Suggested Lesson Plan for Day 1

Advice & suggestions about starting an ESL/ELT/EFL "refresher course" lasting two years (90 hours in all)

Our course made use of one hour in the classroom (presentations & pairwork activities) and one hour in an audio language lab (listening comprehension, oral exercises, and free speaking activities).
If there is no lab available, students can do the "lab activities" on computers, MP3 players, smartphones, or other mobile devices. If this is not possible, then use the teacher’s computer with the students all together in class. Of course, when no such equipment is available, you can still use these activities by having the students read the scripts to each other and do pairwork with the cloze or grammar exercises. This procedure will not give the same results as having the learners work on their own using audio devices, but it will at least have everybody "speaking."

The activities below work well, even with heterogeneous groups going from weak intermediates (A2) to advanced learners (C1/C2). The emphasis is on "helping each other progress" in the classroom, practicing vital structures and pronunciation in the lab, and testing one another to reinforce learning.

Teachers should use the lab session—when all the learners are busy doing the audio work—to have "tutorials" with their students, i.e., one-to-one sessions. These individual sessions are far more worthwhile than listening to the students in their booths when they are working with their headphones on. Personal time with the teacher is of considerable value for all learners, whatever their level. Read all about setting up tutorial sessions in QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0 or order the digital book directly

What I don’t do on the first day!

Many language teachers in charge of university courses start the year by asking the students to introduce themselves. I never use this technique, which demands “spontaneous” introductions. It is unfair to ask students on the very first day of class to introduce themselves without any prior preparation. On Day 1, the students are a bit rusty, even how good they may be in English. On top of it, they often feel intimidated by such an exercise. Some may seem to suffocate on their words, speaking at an almost inaudible level. Others may stutter since they have had no time to practice beforehand.

Consequently, students apprehend the moment when they will be “performing” and do not even listen to the other students’ introductions. In training seminars, I always tell teachers of English as a second language to keep in mind what their own reaction would be, if they were asked point blank to speak intelligently about themselves in front of their colleagues in Spanish, Italian, Russian or any other language, which they do not speak perfectly. The key situation to stay away from is one that may cause a feeling of “humiliation.” Moreover, going around the room and having the students speak one after another is a perfect example of a "dead classroom" with little STT( student talking time) and undoubtedly lots of (TTT teacher talking time). This doesn’t make for a pleasant atmosphere or give a good impression the first day of a course, as everyone is either bored or anguished right away.

A week to prepare the introductions

It is far better to give students time (at least a week) to prepare these presentations properly, and I ask them to introduce another member of the class—not themselves. Students often don’t know each other on the first day. That extra week gives them time to get acquainted with at least one member of the class and be able to speak nicely about him or her. I give them written instructions about how to introduce their partner, and I ask them to learn their texts by heart. This exercise on the second day becomes a most enjoyable activity with a lot of laughing and applauding! It goes quickly, and there is no feeling of humiliation or embarrassment since the exercise has been prepared and practiced. Below is the assignment I give them:


Also avoid asking students what they want to study

Another exercise that I never use the very first day involves asking the class what they would like to study or do during the course. Students are often reluctant to put forward such suggestions. Either they have no opinion, or they are almost ready to admit that they would welcome a very relaxed course!

It is the teacher’s role to present on that first day a complete program and to tell the students how to fulfill the requirements and get a good grade. If there is a core curriculum that several teachers have elaborated together, this gives even greater “importance” to the course. Naturally, if students volunteer suggestions, the teacher should make a note of them and see how they can be incorporated into the program. Even if the syllabus is relatively detailed, there is undoubtedly a place available for these suggestions.

Starting a course effectively

So how does one get off to a really good start? I generally spend 10 minutes at the beginning explaining the program (that is enough for the first day) and then about 5 minutes signing the students’ up for their first oral presentations usually tutorials (one to one sessions) to be held during the lab sessions."

The signing-up activity is an excellent opportunity to work on "dates" in an authentic situation. Show the students a calendar of coming classes and ask them to choose by putting up their hands and telling you when they will do their "private" presentations. If there is no way to organize "lab work," students can at least sign up to do presentations in front of the whole class or with the teacher in a corner when the others are doing written work.

Then I immediately go onto pairwork usually with a spelling exercise. Students will need at least 20 minutes to go through this exercise, which is a great icebreaker and can be used with near beginners, intermediate and even advanced learners.

PDF - 52.4 kb
Spell to Partner

There are two slightly different pages, one for each student to work on spelling aloud. You cannot modify the words to be spelt with the above PDF version, but teachers who purchase the 25-page booklet with (pairwork activities) available at the store in the "Back to the Basics" series will get a DOC file that they can personalize—adding words, websites, e-mail addresses that mean something to their students. (The advantage of the pairwork booklet or QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0 is that all the files are offered in DOC so that teachers can personalize them with almost any software program.


At this point, the teacher has 20 minutes left in a classroom for “Socializing” part 1, an exercise, which students do in groups of three. Typically, when the hour is over, each student has worked with at least three other students in the course of the lesson. The first 60 minutes end with much laughter, and students are even surprised that time is up!

PDF - 94.2 kb

"Socializing" in a modifiable DOC WORD format that you can personalize is also available in the Downloadable QualityTime-ESL Book.

The lab hour: We start with a dialog

Our classes generally last two hours with one hour in the lab so obviously half of the groups do the opposite. In other words, they start off in the lab and then do the one-hour in the classroom as described above. Naturally, we alternate every week.

The first lab hour starts with a short explanation (in English of course!) of how the lab works and what the students are expected to do. If you are using iPods, MP3 players or tablets, there should be a program shown either on an overhead projector or directly on the screens of the individual players.

We recommend that you begin with a listen-and-repeat exercise from a book of dialogs that the class will have to purchase. There are many excellent ones, but I prefer those that have listen-and-repeat sequences already recorded—I mean spaces for the student to repeat or answer orally. It is much too tiring to keep putting the recording on pause and not feasible to ask students to stop their players and repeat quietly during the class! We also choose a self-teaching book where all the dialogs have been translated into the native language of the students.

One or two grammar drills

After the dialog, it is advisable to use a drill or two with the first grammar point the students should work on. Usually, for Day 1 it is the simple present versus the simple past. I appreciate "Developing Skills" published by Longman, which teachers should purchase. I have simply adapted them to make fill-in exercises so that students will have a trace of the oral work they have done. There is no key since the recording is the key. The teacher can also quickly go round the class discreetly checking that everyone has the right answer.

"Developing Skills"

PDF - 48.3 kb
Developing Skillls 3&7-Fill in Sheet
Tranformation drills by LA Alexander published by Longman

A narrative with a few essential grammar points

Once the transformation drills have been mastered orally, we move on to a story, which illustrates the use of “the simple present versus the simple past.” My favorite narrative to start off the year is “Honesty is the Best Policy.” Students listen in the lab and then explain to their partners what they have understood. Next, they listen again but this time with a "gap-filling" sheet. The fill-ins are either on a page or two in a booklet that is given out or just a worksheet handed out for that particular lesson.

There are two ways to work on this listening comprehension:

  • Or in one session with the files below: "Honesty is the Best Policy"
    MP3 - 3.1 Mb
    Honesty Continuous Recording

"Honesty is the Best Policy" Listen&Repeat

MP3 - 5.9 Mb
Honesty Listen&Repeat

"Honesty" LC Fill in exercise

PDF - 46.8 kb
Honesty Cloze exercise

"Honesty" Key to be used with the recording

PDF - 47.3 kb
Honesty Key

A complete booklet instead of loose pages

I must admit I much prefer giving the students a booklet of 20 or even 100 pages to handing out separate sheets at each lesson. The students realize immediately that the course has been well planned, but such a booklet requires much preparation—usually by a team of teachers. That is why I have put all the work I did for our course in "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0" As most of the files are in DOC, you can personalize them by adding information or modifying parts. You can also change the layout and the lettering.

Self-correcting with keys

When the students have finished a fill-in exercise in the lab (or in the classroom), they come up front where we have a binder for each hour in the lab, and they pick up a key. (The keys to the exercises are of course included with the exercises in the digital book or with the 25-page booklet with pairwork activities.) Of course, with the new digital labs, students can click on an icon to get the key to check what they have written, but I still feel it is good physical exercise for any learner to get up from a chair and walk over to the binders. When the students have corrected their work, they again get some exercise by returning to the binders and putting the keys back under the right headings!

The end of the first lab hour

At the end of the first class, we show the students the “assignment” page in their booklets so they know what to do for the next lesson and then we generally end by singing a well-known song with our headphones on! The words to the song are to be found in the booklets, and since the students have their headphones on even those who believe they don’t sing well actually participate actively. I have included the lyrics of many popular songs in "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book", and you or your students can purchase the songs on iTunes. After these first two hours, the students are pretty exhausted but happy since they generally leave the lab singing or humming the music they have just listened to!

Good luck to you!

I hope this advice and these suggestions will be of value to teachers starting out in the profession or even professionals with many years behind them. If you have a group of teachers working together on a similar personalized program, you will see that the students look forward to upcoming lessons. To find the items we sell in order to keep this site going, visit our store

The files offered above are in the PDF format. The equivalent DOC files available in QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book Version 2.0 are much more useful. There is also much more advice about using the materials.

We can also recommend our separate booklets: pairwork activities,
presentations, and pronunciation
. These ready-to-print pamphlets in the pack "Back to the Basics" are available at our

Attached documents


29 August 2007
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