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How to Create an ESL Reading Lesson Plan

Updated on May 15, 2012

The Parts of a Reading Lesson

Reading and listening should be treated somewhat differently from speaking and writing when planning an ESL lesson. This is because they are receptive language skills while speaking and writing are productive language skills.The goal of all lesson plans should be for the students to produce the language, of course, but different skills focuses require a slightly different path, if you will.

While productive lessons typically follow the PPP format, receptive lessons have a language focus and pre-, post-, and during reading activities, also called PDP (pre-, during, post-) format.

Lead In

As with a PPP lesson, you will want to begin the class by activating the students' background knowledge (what they already know about a topic or concept) and reduce their affective barriers (basically, make them feel comfortable using English.)

For example, if you were reading Old Yeller, you could begin by asking the students if anyone had ever had a pet and then spend a few minutes talking about what it is like to own a pet. This will subtly get the students thinking about animals and pets before you introduce the book.

Language Focus

The language focus can occur at various points during a reading lesson. Some experts have very strong opinions about whether it should be a pre- or post-listening task. I'll admit I'm not an expert, I'm just an experienced teacher, but in my opinion, I like to introduce any language likely to prevent the students from easily understanding the story before they begin reading.

If the story is at or below the students' level, then it can be left until after they have read, more as a reinforcement activity.

Assuming you are introducing new language to the students, you should try to use as many methods as necessary to help them understand clearly: mime, gestures, flashcards, etc. You should also show them the words in writing. This is very important.

Many students need to see something in writing to understand it clearly. Furthermore, there are generally so many ways in which a word could be spelled in English that many students are unlikely to guess the correct one on their own. Even if a word only has one acceptable spelling, your students can't be expected to guess what it is.

To make it more visually appealing for my students, which will hopefully keep their attention a bit longer, I like to use a Powerpoint presentation for the language focus. I include the word, part of speech, definition, collocations, and some example sentences. Each word is followed by a multiple choice slide, and the class must decide which sentence is best. This helps prepare them for standardized tests and brings out their competitive nature, which keeps them involved in the lesson.

However you introduce new language to your students, make sure they aren't just watching you talk. If they use the language, they are much more likely to remember it.


Before the students begin the text, they should be given a purpose for reading. Let them know there is a task waiting for them. Ask them some questions to get them to make predictions about what they are about to read. This will engage them in the text, because they will want to know if they were right.

To create a prediction task, simply ask the students a few questions after showing them the cover, picture(s) from the story, or even just the title. If you want to get a little fancier, you can create a true/ false handout with several statements about the story. After reading, they can go back and check their answers against what actually happened, but more about that in the post-reading section.

If you are reading non-fiction, have the students fill out a KWL chart about what they already Know and what they Want to know. As a post-reading task, they can fill in what they Learned. They can use their KWL charts as a springboard for any number of activities, but let's save that for another time.

During Reading

There are two ways to have students read a text: for gist or for details. If you just want the students to focus on understanding the main idea, you will want to give them one (or more) gist tasks. On the other hand, if you want them to find specific information in the story, you will want to use detail tasks. If you want them to do both, you can have them read the text once quickly for the main idea, and again more slowly for a detail task.

If you have read this far, I will assume you know what the main idea is and how to find it in a text. Some examples of detail tasks include: finding a phone number, price, TV show listing, train time on a schedule, a date, etc. Basically, any task which requires the students to listen for a name, number, or other specific information is a detail task. You could even pull out the true/ false questions and have students change the false questions to be true, according to the text.


Once the students have read the text, they need to use it as a means to develop their language skills. There are any number of post-reading activities which can help students use the text and the terms introduced in the language focus.

If they have filled out a KWL chart for a given text, have them discuss their answers with a partner. Since each student presumably knows at least slightly different things, they can compare and contrast what they knew before reading, what they were curious to learn (or predicted would be answered by they text), and what they actually learned. Alternatively, they could make posters to present to the class or write a response to the text.

Other post-reading activities include creating a role play from the text. Students could discuss the text in groups to develop characters and write dialogue. They could then present the role play to their class.

If they haven't done so already, they should go back to any predictions they made (written or not) and discuss how close they were to the actual story. This can be done as a class or in small groups, but in general, quieter students will be more likely to speak up in a crowd.

Wrap up

All good things must come to an end. You could end the lesson in a variety of ways: asking their favorite part, anything they didn't understand, etc. But, you should always provide feedback to the students, offering gentle corrections of errors overheard during the productive tasks. ("I heard X, but it is usually said Y in English.")

If you have Very Young Learners, you may want to end with a song, such as the Goodbye Song.


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    • profile image

      alice 3 years ago

      Some teachers think the ESL teacher is someone who is there to support failing students. Others think that the ESL teacher speaks all the languages spoken by the English Language Learners. That's how I end up speaking more than 20 languages

    • profile image

      sara 3 years ago

      English teachers is very important to the students in order for them to have a fluent mind in using English language that would help them to have an effective communication to the foreigners.

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 4 years ago from Virginia

      Very in-depth description. I may be able to use this as a librarian with ESL students.