Your ESL Class Skeleton

Right now, I have this part time job as an all around staff of a start up Online ESL company. The job description includes training applicants to teach English effectively. For this purpose, I wrote a simple guide outlining the essential parts of an ESL class.

The online classes are conducted through Skype voice or video call, and typically last between 25 to 50 minutes. These classes are man-to-man where an online teacher facilitates the learning of only one student at a time though I wish we could have periodic group sessions just like a Google hangout.

I am sharing the outline along with examples here:

A. Setting Up (5 mins.)

  • Find out the student’s background knowledge on the topic.
  • Arouse the student’s interest and curiosity.
  • Review familiar words and expressions.
  • Discuss unfamiliar vocabulary.

Example 1: Background Knowledge

Today we will watch a video called How to Play a Guitar.

      • Do you know how to play a guitar?
      • Do you know someone who can play the guitar?
      • What other instrument can you play?

Today we will look at pictures of famous tourist spots.

      • What is the most famous tourist spot in China?
      • What tourist spots in other countries do you know?

Example 2: Interest and Curiosity

Please read the title of the article. Based on the title, what do you think is the article about?

Let’s look at the pictures in this article. Tell me about them. What do you see? Where do you think this happened?

Example 3: Vocabulary

Here is a list of five words used in the article we will read today.


      • Which words are familiar to you? Please use the first one in a sentence. What does the second word mean?
      • Which words are new to you? Please search for the meaning of the word using Now, what does the dictionary say? Is the meaning clear? I’ll give you an example:

<sample sentence>

Now it’s your turn. Please make your own sentence using this word. 

B. Reading, Watching or Listening to the Material (5-8 mins.)

Personally, I like using picture description classes. I’ve also tried using songs and music videos. A friend who also teaches ESL also introduced me to using movie trailers. What’s great about these materials is they easily catch the student’s interest. With some creativity and good management from the teacher, these materials can be the anchor of a fun class. They’re also everywhere on the Internet! You’ll never run out of material.

Here’s a sample image:

1930s image from Russia

There are many others from Google’s repository of Life magazine’s photos. Here’s a more contemporary image sample:

You can find other free images from For information about other free image repositories here’s a Wikipedia link to get you started. Try it yourself!

C. Testing Basic Comprehension (5 mins.)

  • Ask the student to scan for specific information. (who, what, where, when, why, how)
  • Ask the student to identify the main and supporting ideas.

Let’s make a list of the ideas in the text.

Where is the main idea found in the text?

What evidence or reasons did the author use to support his or her idea?

  • Ask the student to summarize what he or she read.

Aside from using questions, the teacher can also design and use multiple choice, true or false, matching, checklist, and short answer exercises. Using cause-and-effect chart, mind maps, concept maps, and other relationship diagrams is also recommended.

D.  Discussing and Reacting (5-7 mins.)

  • Use probing questions.

What is the author trying to say in the article?

What could be the author’s reasons for writing this article?

What does the author want to happen? 

  • Use cultural comparisons or examine different perspectives.

Celebrating Christmas is one of the most important events in American culture. What is the most important event in Chinese culture?

What American value was discussed in the article? In Chinese culture, what is the most important value?

  • Allow the student to share his or her personal opinions and feelings.

Do you agree with the ideas in this article?

What did this article make you feel?

  • Compare the material with another.

What is the difference between this article and the one we read yesterday?

E. Writing/Producing (3 mins or homework)

Depending on the student’s level and personality, you may ask the student to write/make the following:

    • one to two sentences
    • written summary
    • advertisement
    • letter
    • status message on skype, twitter, etc
    • journal entry
    • recipe
    • video recording (introduction, song, how to)
    • alternative ending to a story
    • others à you have free reign

F. Giving Feedback (2 mins.)

 Never forget this part. As much as possible, make time for feedback.

    • Praise what your student can do.
    • Point out what needs improvement.
    • Provide tips and suggestions for improvement.

That’s it! I hope this can be of help to other ESL teachers, too.


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