Lesson Planning in ESP/Subject Teaching

Written by: Elka Goranova & Stefka Kitanova [toc class=”toc-right”] Don’t agonise, organise.
Authors try to discuss why it is necessary to plan the lessons in advance, as well as the content of an efficient plan: what to teach (subject/language) and when and how to introduce and practise it. An analysis of the most frequent difficulties students face during their post-prep years in subject learning is made. An example lesson plan is given to illustrate the authors’ ideas on lesson preparation – how teachers can organise their lessons and help their students’ learning process.

Why plan?

If you ask a teacher “Do you plan your lessons?” the answer will be “Of cousre I do”. And when you ask him/her “How do you plan?” or “What is your plan like?” you will receive different answers. Some teachers follow step by step, letter by letter the coursebook; others feel it is not enough and look for additional materials and techniques and methods; and still others pay special attention/focus to the organisation of the lesson not only to the content.
Different teachers make different plans in terms of format – not necessarily written. Although, if an organisation of a lesson turns out to be good, why not write it down in the form of notes, schemes, text, whatever to help further work, to share with colleagues, to use it as a base for self-improvement.
The focus of our discussion is not the format of a lesson plan but its content. To plan means to take decisions beforehand, to set an aim and prepare the steps to achieve it.
Different ways of planning:
Some teachers have in their head the title of the lesson and the information (the facts) they have to tell their students. These teachers often follow a book (or lectures i.e. another text) letter by letter. The problem with such a plan is that it does not give any methodological and linguistic help to the teacher. Besides what is the use of telling the students facts they have in their books – it is neither motivating nor interesting. We suggest that it is better to try to make use of the book by assigning reading comprehension activities on the lesson text  – this will develop students language skills  – skimmimg, scanning, intensive reading, receptive reading and extensive reading.
Is a rough plan enough for an ESP teacher?
Our answer is NO and that’s why we would like to share some practical ideas with you.

How detailed a plan should be?

The most important questions the teacher should take into consideration are the following:

What? When? How?
– subject content – during the lesson – exercises
– language focus – which language   with which content and vice versa – introduction
– links
– visuals and audio materials
– homework


Usually teаchers pay more attention to the content of the lesson, which has to do with the subject taught, and probably less attention is paid to the language if considered at all. One of the reasons for the neglecting of the language is the teachers’ lack of linguistic confidence. Which may be due to:

  • insufficient language knowledge and skills
  • insufficient practice and experience.

Because of this they talk less and expose their students less to the target language, do not talk in English all the time, do not insist on using the target language in class.
What can be done to help teachers be more confident?
Courses, diplomas, seminars, workshops, etc. They help but …

Advantages Disadvantages
– practice – expensive
– experience – time-consuming
– contacts – regularity
– sharing ideas – do they meet subject teachers’ needs?
– school time/holiday
– not enough information about them
– diploma does not always mean knowledge or skills

As you can see the disadvantages exceed the advantages. This does not make them less useful but rather difficult to realise.
For example:

  • you never know the quality of the course
  • the course may take place at a time when the teacher has classes
  • not all diplomas are accepted by school authorities
  • all courses and seminars and workshops are short and teachers need linguistic help during the whole year for each lesson
  • some teachers have language certificates but are not as fluent as they need to be; and others do not have diplomas but are
  • most exams do have listening comprehension but do not have a speaking component; those with such are often too expensive for the teachers.

That is why to prepare the linguistic part of the lesson in advance is helpful and much easier because:

Advantages Disadvantages
– independent work – lack of materials
– time – convenient for you
– possible collaboration
– does not give feed-back on practice
with another subject teacher/ language teacher
– prediction of language needs
– gives a linguistic frame to the lesson

No comment.
When planning carefully and in details the teacher decides beforehand what will be the focus both of the content and the language. This will help the teacher feel prepared and confident. Some examples:

  • Biology
    • hygiene –ways of expressing obligation
    • ecology – specific vocabulary – names of plants, animals, relief, geographic terms, conditional sentences
    • evolution – past tenses, ways of expressing possibility and probability
    • biochemistry – subordination and coordination – while, after, when
  • Chemistry – while introducing the names of the elements and substances you can practise pronunciation and the alphabet, rare colours, degrees of comparison, everyday language while discussing the application of matters,
  • Physics – numbers, measures,
  • History – past tenses, perfect tenses, sequense of tenses, conditional sentences
  • Geography – physical, economical, human, social geography terminology, topographical names – spelling and pronunciation

These are only examples and some of them overlap, e.g.

  • most processes are suitable for practising passive voice,
  • common vocabulary – words used both in general and science but with different meanings:
    • precipitate, nucleus, wave, branch, trunk, inspire, islands Langerhaans
  • possible collaboration between teachers of different subjects.

Another problem is that everybody expects the teacher to be perfect whеn delivering the lesson. Even he/she does. However, nobody is. But it does not prevent teachers from correcting EVERY student’s mistake they notice. Planning the lesson the teacher can focus on definite items/areas from the content and the language and stress, develop and correct only them.
The fact that a teacher is not perfect does not mean that students have nothing to learn from her/him. Students will learn a lot from a well-prepared and managed lesson even if their teacher is not proficient in the target language. Also – the better the preparation, the better the performance.
Once the content of the lesson is clear and the language focus is thought about there come the next questions – WHEN and HOW.
The question when concerns which language will go with which content and vice versa. It also concerns the part of the lesson in which they will appear – beginning, middle or end. We do not think that there is a universal rule or a genuinely perfect place for language teaching and content teaching. Teachers will make different choices for different reasons. If the academic content is heavy with a lot of terminology, it might be helpful “to give students a break” with a “linguistic” activity and then go back to the subject. While doing the linguistic activity students can go through the content again, recycle it immediately, think it over from another point of view and thus learn it more easily and, which is more important, better.
Examples of language activities: Write 5 sentenses in the passive voice which are true/ false for … Write 5 sentences using … construction.  If you were a cell, how would you present yourself in 5 sentences, imagine you were … – describe yourself, how would expalin to your little brother or sister why…, how,… what is/are …, explain words with gestures/mimes (charades).
Another reason for giving your students such a linguistic exercise is that sometimes the language is the impediment because of which students do not understand a lesson. Doing some language work and clarifying certain points immediately in class will help them. And by language work we do not only mean giving them the menings of the unfamiliar words, but also practising them, the difficult constructions, word order, register and style.


As the subject is taught in a foreign language, it is convenient, useful and easier to employ techniques used in language teaching in subject lessons for checking comprehension. Thus the teacher can check the knowledge in the subject and in the language at once.
Examples of reading comprehension activities used in language teaching: you have a text in the book anyway. You can use it for reading comprehension:

  • true and false questions
  • open questions
  • title for each paragraph
  • match sentence, tiltes, phrases, etc. with paragraphs
  • correct some sentences/statement after reading the text
  • find in the text words or phrases (synonyms or antonyms) for paraphrasing from given beginning/word, etc.

All of these are traditional exercises; easy to prepare and do not necessarily involve waste of money for photocopying, only some time for preparation.
Planning this way will help get over the lack of habit and time because saying that the subject is taught in English is not enough…
All these things would be easier for a subject teacher to prepare if s/he actively communicates with a language teacher. Which, on the other hand, will be a challenge for the language teacher. The good news is that it will save time and will help both of them come up with ideas and… will give an easier answer to the question who is responsible for the result of the education; the teacher, the student, the parents or… just laziness.
To be continued…
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Mr Keith Kelly for the support.

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