EPIK, korea, travel

Five Ways to Help Your Lessons Not Suck

A couple of days ago, I met a guy who was interested in teaching English in Korea.

Or rather, he was interested in going to Korea. He told me flat out that he didn’t want to “waste” money on a TEFL course, and had no prior teaching experience whatsoever. What he did have was the base minimum for getting into most Asian countries: a four year degree and a passport from an English-speaking country.

He did, however, seem earnest about wanting to be a good teacher. I understand what he meant about the TEFL course – there are a lot to wade through, and a good number of them are essentially useless pieces of paper rather than a practical knowledge of teaching. The good ones that actually teach (like a CELTA) can cost thousands of dollars, which is frightfully expensive when you’ve just finished university.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways that don’t cost an exorbitant amount of money to improve your lessons. Without further ado, I present five ways to make your lessons not suck.

1.Actually plan your lessons

This might seem obvious, but there’s plenty of people who go by the ‘just wing it’ approach.

Remember all those times during school when you could just tell the teacher was unprepared and you did your best to distract them? Yeah. The kids know when you’re bullshitting through your lesson as well as you do.

Lesson planning can seem intimidating for someone who has never done it, but relax: there are plenty of resources out there to help you. You can literally Google “how to plan a lesson” and there will be no shortage for you to choose from.

If you’re at a public school in Korea, you’ll most likely have to teach using a textbook, which can range from “atrocious” to “kind of okay.” It’s generally fine at most schools to use the book as a springboard to your lesson plans, and then supplement materials and activities.


2. Think about the lesson you’re about to teach

When you’re planning your lesson, think about key questions like:

  • What are the grammar points in the lesson?
  • What’s the key vocabulary?
  • Is this at an appropriate level for my students?

Don’t swamp your students with four thousand different words each lesson – they’re not likely to remember much. Hell, I went to a college prep school and even there we only learned twenty vocabulary words per week, for SAT practice – and those were all in my native language.

Likewise, try to stick to one or two grammar points. Learning a language takes tons of practice, and students don’t need to learn everything at once. This isn’t to say that you can’t build off of things learned, of course – just don’t pile everything on at once.


3. Reflection

Once you’ve finished your lesson for the day, sit down and reflect on it. A lot of people even go so far as to have a reflection journal. Ask yourself things like:

  • What worked in this class?
  • What didn’t work in this class?
  • Were students struggling? Were things too easy?
  • What, if anything, can I do to improve the lesson?

Even by taking five minutes to think about what you’ve just taught, you can vastly improve yourself.

If you’re really serious about reflection and seeing what you can do to improve yourself, set up a camera and record yourself.

I’m serious about this.

You’ll see your teaching methods much more clearly this way. Did you pause long enough when you asked a question? Were you favoring a certain side of the room? Did you stand in a weird, Gollum-like fashion off to the side of the room while students were doing a worksheet? Recording yourself is the only real way to know how your lesson truly went, rather than your perception of it.


4. Don’t lecture

Most of you teaching English abroad will be teaching elementary through high school, with high school being more of a rarity. Language learning, unless you’re a highly advanced learner, is a slow process that requires a lot of practice. It does no good to stand in front of a group of kids and talk about present progressive tense for forty minutes.

A lot of ESL teachers go by the PPP method of teaching – presentation, production, and practice.

First, present the new material slowly, ideally using context that the students are already familiar with. (Use flashcards, PPT, the board – whatever it takes to ease students into the materials).

Secondly, let the students produce on their own with scaffolding. As the teacher, help them out and guide them during this stage as they learn to become more comfortable with the material. (Think worksheets, book, etc.)

Finally, let them practice freely with little instruction from you. (This is where many teachers play a game or something else fun, to trick students into using the vocabulary without being too anxious.)



5. Use resources available to you

I know that it can feel like you’ve been thrown to the wolves when you start teaching, but there are plenty of things out there to help you out!

First and foremost, try to establish a relationship with your co-teachers, and see what they think about lessons. Remember, these are people with legitimate teaching degrees who know what they’re doing, for the most part. Get their input for your lessons.

If you’re in Korea, I highly recommend checking out Kortesol. Amazingly, I didn’t know about them until I’d been in Korea for over two years, and they’re an amazing group. In addition to newsletters, there are also conferences and frequent workshops you can attend that will make your teaching loads better. The best thing about them is that most of them are free, and it’s a great opportunity to network.

You can also check out r/tefl on Reddit to help answer (and to ask) questions about teaching ESL.

Other than these few specific tips, there are a ton of resources online that can help you, ranging from YouTube videos about teaching theory to books about different games you can play in the classroom.


These tips are really only the beginning of making good lessons. Of course, practice and actually getting into the classroom to try things out will help a lot more than reading a blog post.

Do you have any other tips for planning good lessons? Let me know in the comments!

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