I recently celebrated the 12-year anniversary of the day I arrived in Japan to take up my first teaching post as an eikaiwa (English conversation school) instructor in Chiba and eastern Tokyo.
It’s funny these days, to look back on that time and think just how much of my free time I wasted making lesson plans. In many cases, the time I spent planning the lesson was longer than the lesson itself and even then — I still felt they were lacking in some ways.
Thankfully, more than a decade later, I am now at the stage where I can throw a plan together in maybe 10 to 15 minutes plus some additional time to print off materials and gather other minimal supplies.
So if you’re a new teacher, you can become more efficient by creating quick and effective lesson plans using a template. Once you have a master template, then stick to it — and adapt it as necessary.
Some people worry that using a set template for your lessons can make them formulaic, predictable and bland. However, if you do it properly then this need not be the case. In actuality, getting to know a routine can be reassuring for students who are nervous about being in an unfamiliar atmosphere such as an English-only environment.
At the moment, I primarily teach elementary school, so here is a good five-part lesson plan for 45-minute classes with students at that level. (You can tweak it for the individual needs of your class.) Bear in mind that if you are teaching at junior high or high school, you will need to adjust this to 50 minutes.
1. Introduction and context setting (0-10 minutes)
In these first 10 minutes, you ease students into English speaking mode, with a short game activity. This can be a quiz, a drawing game or some kind of simple vocabulary practice.
If you are team teaching, then you can also use a dialogue with your Japanese teacher of English (JTE) to set the tone for the lesson.
The dialogue should introduce the target language structure for the lesson and most importantly, establish a logical context for it to be used in everyday conversation. In other words, show the students how the English they are going to learn today can be used in the real world. If students can understand why something is useful, they are more likely to remember it.
Here’s a quick example example.
How are you?
- JTE: Hi Liam. How are you?
- Me: (Rubbing my eyes and generally looking lethargic) I’m sleepy. How are you sensei (teacher)?
- JTE: (Throwing their hands in the air and smiling) I’m great!
At this point, turn to the students and ask them: “OK. What are we talking about?”
Provided your gestures were clear enough, students should be able to put it together. If it wasn’t understood, do the skit two to three times if necessary until the students get it.
Your Japanese colleague will ask them to explain it in Japanese to confirm that they understand.
2. Introduce and drill vocabulary (10-20 minutes)
With the context of the lesson established (“feelings”) and the students aware of the intended goal, you can now set about helping the students reach that goal. The first step is equipping them with the vocabulary they need to start forming sentences in the target language.
… you can become more efficient by creating quick and effective lesson plans using a template.
In the case of this example, we will introduce and drill the “feelings” vocabulary — for example “I’m happy,” “I’m sad,” “I’m hungry,” “I’m sleepy” and so on.
I generally find that eight to 10 new words per lesson is a manageable amount for the students to absorb. Be careful not to bombard them with too many new terms as this will confuse them and make it harder to retain their attention.
Introduce the new words using flashcards. Then, go through some repetition drills, first with the group reciting as a whole and then one at a time. Once you feel that the students are confident enough saying the words, try asking individual students to identify each word through a series of questions. If a student is struggling, encourage their friends to help them out with the pronunciation to help foster a positive and supportive learning environment.
3. Game No. 1 (20-30 minutes)
Have the students play a quick game to practice in groups or in pairs using the new words. Encourage students to use the full sentence with the target language at this point. Since this is only the first activity of the lesson, single word answers are acceptable at this point.
Here’s an example of an activity I use called the “Lucky Card Game.”
Lucky Card Game
- Give each student one of the vocabulary cards but tell them to keep it secret and not show it to the others.
- Make sure one student has a unique card, which no one else has — the “lucky card.”
- Have the students practice the dialogue together and swap cards after each round. Encourage them to practice with as many different partners as possible.
- The winner will be random, as one student will be left with the unique card, but since you don’t tell them what card it is ahead of time, students have no way of knowing which card it is. Hence, the student who ends up with the card is considered “lucky.”
4. Review and comprehension check (30-35 minutes)
At this stage, have a quick recap of the target dialogue just covered in the lesson. Perhaps invite a few pairs of students to model the exchange or conversation for the class. Make sure everyone is following and be sure to correct any errors you hear.
5. Game No. 2 (35-45 minutes)
Now it’s time to play the second game. Unlike the first game, for this one, students should focus on using the complete sentence structure. One word responses are no longer acceptable and be sure to enforce this.
Here’s an example of a student interview game you can use.
- Make a worksheet with two columns. One column should have the heading: “Name” and the second should be headed: “How are you?”
- Students have to complete the worksheet by interviewing their friends.
- Have the students pair up and janken (rock, paper, scissors) to see who gets to ask the question first.
- Then they write down the name of their partner in column one and draw an emoji to denote their feeling (for example, a sad, happy or sleepy face as appropriate) in column 2.
- Again, encourage the students to interview as many people as they can and invite them to use the back of their worksheet if they run out of space.
- The winner will be whoever can interview the most people within the time limit.
At the end of the lesson, try to allow one or two minutes for a sum up, a final recap of the lesson point and to praise the students for their efforts in today’s class. This last point is especially important for keeping students happy and motivated. It’s crucial for them to develop a love of English that will see them through tougher times later on in their school life.
So, what you have here is a simple five-part template for making an English lesson plan quickly and easily. These ideas can also be adapted to most lesson targets — just make new vocab cards for each set of target language.
Remember: no lesson plan is perfect. There’s always the chance that something could go wrong. Be ready for that, and don’t be afraid to improvise. In fact — count on it.
The best teachers I’ve worked with over my years in English education here have been the ones who could strike a fine balance between planning professionally and improvising accordingly.
Having resources and templates like these at your immediate disposal can help when other efforts don’t go as planned or you need something quick and spontaneous for a class.
What are some of your favorite templates for quick and effective lesson plans? Let us know in the comments!