, Use). When we think in terms of having students actually USE language or communicative strategies, rather than simply producing them, we sharpen our aim when choosing or designing activities. This subtle change in thinking can help us think about language as a communicative device rather than as a barrier to overcome for students, and THAT is key.

  • Taurus

    How can we check the effectiveness of the presentation stage, how can we take student feedback?

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Taurus

      Checking understanding of the language as you present it is very important. In this lesson it is done with concept checking questions, in this part of the plan:

      “Did he smoke in the past? Yes- Once or many times? Many times- Does he smoke now? No
      “He used to smoke
      T repeats with other examples”

      You can see some more detail about this in this post about the lesson:

      …and in this post about concept checking questions:

      Hope that helps.

  • James Tringle

    I am just got through teaching in several public schools in Vietnam over the past year. I basically used the lesson plans from “Family and friends” to teach the classes. Oh by the way I had an average of 55+ kids in each class.

  • eve peter

    Hi Eslbase, good morning. I am doing my TEFL Training Course and I have come across your website and I find it very useful for my assignments. Thanks a bunch for this.

    • Shanitha

      I am also a tefl student and and doing a lesson plan on comprehension Finding it a bit difficult. Please help. Thanks

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Eve, thanks for your comment, and we’re glad you find the site useful!

  • cherell

    Good Day
    I am struggling with the TEFL lesson plan that i must draw up. It should have the following stages. 1. Warmer, Pre teach vocab,and reading.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Cherell – can you give us some more info about the plan?

  • azra

    i plan to do celta and found this lesson plan extremely well planned and organised.just great….

  • Faye Simon

    I am a TESOL student and getting ready for my practicum lessons. I was very nervous and felt like i have all the information jumbled up in my head. But this detailed lesson plan, step by step scaffolding and checklist is perfect! Thank you!

  • Niva

    An excellent grammar lesson plan! I’m a TEFL student, and in fact, my field is not teaching, am a translator, so please I need your help for a detailed plan: Main aim: lexis, sub aim: speaking. Thank u in advanced!

  • Flyeogh

    The situation: Mature student who has studied very informally over 15 years. She understands simple one to one conversations. But I doubt knows anything detailed about grammar elements/structure. And certainly makes many simple errors – i.e. she has accumulated a lot but perfected little I would say sums it up.

    However now she is looking to progress further.

    I have put together a one hour lesson plan which I hope will allow me to do an initial assessment of her read/write/listen/conversation abilities while at the same time her getting a learning and/or revision benefit.

    The learning part of the hour (after intros/facilities/plan/her expectations/relax) consists of:

    Revise (hopefully) the verb ‘to be’.
    Look at grammar in terms of ‘When and Action’ structure/rules relating to Present simple, Present progressive, Past simple, Past progressive, Future simple, Future progressive.
    Various quiz/activity progressing through read/write/listen/conversation (I have three levels of each quiz/activity so I can adjust in-flight as it were to meet the level I find.

    Ends with lesson review and what the student would like to do next.

    Any thoughts on that approach and/or how others handle the assessment stage would be very much appreciated. My 120 hour TEFL doesn’t offer much on assessment sadly. Quite a bit on punch ups in the classroom but not sure that will prove useful in this case!

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      This might be too late for this particular student, but may help for the future…

      Here’s how I normally approach a first session with a one-to-one student at pre-intermediate level or above. This is assuming I have no or little prior information about her needs and expectations.

      The first hour should achieve three things:

      1. Establish a good rapport and put the student at ease
      2. Needs analysis
      3. Obtain samples of language based on her needs

      Establishing a rapport
      Establishing a rapport is not something that is easily taught, but can be helped by showing that you are listening to and understanding her needs, issues and expectations, boosting her confidence by not bombarding her with a whole load of grammar or activities that are way beyond her level, talking to her as an equal, and so on.

      Needs analysis
      Needs analysis is all about finding out why she is learning English, what she needs it for and what she expects from the lessons. You can normally achieve this by just having a chat. Start with a natural conversation about herself, her job, her family, etc, (and share some information about yourself too if she seems interested).

      This conversation can then naturally lead on to questions about why, when and how she uses English. At this point you can start to get quite specific with your questions, depending on what she says. If she uses it for work, how exactly? Does she need to write in English or just speak? What does she write and in which contexts does she have to speak? Are her conversations usually with one other person or with a group? Formal chats or coffee machine conversations?

      What you’re doing is building up a picture of the specific situations in which she uses English and, importantly, the problems that these situations present her. Perhaps she needs to write emails but these are easy for her, and the real problem is answering the telephone call to American clients. The more information you can get here, the easier it will be for you to plan her course.

      What sometimes happens is that the student will just say “I just want to improve generally”. But you can still get her to be a little more specific here – what does she want to be able to do with the language? Watch TV shows? Travel?

      All the time that you’re having this conversation about her needs, it’s also a chance for you to get an idea of her strengths and weaknesses, any particular language or skills areas you can identify that need some work.

      Obtain language samples
      You can then, depending on the needs and expectations you’ve just established, get some samples of her language. As I just said, you’ve already been getting a good speaking sample from your conversation, but it can sometimes be useful to get a recording of her speaking (if she’s comfortable with this) for more detailed analysis by you later. If she needs to write in English, get a sample of her writing – have her write something that is motivating for her and preferably related to her writing needs. if she doesn’t need to write in English and has no interest in doing so (which you will have established during your conversation), there’s no need to get a writing sample.

      In doing all this, she’s been telling you what she needs and expects from the course. So it’s time for you now to summarise this for her and give her an idea of what you plan to do in the coming lessons. Reinforce what she’s been telling you. If she’s stressed several times that she gets all mixed up with tenses, or that she can’t understand during a telephone conversation, tell her that you’ll be focusing on these things in the coming lessons and, if you can, give her a very brief idea of how you’ll be doing this. This will ensure she leaves feeling reassured that she’s going to get what she needs and that you have listened to her and aren’t just going to press on with your own agenda!

      That, for me, would often be it for the first hour and will be fine for the student. But if you sense as the hour goes on that they need something concrete to take away with them, by all means have a few generic listening / reading / grammar activities to work on.

      I would also give them a “language record” – this is a piece of paper that you will hopefully have been creating as you go through the lesson (and should be done in every one-to-one lesson), where you’ve made a note of new vocabulary, examples of good use of language that you heard, and some errors. Examples of good language use are vital so that when you go through this with her in the last 5 or 10 minutes of the lesson, it’s not all about the errors. So, go through it with her – if there are major grammatical errors, you can say that you’ll be dealing with them in future lessons if that’s appropriate to her needs (and make sure you do!). Minor errors can be dealt with on the spot. Give her the piece of paper to take away (and keep a copy for yourself if you can).

      Hope that helps.


  • pamela

    Hi, am doing am assignment on a lesson and not lesson plan. The question is what are the four stages of a lesson and their activites. Please help.

  • pamela

    Thank you so much well explained.

  • Diana

    Many thanks for this clear presentation of the lesson plan. Just preparing for my first TP!

  • Holona Chetty

    Well I like to say I paid money for a TEFL course which has everything that you mentioned (for free) .Thanks for sharing!

  • peter

    Well explained. What about demos and language analysis, when or on what stage must it be engaged?

  • Abdul Rahim Chaudhary

    Awesome! But it is not here to select the final stages I.e. Controlled practice and production stage. Edit it please so we could copy and past for print. Thanks

  • Melanie

    This is very helpful – good to get it from a different perspective rather than just passing the course basis – thank you

  • zbd

    I’d say an important stage was missing – final feedback! Students want to know what they did well/badly on in the final task as well as checking that they have the ‘right’ answers in more controlled practice. Other than that, a sound lesson plan for CELTA candidates. I did CELTA over 7 years ago and would have appreciated this then :)

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Thanks for pointing this out zbd – we missed off the bullet point for “Feedback” for the last two activities. I’ve added these now.

      • Margarita

        Hi , I am writing my graduation paper on ESL lesson stages and lesson time management, and , I’d point out that you did a fine job and didn’t miss anything. The PPP lesson planning paradigm doesn’t require evaluation, which is by all means required by 5E Instructional Model: engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. So, probably, that is the reason you omitted feedback, which is optional in PPP.

  • kimberly

    I am a teacher trainer and I found this guide to be a very clear resource. THANK YOU!

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Thanks Kimberly for your feedback.

  • Eduardo

    Hi, this is a great example of lesson plan. Would it be ok if we used in our training sessions at our school?

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Eduardo – please feel free to use this for your training sessions.

  • Jose fermin

    This is a very detailed PPP lesson plan. I’m a CELTA trainee and thought it was awesome!

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Thanks Jose, we’re glad you found it helpful.

  • Cara

    Hi, this Grammar Lesson Plan is excellent. Is it possible for me to obtain a copy by email? This is the best plan I have seen for a long time.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Cara, thanks for your comment! Unfortunately we’re unable to send this by email – you’re welcome to copy and paste from this page though!

      • Ahmadjon

        Hi! Thanks for letting us copy and paste it

  • Nat

    I am a CELTA student and I have to say that this LP is excellent and inspirational! a great reference to come back for ideas! thank you so much!

    • Jeremias Rui Albino

      Great. This is one of the clearest PPP Lesson Plans I’ve ever seen.

  • Keith profile photo
    Keith Taylor

    Thanks Gordon, and good luck with your studies.

  • Keith profile photo
    Keith Taylor

    I’m glad you found it useful!

  • Keith profile photo
    Keith Taylor

    Hi Yasmine, I’m glad you found it helpful!

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