Time Saving Lesson Preparation for EFL Teachers

Written by: Mike Turner



Time to read 6 min

Spending too much time preparing your lessons? Below is a five-point plan that will help make lesson preparation less time-consuming and more manageable, without impacting the quality of your teaching. By the way, you don’t necessarily need a detailed written lesson plan, although you might like to do this if you are in training or newly qualified. As you become more experienced, you may find a few keywords on a file card are enough. Also, remember that a lesson plan is always provisional. It’s important to have a plan in place, but be prepared to go off-plan if the situation demands it - this could be, for example, because an activity isn’t working, because an unexpected learning opportunity arises, or because your timings aren’t working out as expected. Keep in mind that the most important thing is learning, not the plan! This applies just as much if you are being observed - and schools and training institutions are much better these days at assessing whether successful learning is taking place, rather than whether teachers are following specific methods. Anyway, here is our five-point time-saving plan:

1. Lesson Focus

Decide what to teach and what you want the students to be able to do by the end of the lesson. This may be dictated by your course book, the syllabus document, or the requirements of an exam, or may simply be something you have identified as important for this class.

2. Main Activity

Decide on the main activity. This will be the core of your lesson. Aim for something that uses the target language, that the students will enjoy and that is the right level of difficulty for the majority of the class. 

  • Can you use an activity you have done successfully with another class? If so, great!

  • If not, check your ‘go to’ resource book(s) or favourite website(s). Try to use books that are well-indexed or sites with good filters or search tools. 

  • Still no luck? Well, there are lots of great (and not so great) resources everywhere online. In fact, there are so many that it is easy to spend hours browsing – one link leads to another, and before you know it, there are tabs open everywhere! Try to stay focused on what you need for the lesson you are preparing. If you do come across something off-topic, but interesting, just bookmark it and return to it another time. 

  • If you still can’t find anything appropriate, think about whether you can adapt an old favourite you know and love. 

  • Or come up with something new. For inspiration think TV quiz shows, drama activities, board games, and party games.

3. Embedding the Main Activity 

Once you have your main activity, think about:

  • A 5-10 minute warmer or lead-in activity. This should be something easy to set up that will get the students engaged and ‘switched on’ quickly. If you can link it to the main activity, even better. Make it physical, if possible. Something like a mingle, a board race or a TPR activity is ideal.

  • Plan a learning-check activity for the end of the lesson. Remember that there are plenty of ways in which you can satisfy yourself that the students have achieved the learning outcome. For example, by responding to well-targeted learning-check questions; by getting learners to demonstrate a skill; by doing a quick quiz or memory game; with lower-level students, you can get them to show passive knowledge by having them follow simple instructions, such as pointing, running and touching, or drawing/writing on the board.

  • Remember to review with the students what they have learned during the lesson. This sends them away reminding them that they have spent their time usefully.

4. Lesson Preview

When you have your plan, preview the lesson in your head. This is probably the most important bit of preparation you will do. It’s like an F1 driver visualising driving the circuit before a race or a golfer visualising the trajectory of a ball. Previewing will quickly highlight any potential issues and also help fix the lesson structure in your mind. Pay particular attention to:

  • The set-up: think about any changes you need to make to the physical layout and any tasks you need to complete before you start the lesson (for example, sticking pictures up around the room, putting handouts on desks, etc.)

  • Instruction-giving: think about the specific words you will use when giving instructions for each activity. Try to make things clear, simple and level-appropriate.

  • Transitions: how will you move from one activity to the next in a way that is smooth and non-disruptive?

  • Content knowledge: no getting around this one, I’m afraid! Think about questions students might ask and how you plan to answer them. If necessary, check online explanations or grammar resource books.

  • ‘What ifs’ and fallbacks: this is your chance to strategise and troubleshoot problems before they happen. How will you assimilate any late-comers? What if you ask a question and get no response? What if an activity is taking too long, or if the class completes it in half the time? Of course, you won’t be able to predict every eventuality, but there are some common occurrences you can plan for. They are not even necessarily lesson-specific, so once you have a strategy in place, you can use it for any lesson. For example, if you ask the class a question and you get no response you might try some or all of the following: make the question more specific; ask an individual student rather than the whole class; provide the first few words of the response you are trying to elicit; write the response on the board and drill it, then wipe the board clean and ask again.

  • Wrap-up: how will you bring the lesson to a close in an orderly way?

5. Resources

Here are our top time-saving tips when it comes to resources: 

  • Develop templates for handouts and for common activities. When you create a resource, remember to save it so that it can be re-used to create similar resources in the future. This is a huge time-saver.

  • Searching online is a skill that you develop over time – the more you do it, the easier you will find it to choose good keywords. Learn from friends or partners who, infuriatingly, can find with a few clicks, what you have been trying to find for hours! You might also like to check out our blog on search terms and operators. 

  • Bookmark any web pages you think you might want to revisit. Organise into folders (maybe by level or year group) and label each link in a way that is transparent – for example, using topic titles or the names of the structures or functions. Generally, try to label specific web pages rather than the homepage of the site – that way you will save time by going directly to the resource you need. 

  • Having said this, there are some sites where you might want to bookmark the homepage rather than the page related to a specific resource. For example, if you use a photo resource site, such as Unsplash, you will want to bookmark their homepage so you can immediately use their search engine to search for the kind of image you need. You might also want to bookmark other sites at a sub-level. For example, if you use a lot of resources from the British Council site, you might want to bookmark their resources page. From here you can click on the appropriate age group and then access the relevant lesson plans and activity ideas.

  • Check online for tools you may use a lot, such as crossword or word-search creators.

  • Use the same resources for different classes, and in different ways. For example, if you use picture flashcards to teach basic vocabulary to elementary learners, why not incorporate them into a story-telling activity for higher-level learners?

  • Swap lesson ideas and/or resources with a fellow teacher - particularly if you teach different classes. This is a win-win for you both!

  • Take a look at our resources. Full of teaching ideas for English language learners, these ensure you will never struggle to break the ice with a new class or feel stuck for inspiration or new ideas with an old one. You’ll find games, topics, flashcards and discussion ideas for students of all levels and abilities.

  • Finally, think about whether your resource is really necessary. For example, sometimes, a simple tweak will mean that you can get by as well or better without having to prepare a handout.