For Teachers: How to Make a Good Lesson Plan

I put up a new article on English Advantage for ESL teachers on
why and how to plan a lesson. As I say in the article, the most important reasons to have a plan are so that you have clear goals set out for your lesson. Otherwise you are just filling up time and/or entertaining students; both of these can be important too but without a goal, you aren’t really educating. Also students don’t respect teachers who try to improvise everything or aren’t prepared to answer their basic questions about a topic or lesson.

The article has more details on this, but a good lesson should have three elements. Students should be Engaged, or interested in the lesson. This may mean choosing a topic they like, relating it to their personal experience, or playing a game. Students should also Study, or learn something in the lesson. Pretty obvious, right? It might be vocabulary, sentence structures, grammar, or functional language like giving an opinion, but there needs to be a learning component to the lesson. Finally students should Activate what they are learning. They need to not only Study but also use the new language. This might take the form of an open discussion, a guided dialogue, a role play, a writing assignment but simply doing a grammar exercise isn’t enough. Students need to apply the grammar to realistic speech or writing.

I certainly would love to hear comments from teachers and students about your opinion, advice and experience on lesson planning or criticism of my article.

And check out the Lesson Plan page for a bunch of ESL lesson plans, which hopefully follow my own advice!

Salaries for PhDs Too Low?

InsideHigherEd reports on an academic who briefly worked in an elite escort/prostitution ring to supplement her meager salary as a professor. Rhona Reiss, who got her PhD in 2000 from the University of North Texas, was teaching at Towson University and also working as interim department chair of Occupational Therapy at Howard University in 2001. Despite her 35 years of experience, her salary wasn’t enough to cover her debts from her doctoral programs, raising her son and the illness of a parent. So she began to work for the now famous Deborah Jeane Palfrey in her “escort service” receiving $250 per ‘sexual encounter’.

While some may condemn Reiss, it is a indictment of academia as well that a woman with 35 years of professional and academic experience is unable to be paid a decent living wage. Reiss herself said:

What other industry than academia would [take] somebody with 35 years’ experience who had held the highest … position in the profession … and would pay me an entry-level salary?


Native speakers make mistakes. Even professional writers. Here’s a mistake from an article on Market Watch about an alleged scandal involving presidential candidate and Senator John McCain. An important issue but one marred by this horrible mistake:

Paxson also said that Iseman likely attended the meeting, which she helped to arrange it, the report said.

This is a very common mistake for ESL students dealing with transitive and intransitive verbs. It should read, “which she helped to arrange,” because the word “which” takes the place of the “it” at the end.
So learn this mistake, don’t make it, but don’t feel too bad if you do.
EDIT: Even English teachers make mistakes. You may have noticed that there was originally no space between “Market Watch” and the word “an” above. Shame on me!


Not so much a lesson plan as a quick review with examples of different ways we can accept an invitation or agree with a suggestion in English.


  • Review different ways to signal agreement with someone

Americans are weird. We have ten thousand ways to agree with something someone says and when you translate them literally, it can get pretty confusing. At least my friends and students get confused. So here are some of the idiomatic ways in English to say: “Yes, I think what you just said was a good idea.”

Sounds good literally means something like ‘The sound is pleasant to me’ so it confuses people because it’s just a way of saying I agree with your plan.
For example:”Want to go get some Chinese food and then see the new Tom Cruise movie at the cinema.”
“Sounds good!”
Notice that we don’t use the negative form in this way. “That doesn’t sound good” would mean that it seems like there is some kind of problem, as in:
“I’ve been coughing up blood all day.”
“That doesn’t sound good. You should see a doctor.”
Or,we can say ‘That doesn’t sound right to mean, I think you made a mistake.
“Charles Dickens wrote the famous tragedy, Hamlet.
“That doesn’t sound right…Wasn’t it Shakespeare?”
“Was it? Oh yeah, Dickens wrote Oliver Twist!

That would be nice This throws people because it’s in the hypothetical and it confuses ESL learners sometimes to understand that it’s just a polite way to accept an invitation:
“I’m going to have dinner at a restaurant near the dock. Would you like to come? It’s supposed to have excellent seafood.”
“That would be nice.” This doesn’t mean “Maybe”. It means “Yes”!
It can also be used to accept help:
“Would you like me to drive you home? It’s pretty cold out.”
“That would be very nice. Thank you.”
We can use a number of adjectives with this form: That would be wonderful, great, excellent, etc.

I would love to again just means, “Thank you for the invitation. I accept.”
“Would you like to have a cup of coffee after class?”
“Thanks, I’d love to.”

All right sometimes written ‘Alright’ because we say it as one word. While literally this would translate as something like “Everything is correct”, it actually just means “Yes”.
“I think we should talk to Bob before we buy a new car; he knows all about cars.”
“All right, I’ll give him a call tonight.”

I’ll take you up on that is used to agree to a plan or to accept an offer.
“Hey, do you need some help on Friday with your homework? I can come over and help out.”
“I’ll take you up on that actually. How about 11am?”
Or:”I have two tickets to the Britney Spears concert. Want to go?”
“I’ll take you up on that. That sounds great!”

So there are some phrases for you to try out next time someone makes a plan, or invites you out. I won’t teach you how to reject an invitation, because if you’re a foreign student studying in the US you should take up every invitation you can!


A quick review of articles and how they are used in most general situations.

One of the biggest problems that Russian speakers have with the English language is those pernicious articles like a, an and the. In Russian or Kazakh or a lot of other languages, there is no equivalent. Even for French, Italian or Spanish speakers it can be confusing because unlike most Romance languages, in English we sometimes drop the articles.

So here’s a quick guide to the basic rules of articles!
A and An
First of all, an is used before words that have vowel sounds such as:
an elephant or an idea.
A is used before a consonant or a consonant sound, such as:
a telephone but also a university and a user. Why? Because the words user and university are pronounced yuser and yuiversity. That “yu” sound is a consonant sound.

A or An means one, and is only used with singular nouns. It is called the indefinite article because we use it when we are referring to any one thing in a category. For example:
I saw a man enter the store. I saw one man, about whom I know nothing.
We ate a pizza for dinner yesterday. A pizza because it doesn’t matter which one we ate.
I am a teacher. I am one of many teachers in the world.
He is an interesting guy. He is one interesting guy out of all the others.

This will make more sense when we contrast it with the definite article, the

Note that we cannot use a or an with uncountable nouns.
A intelligence is very important.
A garlic tastes good with spaghetti.
I value people with a charity and kindness.

The versus A
The is used to refer to a specific thing. Maybe a thing I have just mentioned or one that we understand to already be in discussion. Or I may specify which one I mean. For example:
I broke the computer. We only have one computer at home, and I broke that specific computer.
I broke a computer. This could mean that I broke one computer out of many (say at a computer club).

I ate the pizza yesterday. You know which pizza I ate, the one we ordered last night and was sitting in the refrigerator!

We saw the man who wears that funny red hat at the store today. I am telling you which man we saw–you remember that man with the hat, right? It wasn’t just any man we saw. It was him.

Waiter, the soup is cold! This soup, right here in front of me!
I ate a soup from beer once. This is just one of many soups I have eaten in my life.

The is unique
So we use the to specify one specific thing. We also use it in front of things that are unique.
The President means the president of the country, because he or she is unique

The Earth We only have one planet
The Mississippi River there’s only one river named Mississippi in the world!
The financial report for 2006

Not using Articles
So that’s when we use articles. When do we not use articles?
Usually when we make general statements, we do not use articles. If the noun is countable, we use the plural form. If the noun is uncountable, we use the singular form.

Love is all you need.
Dogs are the most loyal animals in the world.
English is a weird language
Coffee is good with milk and sugar.

We don’t use articles with names of sports, academic subjects, languages or nationalities.
We also tend not to use it with names of countries (but we do say The United States and The United Kingdom!), cities, streets, islands or mountains.

Note that articles goes before adjectives:
An interesting child
A foolish idea
The clever dog
The long but boring novel

Those are the basics of article use. Hope it helps!

Talking About Health

I had a student who was a doctor and had a strong interest in learning about health slang and idioms so that he could talk to patients. I put together a number of activities and lessons for him on the topic of health. While his level was quite advanced, most of these lesson plans are targeted at intermediate students. So here are a few of the activities I did with him.

Health Idioms, a reading using and explaining some phrasal verbs and idioms related to health. Students have to infer the meanings of the words and categorize them.

Healthy Slang a reading that uses and explains some slangy expressions we use when we talk about our state of mind and health, such as: antsy, blah, and sick as a dog.

Catch, Get, Have was designed to help students tell the difference between these three verbs when it comes to talking about sickness. It’s a self-discovery exercise where the student looks at some sample sentences and infers the rules of using these three verbs.

Alternative Medicine is an advanced lesson plan that lets students read about Alternative medicine and discuss it from a number of points of view.

Sports Slang

This isn’t a lesson plan exactly, just a list and some explanations of sports slang in English. Americans like sports and because we play lots of weird sports like baseball and American football that no one else plays it can be hard for foreigners to understand what we are talking about when we use sports terms in our everyday conversation. So here’s some sports slang for you with example sentences:

3 strikes and you’re out! In baseball, if you miss hitting the ball 3 times, you are out–which is bad. So in America we often say this to mean, “You have 3 chances”

For example: You better not make any more mistakes in your report for the boss. You know it’s 3 strikes and you’re out.
Translation: If you make more than 3 mistakes, the boss might give the assignment to someone else.

To play ball A baseball game officially opens when the umpire shouts “Play ball!” so “Play ball” can mean “Let’s get started.” However we also sometimes use it generally to mean “to follow the rules, to do what is expected of you, not to cheat”

Example 1: OK, we got our assignments. Play ball!
Translation 1: We have our tasks assigned so we better get started on them.

Example 2: This teacher is very strict. We better play ball with him.
Translation 2: We better follow the teacher’s assignments and instructions exactly and do everything he tells us to.

To drop the ball In American football, if you drop the ball, the play has to start over, and it’s not good for your team. So dropping the ball means failing, not doing what you were supposed to do.

Example: You promised you would help me clean my house but you really dropped the ball. You went off drinking with your friends all day.
Translation: You didn’t follow through on your promise and do what you should have done.

To come out of left field
In baseball, left field is kind of far away from the rest of the game so no one can really see what is happening there. If something comes out of left field, it means that it was unexpected.

Example: We’ve been friends for 10 years and now Steve asks me out on a date. That really came out of left field
Translation: I didn’t expect Steve to try to date me since we’ve been just friends for so long.

To touch base
: If you touch base with someone, you meet to catch up or to share some necessary information or report any news. It comes from baseball in which a runner must touch all 4 bases in order to score a point.

Example: I just came back from vacation and I really need to touch base with everyone so I know what happened while I was gone.
Translation: I need to get the latest information and find out what is going on because I have been away for a while.

For some of these terms and some more new ones, check out the excellent and comprehensive wikipeia entry on Baseball Slang

Thanks to The Slangman Series for a lot of these ideas. If you feel I’ve violated your copyright, let me know.