Lesson Plan Contests Galore

Just a few lesson plan competitions I became aware of recently. Thought I’d share.

TED wants you! to nominate educators, come onboard as an animator or propose a lesson plan based on their talks.

Tailor Made English believes teachers are nothing more than the blind leading the blind. The ultimate dogmé challenge-a lesson plan for students in the dark. The winner gets $50 at Amazon.com or equivalent. Nice!


If you haven’t seen post by Jason Renshaw, definitely check it out for ideas on making coursebooks more flexible and giving students and teachers more choice. The comments are great as well.

I put my vision for a flexible text in the comments, but to reiterate here, I would love to have an electronic textbook (seems to me it could be a CD-ROM or a web-based service) that allowed you to plugin what you want to do for your lesson: i.e.
Level: Pre-Int
Area: Vocab
Skill: writing
Theme: Cities
and have it spit out the appropriate materials. But the next teacher, whose class has the vocab down but needs grammar help, could seek basically the same lesson, but with the materials designed to practice grammar rather than vocab.

When I do design my own materials, or seek out other people’s lesson plans, it’s usually because I feel my students need a certain kind of practice. Often it’s because the text is lacking something that my particular class needs. Maybe I already did the book section on past simple, but my students need more practice pronouncing “-ed” (In Kazakhstan they tend to go Lawrence Olivier on “-ed” and make it into an extra syllable, “wAlk-Ed”). Or maybe the way prepositions of place are presented in the book isn’t intensive enough, or doesn’t really relate to the theme of the lesson, so I want a better presentation in a specific context.

But my colleague down the hall, working with the same text, has different problems. His class has perfect pronunciation but can’t remember which verbs are regular in the past and which aren’t so he needs a good old-fashioned worksheet that makes them conjugate verbs over and over. It would be awesome to have a text that could produce the same basic lesson but with different kinds of materials to adjust to different classes and students.

If you added the ability of students to choose what kind of homework they want to do, that would be brillant. For example, a student has just completed unit 1. He or she goes home, logins in to the e-text and has a choice of homework that provides practice in writing or reading or listening, grammar or vocab, idioms or standard English…

Now this is more or less what a lot of textbooks try to do. They try to give you a lot of materials in different forms that hang together more or less coherently and as a teacher your job is to pick and choose. But in order to provide materials to suit everyone everywhere, the text would have to be massive. And there are a lot of the reasons why teachers don’t pick and choose: the “textbook-must-be-followed” culture that affects teachers, students, administrators and parents alike, lack of time, lack of ability (maybe) but most likely lack of confidence. And the feeling that a course should have some kind of coherent structure, something going through the book provides.

A textbook that is cheaper to publish because it’s online or on a disk and that allows teachers to customize materials while still being based on one syllabus seems like an ideal solution.

April Fools Day

This isn’t a proper lesson plan but I put together a little webquest for students on April Fools Day. The answers also make a nice set of hoaxes, jokes and pranks to talk about for an April Fools’ Day lesson.

Feel free to use it, or add comments, suggestions and crtitiques: April Fools’ Day WebQuest And I forgot to link to the Answers earlier (which are also linked to on the webquest page itself.

Or have students do their own webquests. Refer them to Hoaxipedia or the Wikipedia entry on April Fools’ Day and have them come up with their own questions to challenge each other.


This discussion lesson plan explores the idea of happiness by having students evaluate their own happiness, think about the happiness level of their nation as a whole and look at data on the world’s happiest countries. Then students can talk about what they think about measuring happiness. A lot of extension ideas here.


  • To promote fluency through discussion
  • To give students practice in giving their own opinion
  • To let students analyze statistical tables and discuss findings of a complicated survey


Warm Up

I like to do the survey activity as a warm-up because it gives students some quiet time to reflect and because shy or lower-level students will have a chance to think on their own before talking. However you could do a quick discussion warm-up by asking students to name something that makes them happy and whether or not they consider themselves to be happy people.

Tell students that the theme for today is happiness and that you want them to take a short survey to measure their own happiness. Because some of these questions are personal, I do think it is important to emphasize that students don’t have to share their answers if they don’t want to, or they can share only some of them. One way to encourage sharing is to do the survey yourself and discuss your own answers, of course. If you have a smartboard or a transparency, you can answer the questions in front of them as they do their own surverys.

Hand out the Happiness Survey. Explain that the questions come from a well-known company that does surveys of social and economic statistics. Let students take a few minutes to read over the questions and then think of their own answers.

Alternate Procedure: You can also use the Happiness in Nations database by Erasmus University Rotterdamn. If you click on your country, you will find the happiness ranking of that country by different surveys from different times. Most importantly, you will find exactly which questions were asked. You can cut and paste those questions into a sheet and give that to your students as a survey. The advantage of this is that they will be able to compare their own happiness more directly to the national happiness level. The disadvantage is that the surveys are a bit outdated and some countries have little or no data making for a short survey.

Let students who want to share, discuss their answers. You might ask them to talk about what they feel worried or sad about, or what made them smile and laugh. What problems do they have at work or what is good about their job? What do they think will change in the future?

Now have them take a few minutes to rate their happiness on a scale of one to ten. Again those who wish to discuss it, can explain why they chose the rating they did. And you may choose to share how happy you think you are overall.

National Happiness

Now ask students how happy they think people in their country overall are. Once you get a few answers, share the score from the Table of countries by happiness from Forbes Magazine. You can put the answers up on the board if you like. I would “translate” percent thriving into “happy”, percent struggling as “Average” and percent suffering as “not happy”. Let students discuss why they think their country has the ranking that it does.

This discussion can easily go on for hours as people discuss what is good and bad about their country. So you might want to bring it to a halt at some point, or let class time run out and start the next class with the next part of the lesson, depending on how long your class is.

The Happiest Countries in the World

Now ask students to guess which countries they think are the happiest and the least happy in the world. After a few minutes, hand out the table Happiest and Least Happy Countries. Note that this chart gives the rankings by two parameters: How many happy people there are in the country, but also by how people rate their happiness. Before you draw the students’ attention to that however, tell them to look at the first two tables, which rank happiness by on average how happy people say they are day-to-day. Explain that the results are based on a survey very similar to the one they just took.

Are they surprised by the results? Does anything jump out at them?

You might want to point out that three of the happiest countries are in Latin America. Or that they are all small, not very rich countries. But then so are the 5 least happy countries. They may also note that on average people in Indonesia say they are happy everyday, but most people fall into the category of average happiness.

Now let them look at the next two tables which rate countries by what percentage of their people are happy. Ask them to explain the difference between the two rating systems first so that you make sure they understand that the first two tables look at happiness from the point of view of how happy people are and the second set looks at how many people are happy. Ask which measuring system makes more sense to them and why.

Now let them discuss what is interesting to them about the second set of tables. Again, you might prompt them to notice that the five happiest countries are all in Scandinavia and the five least happy countries are all in Africa. They might also note that Norway has no unhappy people at all. On the other hand, the five least happy countries all have very few happy people and not very many unhappy people. The majority are of average happiness.

Comparing both sets of tables, it’s interesting that the Scandinavian countries have lower ratings of daily happiness than the countries in the first table. In fact, Niger, Burundi and Comoros all have the same level of daily happiness as the five Scandinavian countries. In fact there is no overlap between both sets of tables (although Iceland is a Scandinavian country).

Ask students to think about how it is possible for people to be overall happy from day to day, and yet the majority of people aren’t happy. Or you can put it the other way, why do some countries have a lot of happy people, and yet overall they aren’t very happy.

I find this part of the lesson is hit or miss. Sometimes students can discuss these tables for half an hour without stopping and sometimes they just read them and have nothing to say.

How Do you Measure Happiness

Now you can get into some interesting questions. Have students look back at the survey. Ask them to categorize what aspects of life the questions are asking about. I.E. the first two questions ask about money or standard of living. Question three asks about your work. Questions four – six ask about your mood. Seven and eight about family and friends. Question nine asks about your overall life and ten about your hopes for the future.

Ask if these measures really test happiness or not. What other measures or questions might you ask someone to find out if they are happy? Can happiness be measured at all?


To wrap up, have students share what makes them most happy. You could have them just name something like, “my girlfriend” or “yummy food” or have them tell a short story about the happiest moment of their lives.


There’s a lot of potential extension to this lesson.

1) IELTS preparation: Have students take the Happiest and Least Happy Countries handout home and write an essay analyzing the data. This is a great way to prepare for Task 1 on the Writing section of the IELTS test.

2) The Happiest Day of My Life: Ask students to write a story of the happiest day in their lives, real or imagined.

3) Survey Activity: Let students design their own survey to test happiness. Have them interview each other or their family and friends outside of class and make a table of the results. They can even do a short written summary of their results. Let them make presentations in class.

4) Web Research: Direct students to the Gallup Trends site: http://www.gallup.com/poll/trends.aspx
There they can find the results of polls done on a lot of different topics. Have them pick a topic they are interested in and summarize what the poll data shows. You can also tell them that they have to research the trend in at least one other source to make a more comprehensive report. You might also want to pick a few trends for them because there are some polls on controversial issues like abortion.

5) Happiness and the Law Have students read A New Measure of Well Being from the New York Times, or an excerpt. Ask students if they agree with the idea that the government should consider happiness when it makes laws and policies? How important is happiness of the people to the government?

Valentine's Day Discussion

Had another awesome English Club. Of course, the theme was Valentine’s Day and there was a nice mix of boys and girls and new and old. Could have been a sensitive subject but no one was particularly shy. Like the best English Clubs, I kicked it off with a few questions and soon it took on a life of its own.

Issues that came up were what do young people call people they are dating: lover, girl or boy friend or sweetheart. I clarified like this: boyfriend and girlfriend is the most normal thing to call a couple, lovers is a bit too poetic, and sweetheart is something your parents might say about your relationship.

Big discussion about why in Kazakhstan boyfriends and girlfriends are less visible in public and why in general boys and girls hang out separately in public. I raised the question of why I only see girls going out to restaurants, and a big reason seemed to be that the boys might be forced to pay if it was a mixed group (and as university students, they don’t have any money) and that boys would prefer to drink beer or play billiards.

Also one hopelessly outnumbered kid tried to defend his position that even on a date the boy shouldn’t have to pay for the girl. He would have been doing okay except he seemed to be saying that he would never ever pay for the girl.

It’s always a pleasure to do discussion club when I get to talk a bit for the first 30 minutes, and then get to listen for an hour.

Then I asked if they celebrate Valentine’s Day and how or what they do. That got a few stories going and we talked a bit about the kinds of gifts boys get for girls they like. They started to ask me about the traditions in the US so I threw it back to them, then after the conversation died down, I explained that Valentine’s Day is for couples, not really friends because there had been some confusion on that point and normal things to do like give flowers, give chocolates, and go out for dinner. They started discussing differences between young people in the US and young people in Kazakhstan. For the first time, I felt like a participant in the discussion instead of a moderator. And that is the best discussion club of all!

Where is It? Prepositions of Place

Since my lesson plan on giving directions is so popular I thought I would write up another activity I do for teaching how to talk about where things are located. My giving directions lesson plan is focused more on practice. This lesson is more about teaching and controlled practice, so you might do this one first. It focuses on basic prepositions of location such as “next to”, “in front of”, “behind”, “near”, as well as “on”, “in”, and “at”

One of the great things about lessons on directions and how to go somewhere is that it provides a great chance for authentic conversation. You can always ask students about where they go shopping, where they got those fabulous shoes, what cafes they recommend. If you are teaching in an EFL setting, this is great for building student confidence because the students get to teach the teacher.


  • Teach prepositions of location: on+street, at+corner, opposite, near, next to, behind, in front of
  • Give students controlled practice in describing where places are in their city


Warm Up: Test Before You Teach

Because of the great potential for real conversation, I like to start this lesson by asking students where something is. This is a great way to test before you teach and see the level of the students and also it shows students how this lesson will be applied.

I like to start off by picking a stronger student and asking, “Hey, I need to get a new print cartridge for my printer (or new shoes or fresh veggies or whatever). Where do I go to get one cheap?” Let him or her answer, usually with the name of a store. Ask, “Where is that?” Whatever answer they give, play dumb (if necessary). If they give a street address, ask “Where’s that?” If they tell you it’s near the movie theater, ask where the movie theater is. Get as much language out of them as you can and open the conversation to the whole class. At the same time, note any common mistakes they make. Since the focus of this is prepositions, focus on those. Personally I advise you not to correct them at this stage because this is a warm-up exercise and it’s more interesting to see what they can do, than start teaching them now.

Teaching Prepositions

Once you get a strong idea of where the printer cartridge store is, write the name of the store on the board and under it on separate lines the prepositions: on, near, next to, at, opposite, in front of, behind.
Note: Based on the warm-up you may or may not need to demonstrate what these prepositions mean. On + street name you can probably slip by them and because it’s idiomatic, the best way to have them understand it is give them input and repetition. Also note that for British English you may want to use in+street instead of on+street.

To demonstrate the meanings of these words, start with real life objects in the classroom. And then bring it to the context of places in town.

For example, to teach “next to”, I would put a book next to a pen and say, “The book is next to the pen.” Move them together and apart a short distance and repeat, “next to”. Then you might pick two students and say, “Anna is next to Inna.”

Now ask short-answer questions like, “Who is Ivan next to?”, “Sarah, who are you sitting next to?” Once they’ve got it, ask, “What is the school next to?”,”What is your house next to?”.

You can do the same with “in front of”, “behind”, and “near”.

Whether you demonstrate or not, your board should look like this:

next to
in front of

Ask students, “So what street was Logicom on?” Write the name of the street after on.
Ask what it was near and again write the answer(s) on the board. Then ask what it was next to, what corner it’s at (if appropriate), what is opposite the store, and what it was in front of or behind and write all the answers on the board.

If you feel the students are struggling, ask students to make sentences out of the notes on the board one by one. So student one will say, “Logicom is on Oak Street.” The next might say, “It is at the corner of Main Street”, the next might say, “It is in front of the Italian restaurant.” And so on.

Now erase everything but your prepositions and pick a well-known place in town. Write it on the board and ask students one by one, “What street is it on?”, “What is it next to?” “What is it opposite?” and so on. Do this with different places as long as students need it (and as long as they don’t get bored). Then swap it around.

Pick a well-known place, erase the prepositions and put up descriptions. Let students fill in the prepositions. So for the White House, I would write:

White House
___ the Mall
___ Pennsylvania Avenue
___ the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street
___ the Department of the Treasury
___ the Ellipse

Let students fill in the right prepositions (near, on, at, next to, in front of in this example). Obviously you need to choose a place the students know well or they will struggle.

The Where is It Puzzle

Now hand out the Blank Map Puzzle. In this worksheet, students are given a blank map and using clues they must fill in the rest of the map. Give them some time to work it out and then go over it as a group, or have students correct each other (Answers are here).


For homework or next class, you can have students do a number of activities.

Describe their home. Have students write a short paragraph using these prepositions to describe where they live.

Teaching Recipes

Teaching Recipes is a cool site I came across thanks to the TEFL Net newsletter. It’s a collection of lesson plans and activities, but what it seems to have a lot of, that other sites don’t have, is small tips and tricks or explanations of common techniques like how to do a dictogloss or neat little guessing games.

For ELT Bloggers and writers, they take submissions, so it’s a good place to put up an idea and get some exposure as well as some feedback hopefully.