Everything you need to know about making ESL lesson plans

If you’re thinking about becoming an ESL teacher in China, you probably have plenty of questions. Once you figure out where you want to teach and what age group you want to work with, there are still many small details to worry about that can easily become worrisome ahead of time.

becoming an ESL teacher in China

Just like teaching in the United States, teaching ESL in China can come with a new set of challenges every day. In order to face these problems—whether you’re teaching at home or abroad—you will have to be a planner. This means having your schooldays planned out: what you are going to teach, how you are going to teach it, and how to solve any problems that arise. Luckily, we’ve put together a guide that will help you prepare for an organized lifestyle as an ESL teacher in China in order to achieve the best results for you and those you are teaching.

As an ESL teacher in China, uploading all of your files to Dropbox will make it easy for you to organize things.
As an ESL teacher in China, uploading all of your files to Dropbox will make it easy for you to organize them and show to others.

Organizing your Files

If you’re teaching in a private school or university where the students have computers, you may find yourself sharing online files with your students as a part of your lesson plan. Those lesson plan files—which we will talk more about in a bit—can sometimes be really, really big.

In similar past situations, you may have resulted to the horrific process of sending large files via email. Those emails always take forever to send! Furthermore, it takes a bit for the large files to even upload to the email in the first place, and the recipient of your email probably has to wait a bit for the file on the email to load before they can even open it.

Luckily Dropbox gives ESL teachers a way to make sharing large files for ESL teachers easy. Any kind of file you may have—whether that be a lengthy video or a giant PowerPoint presentation—can easily be shared, even if the file’s recipient doesn’t have a Dropbox account.

Cloud file sharing is instantaneous, so no need to worry about sending those hefty emails and waiting for them to load. You also don’t have to worry about sending multiple emails just for one project due to the confines of file size limits.

Dropbox is the perfect solution for ESL teachers who find themselves struggling to share files with other professionals or their students. Similarly, Dropbox is a perfect tool for those who have trouble organizing these wonderful teaching files, which we will teach you how to create.

Dropbox is the perfect solution for ESL teachers

Things to consider before writing your lesson plans

If you are an aspiring ESL teacher with prior teaching experience, you are likely aware of how difficult it can be to work with children. Regardless of location, children can be very needy when it comes to learning new things in school, and can become easily frustrated when they don’t understand confusing material.

Consider your lesson plans to be your secret weapon for handling the various challenges that come with teaching. When crafting your lesson plan, keep in mind the needs of those you’re teaching, so you know what problems may arise and how you can prevent them. To help you make a great lesson plan, we’ve compiled a list of factors you should consider when writing them:

  • Age and background of your students. Just like U.S. classrooms separate by age, so do those in China. So when you’re structuring your lesson plans, be aware of your students’ age and how much they may have already learned. Similarly, become aware of what it is like to be a child in whatever part of the country in which you’re teaching. If you’re in a poorer city, such as Gansu, be prepared for students who may have had a very difficult time in getting to where they are now.
  • Resources available to your students. Similarly to the previous point, if you know you’re teaching in a less developed area, be aware of what resources your students have available to them. This could be financial, such as having enough money to buy a specific supply, or more emotional/personal, like if a family member isn’t able to help them with schoolwork at home, or even encourage them to work hard.
Keep your students engaged
Keep your students engaged with an awesome lesson plan.

What to include in your lesson plan

Teachers in various cities have reported that their ESL in China lessons tend to be 40-50 minutes long, with the amount of lessons each week varying from one school to another. Be sure to make every minute you’re given with students worthwhile by filling the time with an awesome, well thought out lesson plan. Here’s a breakdown of what to include in a basic lesson plan.


This may come as no surprise, but the best way to get started on something new is to ease your way into it. No use in throwing your students in the deep end right away.

There are a few different things you can incorporate into the warmup portion of your lesson plan to get students started. The kind of activities you choose to incorporate can depend on what exactly it is that you’re teaching. In some situations, you can build on what the students have already learned, and reserve a part of the lesson plan for visiting that topic. Ideally, this topic will help your students get their minds ready for what they are about to learn, in that the previous lesson connects to today’s lesson.

For example, if today’s lesson was about past participle verbs that don’t end in -ed (ran, heard, saw), give your students a warmup about the -ed endings they have already learned. Doing this would help them from confusing which English verbs end in -ed and which don’t because the memory of the former is fresh.

Lesson Presentation

If you were to break a lesson plan down into three parts, the second part would be the actual lesson presentation.

In this part of your lesson, you will actually be presenting today’s topic to your students. According to the Department of Education, it is important for this step to be very visual—taking advantage of the whiteboard or any visual technology available. This could include using the whiteboard, or sharing a PowerPoint or video you’ve saved in Dropbox. The DOE says this is helpful because it helps students see what the teacher is explaining vocally.

For example, when learning English vowels, it’s important for students to see the vowels drawn on the board. In addition, teachers can write the letter at hand next to other letters to see how vowels work and sounds are made.


The tail end of your lesson plan should focus on students practicing the lesson, whether that be with their teacher or on their own.

Initially, it would be most helpful for your students to work through what they just learned if they have their teacher directly supervising them. During this time, you can float around the room and watch your students work through the new topic on their own, but you are readily available if they have questions or problems.

Going back to the past participle example, give your students time to work with the new past participle variations you just taught them. If an individual becomes confused why you say “ran” and not “runned,” you can explain why one-on-one.

Awesome lesson plans are key to being an awesome ESL teacher.
Awesome lesson plans are key to being an awesome teacher.

Becoming organized can help you in any field, no matter where you are. But especially with teaching in a new place, creating effective lesson plans and organizing them can help you be the best ESL teacher for Chinese students.

How do you organize your lesson plans as an ESL teacher in China? Let us know in the comments!

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.

Special thanks to Maggie Young for providing such a great article!

Maggie Young

Maggie Young is a writer, artist, and a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying nonfiction writing. When she’s not writing, you can find her trying fabulous restaurants or hammocking in a park in one of her two favorite cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.