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How to Prepare A Thorough ESL Curriculum

By VIPKid  |  April 25, 2018

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Some schools and programs already have ready-made ESL curricula that the teachers need to follow, but in many cases, the teachers have to plan their ESL lesson plans themselves, or at least parts of them.

Planning an ESL curriculum to teach English to kids can sometimes be a tough task, especially for beginner ESL teachers, but we are here to help! Especially since at VIPKid, we already design the curriculum for our teachers. In this article, we are going to discuss what should be taken into account when preparing your English as a second language curriculum and give some examples of strategies that work.

ESL Curriculum Components

esl curriculum

First of all, let’s elaborate on what a typical ESL curriculum should include. As a rule, ESL English lessons for students from beginner to intermediate levels should focus on all language skills – readingwritingspeaking, and listening. It is important to incorporate these four parts in your lessons and devote an equal amount of time to each of them.

Besides, the language skills need to be actively recycled, i.e. repeated many times until the students adopt them. Get in the habit of reviewing the subject of the previous lesson at the next lesson. Finally, encourage your students to constantly practice the skills that they have learned. This practice can consist not only of boring exercises but also of some fun and engaging ESL activities and games. Students of all ages will love them.

Basically, ESL English lessons are divided into the following sections:


Introducing or reviewing the grammar or function (5-10 minutes).

Development or input

Working with the grammar or function by using various activities (15-20 minutes).

Review or output

Reviewing and practicing the concepts that have been covered during the lesson (15-20 minutes).

Age-Based ESL Curriculum

esl curriculum

ESL curricula may deviate from a basic plan if the teacher takes into account the student’s age. For example, an elementary ESL curriculum may include warm-up activities, fun games, and songs to keep the kids engaged. And an ESL lesson for elementary students can last less than an ESL lesson for adult students.

Younger kids aged 3-7 typically learn to introduce themselves and follow simple instructions, such as identifying and recognizing the colors.

Kids aged 8-12 can dive deeper into grammar activities and learn modal verbs and tenses. And remember to encourage your young students to practice the language with each other, not only with yourself as a teacher.

Level-Based ESL Curriculum

An ESL curriculum can also depend on the ESL level of your students. There are the following ESL levels:

Beginner level

The students have no or very little knowledge of English. For this level, English as a second language curriculum should be intensively built around all aspects of language – reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Elementary level (A1)

The learners understand basic phrases and instructions that are used in specific situations. They can interact in a very simple way and use incomplete sentences, without real grammatical content. At this level, teachers should also focus on grammar.

Upper elementary level (A2)

The students master simple sentences and can write them. They can participate in a simple conversation and uses vocabulary that is generally taught in school. For the A2 level, the teachers can add more vocabulary activities to enrich the speech of their students.

Lower intermediate level (A2 – B1)

The learners can understand spoken English, but still have difficulties. They can read and write simple texts and are able to participate in basic ESL conversations on familiar topics. At the lower intermediate level, the teachers should include new topics in their ESL curricula.

Intermediate level (B1 – B2)

The students can understand the key ideas of a complex text. They can participate in spontaneous conversations, but often have problems with grammar and vocabulary, so the focus here should be both on grammar and vocabulary.

Upper-intermediate level (B2)

Learners understand everyday language. They can speak fluently and interact with native speakers. B2 students are typically adults, so you can start focusing on professional and business topics, because the B2 knowledge is sufficient to use in professional settings.

Advanced level (C1)

The students can understand idiomatic expressions. They can produce complex texts and use the language in professional, academic, and social settings. At this level, the students already know most of the grammar and vocabulary, so focus on advanced speaking and listening skills. For example, you can watch movies and/or news in English or discuss them. The students can also prepare reports on various subjects and defend those reports in front of the class.

Proficiency level (C2)

The learners can understand almost everything and master the language perfectly, at the nearly native level.

What are your best tips for building an ESL curriculum?

With the students’ age and skills in mind, you will rarely have any problems with your ESL curriculum. We want to know what you’re doing, whether you’re a classroom teacher or you teach English online.

Please leave any tips or comments you have in the comments section to help your fellow ESL teachers build their curricula. If you want to expand on or react to anything we provided here, feel free to do so as well.

Why is it important to have an ESL curriculum?

As an ESL teacher, you need to have a clear idea about what your student needs to learn and what is their learning style. Keeping these two factors in mind you have to determine the best and the most effective approach to teach them. In simple, words you should be able to set clear learning objectives for your students and then come up with an action plan to achieve those objectives; a curriculum is that action plan!

Here are a few advantages of planning a proper ESL curriculum;

  • It helps you know what course needs to be taught – There are many websites or online language schools, such as VIPKID, that provide the teachers with the material that needs to be taught. In those cases, you just have to plan your lessons. However, when you do not get a predesigned curriculum you have to do the job yourself. Designing a curriculum gives you a schedule for an entire course or semester. It allows you to set both teaching and learning objectives and gives you a clear picture of which material and activities will be needed to achieve the set objectives.
  • It saves time – As mentioned before, a curriculum gives you an action plan for each of your lessons; this can be a huge time saver. Instead of planning for each class and thinking about what needs to be taught and what has already been covered, you can just look at your curriculum and plan your next lesson easily.  
  • It helps you track your students’ progress – The learning objectives of your ESL curricula will help you see how well your students are achieving them. This will enable you to track their progress and determine the weaknesses and strengths of the learning process.

Tips for building good ESL curriculum

To design an ESL curriculum can be a tricky thing because your students do not speak or understand the language you teach. Therefore, it is very important that you plan your curriculum carefully to ensure that your students will benefit from it and get the results they want.  

Here are a few very important tips you can use to build an effective ESL curriculum.

  • Have clear learning objectives – Before you even begin to look for teaching material or design a curriculum for your ESL class you need to set clear and definitive learning objectives for your students. What are the learning objectives? These are the targets you hope your students to achieve through your lesson. Setting learning objectives has to be your first step because it will make the entire process of building a curriculum clearer for you.
  • Know the learning style of your students – Every person has a different learning style, therefore, you simply cannot use the same teaching method for all your students. Some students may respond better to text while others may benefit more from practical exercises. Once you know what style gets the best out of your students you have to design your curriculum incorporating methods and exercises that focus on that learning style.
  • Know your students’ purpose for learning – You simply cannot design a curriculum based on writing exercises when your student wants to improve his/her speaking skills. You must talk to your students and discuss what they want and what they hope to achieve at the end of their learning course.
  • Start small – This is a very simple thing but many teachers fail to do this. The first lesson should never have too much information or be too difficult. You have to start with the easy and most basic lessons and build your student up for more difficult aspects of the English language. Otherwise, you will put too much pressure on your students early on and it may make the learning process too difficult for them.
  • It should be interactive – Your curriculum should have exercises and content that involves your students’ maximum participation. Not only will you get to track their progress this way, but you will also keep them interested and motivated to learn. A curriculum based on lessons that only focus on the teacher will achieve little to no results.

Benefits of Designing your own curriculum

A curriculum that is handed to you may not be well suited to your students. It may not focus on their strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, may now get you the results you want. That is why it is always a good idea to design your own curriculum because it can offer the following benefits:

  • It helps you teach better – If you understand your students well then designing your own curriculum will help you plan better and more effective lessons. You will be able to incorporate teaching methods and material that you know will be more effective in achieving the learning objectives. Simply put, it will help you communicate with and teach your students better.
  • It helps you get the best out of your students – A curriculum that is tailor-made for your students will extract the maximum output from them. Since it will be based on their strengths and weaknesses, your students will respond better. Not only will they have fun learning new things, but they will also show better results and stay motivated to achieve more.
  • It helps you keep a track of your students’ progress – When you design your own curriculum and plan your own lessons you can easily track the progress of your students by assessing how much has been achieved and what needs more focus.
  • It can save time – When you know exactly what the curriculum includes you can plan lessons easily. You will not have to waste hours looking for ideas for your next class and figure out what to teach.

Things to consider while designing an ESL curriculum

While there are many benefits of designing your own ESL curriculum but there are a few things that you need to consider before you start doing it.

  • It should be practical – This is an extremely important aspect. If you design a curriculum that looks great on the paper but is extremely complex to teach and track, then it is highly likely you may not get the results you want. Include material and information that students can not only learn but retain easily.
  • It should be authentic – Teachers must be very careful when they select the teaching material to be included in their curriculum. The content must be authentic and follow proper guidelines set by a recognized institution. If you choose irrelevant and unverified material your students may not meet any learning objectives and your reputation as a teacher may suffer.
  • The curriculum should be age-appropriate – It is very important that you keep the age group of your students in mind when you sit down to design a curriculum for them. If the curriculum is for children then your lessons will consist of basic learning, easy-to-understand activities, and a lot of visuals. For older students, the nature of activities will change and the course can be slightly more advanced.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our blogs on Lesson Objectives and Input Hypothesis.

This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

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