I’ve read a thousand disappointing guides to making lesson plans. And I’ve looked at thousands more pre-created ones online, none of which I’ve ever been happy with. The truth is, you can’t just copy someone else’s method.

But for private EFL/ESL teachers getting into the industry, it can be overwhelming to structure and plan lessons with no help. That’s why I’ve written this guide. It’ll teach you to find your own flow and make your planning time as efficient as possible.

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When planning private EFL/ESL lessons, flexibility and simplicity are key. Over-planning leads to rigidity and anxiety, while under-preparing can leave you lost for things to do. The 10-20-20-10 framework is a good base. However, the best teachers adapt to the needs of their students in each class.

This article covers general principles. For more specific information on different types of EFL/ESL class (conversation, grammar, exam preparation, etc.) check out these links to go straight to my articles on each.

Conversation: https://enchantedesl.com/7-steps-for-incredible-private-efl-esl-conversation-classes/
Grammar: https://enchantedesl.com/teaching-efl-esl-grammar-a-guide-for-private-tutors/
Exam Preparation: https://enchantedesl.com/getting-efl-esl-exam-preparation-right-tips-for-success/

How to design amazing lesson plans without stress

Before we get to the practical steps to making your lesson plans, we have to establish a few things.

First, there is no one correct way to do it. Part of the excitement and challenge of being a teacher of any subject is tailoring lessons to suit the needs of your learners. Downloading cookie cutter plans off the internet doesn’t cut the mustard.

Second, you can’t prepare for everything. EFL/ESL classes are dynamic and highly variable, so your expectations of how the class will go are often confounded. There will always be an element of improvisation. That’s why flexibility is so important.

Third, under-preparation is a sin. Chances are, in some of your lessons, things won’t go right. You’ll need to adapt on the spot, and having a backup plan will get you out of a tricky situation. Imagine your students finish the work early. Then what? Right, bust out that 15-minute game you have in your back pocket.

Fourth, lesson planning shouldn’t take hours. When you’re starting out, it’ll take a while to get used to things. But once you’re used to it, don’t let it eat up all your free time. Maybe preparing materials will take a while, but if you’re spending hours outlining everything that’s going to happen, you’ll lose your mind and your motivation.

Fifth, simple is better. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Choosing clear, effective activities allows your students to spend more time learning and less time wondering what on earth is going on.

Where to begin? The student(s)

If you don’t know what things to teach, you’ve missed a crucial step in the process – the needs analysis. Don’t know what that is? It’s basically figuring out the strengths, weaknesses and preferences of your students.

It’s so important, I’ve written a whole article on how to do one: Needs Analysis for Private EFL/ESL Lessons: 12 step guide

Assessing your students in this way tells you what you need to target. It may be a specific grammar point, or it something as broad as “gaining confidence in speaking”.

This is the foundation of your planning. While you don’t need to design a fully detailed curriculum for a full year of classes (I’d advise against that – see front-loading later on), you should have a few medium-term targets to work towards.

Let’s say we have a student called Sam who struggles with confidence when speaking due to lack of knowledge of sentence structure. We target the relationship between nouns and verbs. And we’ll factor in plenty of time for safe, low-stakes speaking practice.

Each lesson designed with these targetsl in mind will have activities to support and improve what we identified in the needs analysis.

What is the 10-20-20-10 framework and how does it work?

The 10-20-20-10 framework is the way I structure private EFL classes. You can apply it to all types of lesson, assuming a duration of 1 hour, and if the class is longer or shorter, change the numbers to retain a similar proportion.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule. You don’t have to stick exactly to the times (I rarely do) and you can even omit sections should the need arise.

10 – Get Going
20 – Input
20 – Practice
10 – Let Loose

Here’s how it works.

10 minutes – Get Going

This part involves getting students in the mood to learn English while reviewing some previously learned content. A routine works really well here, especially with kids.

Keep it simple. Honestly, most of the time it can be as simple as having a chat about what they did since the last class, or going over the date and the weather.

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Some teachers like to begin class with a starter activity. These can work, especially in larger groups. But keep them simple. You can do the same activity every week, just changing the words. Comfortable routines are best.

I like to spend some time reviewing vocabulary on Anki, my favourite spaced-repetition app. It’s a simple, engaging task with powerful results.

To learn more about Anki and how to boost your students’ vocabulary, read my articles Best Method to Improve EFL/ESL Students’ Vocabulary and Supercharge EFL/ESL Vocab With Spaced Repetition (Anki).

Whatever you decide to do, it should act as a transition from the outside world to a state of mind in which students are ready to learn English. It should make them feel comfortable and confident. Starting off with easy wins sets the tone for an enjoyable and effective session.

With our example student, Sam, I’d start the class with some gentle conversation. Just telling me what they did over the weekend is enough to gain confidence, and repeating similar sentences each week is fine – they get progressively more accurate.

20 minutes – Input

This is the part of the lesson in which students gain new language. It’s when you explain that grammar point or introduce a new set of words.

In traditional classes, it’s the part when the teacher stands at the front of the room and lectures everyone while they listen and write notes.

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Fortunately, with private classes in the modern day, it can be much more fun than that.

Elicitation activities are my favourite way of exposing students to new language, as they’re interactive, give students agency, and allow you to do some soft pre-assessment of what they already know.

Examples of elicitation techniques are brainstorming vocab in a category, having students pick out key structures in a text, and watching a video to pick up the pronunciation of certain words.

For more on elicitation in the context of vocabulary, read my guide How to Elicit Vocabulary in EFL/ESL: 7 Effective Activities.

With Sam, I’d find a fun story or article online and get them to read it out loud first. This builds confidence. Then together we’d identify nouns and verbs in each sentence. I’d ensure they understand that nouns (subjects) come before verbs, and other nouns (objects) come after.

20 minutes – Practice

In this phase of the class, the students are more active in constructing and experimenting with language.

Most of the time, you’ll want the practice to follow on from the input. When they can put that new knowledge into a practical context, it embeds firmly in their mind.

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Make sure practice activities are engaging. Fill-in-the-blank worksheets and reading comprehensions are offensively tedious for me, so imagine what it’s like for your students.

Games are good at this stage. Perhaps not high-energy games, but puzzles and cooperative activities in which they have to apply what they learned from the input work a treat.

For great ideas for games, check out my lists:
9 EFL/ESL Speaking Games & Activities Perfect for Beginners
9 EFL/ESL Games and Activities for Intermediate Learners
9 EFL/ESL Games and Activities for Advanced Learners

I’d prepare for the class by printing a load of nouns and verbs, then folding them up and putting them in a noun pile and a verb pile. We’d draw a verb and a couple of nouns and invent sentences with them. Silliness is actively encouraged.

For the first few minutes of the practice stage, you may want to give a lot of assistance. Ease them into the activity. Slowly give them more independence as they figure it out, so by the end they’re able to manage it on their own.

10 minutes – Let Loose

The last part of the class is where I like to have a bit of fun. With kids, especially, I’ll play an energetic game (like Hot Potato), or with older students we’ll relax with a bit of free conversation.

For some energetic vocab game ideas, take a look at my 9 High Energy EFL/ESL Games for Boosting Vocabulary.

It’s a time for expression, a break from the focused English of the rest of the class, and a way to show off some language. It’s how you leave them, after all. If they go away in a good mood, they’ll be more motivated to keep engaging with your classes.

If possible, try to sneak some of the language from the input and practice stages in for a review and soft assessment, but don’t force it.

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Although it may seem less valuable than the other parts of the framework, it’s actually very important. It’s a time without restrictions. They can put English into practice with freedom and creativity, consolidating what they already know and gaining confidence.

A bit of role play can be good here. It’s an unstructured activity which students tend to enjoy, and done without pressure lets them really push their limits.

Learn more about why role play is so great by reading my article here: Why All EFL/ESL Teachers Should Use Role Play Activities and check out my guides for using it with children and teenagers/adults.

Using role play with Sam would be a great way to improve their confidence in speaking. I’d choose scenarios based around their interests to keep them engaged, and I wouldn’t be afraid to get a bit silly.

A word on timings

I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating. These are not fixed times. Sometimes, the Get Going ten minutes only lasts five. Occasionally it lasts twenty minutes when students have a lot to say, and this means you have to adjust the other stages.

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That’s fine, to an extent. Take advantage of positive moments when students are in the zone, because that’s when they really get to enjoy English and learn rapidly. Often, you’ll finish the input and practice early – can you do a 20-minute Let Loose activity? Absolutely!

But don’t let it go too far off the rails. I remember in one lesson, my group of three girls spoke for 45 minutes about what they did over the weekend. It derailed everything I had planned. At the time, I was happy they were speaking so confidently, but it did mean we got behind schedule.

How to include assessment in private EFL/ESL lesson plans

Generally, avoid hard assessment like exams and quizzes. For a start, they’re no fun, and secondly, they’re not all that effective compared to other techniques.

Honestly, the best assessment method is simply paying attention. In a private class, you can focus on an individual or a small number of students, and get to know them extremely well.

Listen to what they say. Look at what they write and take note of when they struggle to understand what you say.

For a more targeted approach, use carefully designed questions and activities and monitor success on specific parameters. Consider writing notes throughout the class. A short summary at the end of the session can consolidate what you’ve learned about them.

To learn about how to assess vocabulary, read my article explaining how to do just that – How to Test EFL/ESL Vocabulary: Best assessment methods.

Should you set homework in private EFL/ESL classes?

This is optional. For most of my private classes I don’t set homework, because students have enough to do without me eating away at their free time.

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However, some people request it, and for certain situations it can be helpful to assign writing tasks as homework as they don’t really need you present to do them.

Homework doesn’t have to be boring. If you give students tedious exercises and long writings to do, they’ll have little motivation. Expect them to hand it in late, or just not do it at all.

Instead, give them something to get excited about. Tailor activities to their interests. Get them listening to music or podcasts, watching films, or writing to pen pals.

For inspiration for better homework activities, read my list of 9 Engaging Homework Ideas for EFL/ESL: No worksheets!

What is front-loading, and should you do it?

A quick word on front-loading before we finish. When I say front-loading, I mean planning all your classes at the start of the year/term, often during the summer holiday, so you don’t have to do it during term time.

It’s a risky strategy. If you know your students really well and have already established things you want them to learn, go ahead and front-load a dozen or so classes. But if they’re new students, how can you plan for them when you don’t know what you’ll teach?

Can you imagine planning a whole year of classes, only to find out none of it was relevant? In most cases, it’s better to go week-by-week, with a few medium/long-term goals in mind. This way you can adapt and adjust as you go along.


We’ve covered how to structure a basic private EFL/ESL lesson. The principles of flexibility, simplicity and efficiency apply to all lesson plans and the 10-20-20-10 framework is a good place to start.

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But make lesson planning your own. Find a rhythm that works for you and adjust it for each class. You’ll find different students react to different structures, and you should build your classes around their needs. So don’t just follow plug-and-play worksheets off the internet (although you can use them for inspiration).

Your students will appreciate the care you take in preparing lessons just for them. It’s what the best teachers do.

There’s so much we haven’t covered in this article relating to different types of EFL/ESL classes, so make sure to check out the other posts in this series for more information and advice.

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