ESL Backup Plan

Almost any teacher experiences sooner or later a time in their teaching career when due to lack of preparation, misjudgment of their students’ language ability, or simply laziness they ran out of material, activities and even ideas before the end of their lesson. Not a nice place to be!

If you listen to their stories you’ll find that the common denominator is basically a poor or inexistent lesson plan‏‎. But there are times when even the most accurate lesson plan won’t get you out of trouble. These are the times when a backup plan is needed!

Here are a few scenarios:

1. The first activity ended faster than you expected; you move on to the next but you still end up with time to spare.

2. Things didn’t pan out as you hoped; the students really didn’t take to that role play; no one is taking part.

3. It’s your first lesson with this class and your students’ level turns out to be higher than what you expected; you need a quick change of pace.

Time for your back up plan!

Backup Plan

A backup plan can consists of many things, according to the type of lesson you are teaching, the level of your students, your adopted methodologies.

Generally speaking though you should always take with you not only what you need for the lesson but also other materials, quick activities, realia, picture flashcards, language practice games, and a song or two. Anything in fact that you can whip out easily and set up quickly to motivate your students again enhancing their learning and lifting the atmosphere. Here are a few practical suggestions:

Crossword Puzzles – offer good practice for all ages and levels because you can adjust them and make them harder or easier to suit your students.

There are readymade crossword puzzles available online, or you can make your own using words from the ESL book you are using, for example.

The Internet TESL Journal has many crosswords supplied by ESL teachers. They have been found online.

Trivia Quizzes – help improve writing and understanding skills and are something you can easily create yourself.

Trivia questions are an excellent lesson filler. They can be adapted to suit any topic and they can be built on.

Say you were teaching English to a group of students selected for an Exchange Program to Australia. The What Do You Know about Australia? trivia questions could come in very handy.

What Do You Know about Australia?

Read the sentences carefully and choose the best answer.

1. The Gold Coast is in ___ .

a. NSW b. Queensland c. Western Australia

2. Koalas mainly live on the ___ coast of Australia.

a. north b. west c. east

3. The city with the biggest population is ___ .

a. Sydney b. Brisbane c. Melbourne

4. Uluru is a ___ .

a. large city b. famous Aboriginal singer c. huge rock

5. The hottest city is ___ .

a. Hobart b. Darwin c. Perth

6. The distance across Australia, travelling east-west is approximately ___ .

a. 8000kms b. 6000kms c. 4000kms

Again, the The Internet TESL Journal is a good resource for trivia.

Songs – quick activity: select a song and make a list of target words/phrases you want your students to listen for. A vocabulary example for “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry would be:



break up

make up

Pair your students up and ask them to count how many times each word is repeated.

Play the song. The first pair to spot the correct number of occurrences for each of the words listed wins.

See also our IWeb TEFL article: Karaoke in the Classroom‏‎

Picture Flashcards – great to break up the monotony of drilling. Flashcards allow students to understand new vocabulary without any kind of translation. Try using flash cards with no words written on them, just pictures. Words on cards can induce students to rely on reading as opposed to remembering the image/word association.

Here is a quick card activity to revise Animals. Call two students out and show them 3 flashcards depicting an animal. Turn them upside down on your desk and mix them. Then ask ‘Where Is the Lion?’ The first student to uncover the correct card wins and gets to shuffle the cards for the next two students.

There are lots of sites that offer free flashcard. An Internet search by key words will yield plenty of results.

Language Games – there is an endless variety of language games. This one is for advanced learners. The game is played in rounds with a minimum of 3 students and a maximum of 6.

  • Prepare a list of difficult or obscured words, and write next to each one their vocabulary definition.
  • Give each student an identical piece of paper.
  • Choose a word from your list and read it aloud to students.
  • Each student will have to write down as accurate a definition as possible of that word.
  • When everyone is done, gather the papers, shuffles them, and read them all aloud.
  • Have a vote on the best definition supplied (even if it is not not necessarily the most correct one!)

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Posted in Lesson Plans & Activities.

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