The Lesson Plan for Teaching Vocabulary and Grammar

The actual methodology behind the basic lesson plan is based on common sense. There are millions of variations on teaching methodology but no matter what terminology you want to use, it pretty much all comes down to the same thing:

We warm our students up, we teach them some new grammar or vocabulary, we practise until we think our students have it nailed and then we give our students an exercise where they can use their new knowledge with the language they already have.

So, with common sense, we are able to design the basic lesson structure for the TEFL classroom. The components have been labelled:

  • Lead-in / Warm-up
  • Present 
  • Practice
  • Perform

This structure is called PPP.

Lead-in and Warm-up

The main objective of the lead-in is to prepare the students for the lesson ahead. Switching from the students’ native language to English doesn’t happen immediately so we need to give them an opportunity to do this before we start teaching new material. You have to remember that your students have spent all day at school or work speaking their native language. Your job is to help them with the cross-over to English.

What to do?

We may want to revise some material the students should know because we are going to need them to use it later in the lesson.

Getting students moving

We sometimes use games, quizzes and fun dynamic exercises to allow the students to release energy or move around, especially if they have been stuck at school or in an office for a long time before the lesson.

>Nothing new

Remember, the idea is not to teach anything in particular, but to allow the students to gently switch on.

Some ideas

Ideas for ice breakers come from all parts of our lives. As teachers, we use old beer drinking games (without the beer), games from our childhood or from literally anywhere.

Analysing each warm-up

You will find that each game and exercise, including ice breakers and warm-ups, have their benefits and concerns depending on a variety of factors. If you know which question to ask yourself when designing your lesson then you will find most of it is common-sense. Some example questions:

  • What level of students am I teaching? (Quickly check that the level of the language used is suitable for the level of students.)
  • What age of students am I teaching?
  • Will my children be bored playing Call my Bluff or will my adults be embarrassed to play Contacts?
  • Will it create safety issues?
  • Is the amount of movement involved in the warm-up suitable for the size of classroom and amount of students? Does the age of students play an issue?
  • Will it be difficult to control?
  • Will I lose control of the classroom with this group of students and this game? How will I make sure I am in control?
  • How will I explain it?
  • Is it easy to explain? Can I use examples or pictures? Will the students understand the words I need to use to be able to explain it?
  • Are there any cultural issues to be aware of?
  • Will the exercise make my students feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by participating?

Presentation

The presentation stage has two key parts. The introduction of the new words or grammar and the necessary drilling to be sure that students understand and/or can clearly pronounce the new material.

Introducing material is the key to being a good teacher. It is the same as most things in life: if you don’t get it right the first time, then the students might end up confused about something or, if you are not careful, they might start to develop a bad habit which becomes so much more difficult to correct later on.

The good news is that if you are well prepared and you apply common sense, then being a good presenter is actually not too difficult.

The most important thing to remember is that many of our students don’t really have that much English to be able to understand verbal explanations. Think about it. Try to explain one word using very simple words. What happens is that if you are not careful, then you end up confusing the students with the complexity of the explanation and digging a hole for yourself.

Mime

Verbs or “action words” are often best introduced through mime. It is always much easier to show driving as an action than to explain it. Words are often very difficult to remember on their own. But, science has proven, if you are able to link the word to something like an action, picture or emotion, then they are memorised easier and for longer.

Mime also has the added advantage that it is easier to get the students involved. With you acting out the mime, the student often feels more comfortable doing the same.

Pictures

The saying “a picture paints a thousand words” is never truer than in a TEFL classroom. Previously, you would have needed a good library of books or developed an artistic flair for drawing. These days though, with tools such as Google images, you are able to jump on the internet and in 10 minutes have clear pictures that explain clearly the material you are trying to introduce. It’s not cheating, it is just common sense!

Realia

Sometimes the easiest way to explain something is to show it or a prop of it. Some groups of words are easier if you just show them.

When I want to explain under or on, then I take a pen and first put it under the book and say “The pen is under the book”. I then move the pen onto the book and say “The pen is on the book”. The method is very, very clear and unlikely to confuse the students.

Words

Please don’t think you absolutely can’t use words to explain something. Just be aware that it should be used more as a last resort. Some words are impossible to show by mime or picture because they are not physical objects but abstract concepts. This is when we use words.

Using simple words to explain another word is a skill. It doesn’t come overnight, it takes practice to perfect it. Even really experienced teachers don’t get it right every time. They learn to read the student and if they think their explanation failed, they are comfortable to try again and again. They remember the best way to describe the word for next time they are in the same situation.

Most importantly

Nobody says you have to decide on one method to introduce new material. It could be that the first new piece of vocabulary is easier to explain using a picture but the next word is best described by miming. That is completely fine.

Even more importantly, you can use more than one method to introduce new material. You could combine a picture, a mime and a verbal explanation to explain the word.

For example:

Driving – Show a picture of a man driving, mime a man driving a car (at the same time making car noises) whilst giving a verbal explanation.

Drilling

Drilling is a fundamental part of introducing new material, especially when teaching students who are of a lower level. Drilling is the process of getting the students to repeat the word until you are satisfied they can pronounce it correctly and they understand it. Students of higher levels may not need to be well drilled, simply repeating a few times may be enough. Over time you will be able to judge how much drilling is needed.

Important warning

Drilling has the possibility to be really enjoyable to the student or, equally, mind numbing. There are some simple rules to follow that can help you steer on the side of fun and avoid boring.

Tempo and energy – You should drill as fast as possible whilst still maintaining control. You need to use lots of energy. One tip is to keep varying the order in which you ask the question so that you keep the whole group on their toes and listening.

Know when to finish – Drilling should be challenging as well as high energy. As soon as the students find the material you are drilling easy, then it quickly becomes boring and perhaps tedious. Keep an eye out for how easy the students are finding it. Even if your lesson plan says 5 minutes and they have got it after 2 minutes, move on!

The process for drilling is similar whether you have introduced the word with a picture, realia or mime:

  • Introduce the first word;
  • Start by getting the group to repeat the word in chorus;
  • Pick students individually to repeat the word.
  • Introduce the second word;
  • Start by getting the group to repeat the word in chorus;
  • Pick students individually to repeat the word;
  • Add the first word and pick students to repeat either word by showing the relevant mime, picture or realia associated with the word.
  • Introduce the third word;
  • Start by getting the group to repeat the word in chorus;
  • Pick students individually to repeat the word;
  • Add the first and second word and pick students to repeat the word by showing the relevant mime, picture or realia associated with that word.

And so the process continues until you have 5-8 words being revised and drilled at the same time.

Another alternative is for one student to say the word and the selected student has to connect the relevant mime, picture or realia to the word.

Practice Stage

The Practice stage pretty much explains itself by its title. We have introduced the material and drilled it until we are happy they understand it and know how to use it (including pronunciation). The next stage is to practise using this new material correctly.

What we want from this stage is to provide the students with an exercise or two that allows them to practise the material in a controlled way. It is important that there is a right and wrong answer so the students have something concrete to hold on to. By completing the exercise well, the teacher will be left in no doubt that they have digested and understood the material and, more importantly, a successful controlled practice helps build the confidence of the students so they feel they can use it.

There are many different types of exercises we can use for this stage but, as long as the students are directly challenged on the new material, your imagination is your only limitation. Listed over the next few pages are some of the more standard exercise types that can be adapted and manipulated in a variety of ways to better suit your needs.

Gap fill

The gap fill. This is something you may remember from your own language lessons. It is pretty universal. It may seem a little boring and dry but many students enjoy it because they understand exactly what they need to do to be successful.

All you need to do is give each student a copy of the exercise (or sometimes you may want them to work in pairs).

You explain what they need to do, checking that they understand all the words in the text before they start. Very often you do not need to spend a lot of time on the instructions because the students quickly get used to such exercises so they know what they need to do.

Once they have completed the exercise, you need to go through each answer. Ideally you want to ask a student to read the whole sentence with the answer in place.

Matching

Matching is a very valuable exercise for TEFL teachers because it is very flexible. It is easily adapted to the age and level of the students. It can be designed as an exercise to be completed individually, in pairs or even in small groups.

The standard matching exercise has a column of words on the left side of the sheet of paper and a second column on the right side. Very simply, the student is required to draw a line from the word in the left column that matches the word in the right column.

Variations:

  • for younger students you can have the words in the left column and a picture of each object in the right column.
  • you could replace the definition in the right column with examples.
  • you can put each word and definition on cards and play Pairs. This is the game where all the cards are turned face down. Each participant takes a turn to turn 2 cards over. The idea is to remember what other participants turned over and try to turn over the 2 matching cards.

Scripted role play

A scripted role play is like an informal play where not only does the teacher allocate parts to play but he also gives clear instructions on what to say, for example:

Restaurant

Splitting the group into pairs, you give one student in the pair a card to play the waiter’s role and the second person in the pair the card to play the role of the customer in the restaurant. You then ask them to “act out” a situation in a restaurant.

Depending on the level of the students, you can even add a little challenge by putting the information in random order so the students show understanding by being able to pick the correct question and answer to make the dialogue correct.

Perform Stage

Now that we have introduced new material and practised to make sure our students know how to use it properly, the next step is to consolidate this newfound knowledge. We want to integrate it with the knowledge we already have and, whilst we are at it, we can improve confidence and fluency. This is the main role of the Perform stage.

Differing from the other 2 stages, the teacher moves away from keeping control of the class and starts to give the students some freedom. Before, we tried to make sure everything was clearly right or wrong, whereas here we want more fluidity.

As a teacher, you want to be able to give the students an activity for them to control and manage whilst you become the assessor or facilitator.

Some examples of the types of exercises that could be included in this stage are:

Role play

Rather than telling the students exactly what they need to say (like a scripted role play), here we only give them the premise or the situation and allow them to take the role play in whichever way they seem fit. Often people try to be funny or it may turn out different to how you originally planned. As long as they are using English, using the new material and not being rude to anyone, then you can allow it.

Example:

After a lesson looking at vocabulary relating to character traits, we set up a role play situation of job interviews. We make one group the interviewers and the other group the interviewees. Sometimes we can decide to twist the story to make it an interview for the job of evil dictator. Normally everyone has fun, speaks English and even uses the new material.

Create / Design

Putting the students into groups, you can give them the task of designing something and presenting their idea to the class. Depending on their age, their likes and the theme of the lesson you can be creative.

Some Examples:

Create an idea for a Hollywood blockbuster.

Create your fantasy island.

Create a new chocolate bar.

Dragon’s Den – create a new invention.

Hierarchy exercises

These kinds of exercises are great for increasing fluency. They involve giving the students a list of things and asking them to pick the most important or to rank them from least to most important. People naturally have different opinions and start expressing them with this kind of exercise.

This exercise can be organised for pairs, small groups or even the class as a whole. It normally finishes with the ideas being presented to the whole class.

Example:

The teacher tells the students they have crashed on a desert island. As the plane is burning they have the opportunity to go back and take things that may help them escape or survive on the island. Then the teacher gives a list of 12-15 items such as knife, rope, compass etc. Because they can’t be sure how much time they have until the plane explodes, they must take the list and decide on an order of most important to least important.