Structuring language lessons

A suggested organisation for a typical language lesson.

This is a simple outline for a typical language lesson with links to resources, tools and documents to make it happen.

The goal of this basic outline is to help teachers to systematically establish the correct conditions for work, fun, success and visible learning.

Here are two of my favourite quotes to bear in mind :

"The greatest impact on learning is the daily lived experiences of students in classrooms, and that is determined much more by how teachers teach than by what they teach”

Dylan Wiliam & The 5 Formative Assessment Strategies to Improve Student Learning

“Great teachers are positive, kind, compassionate and patient people. Teachers are as human as anyone else, but with experience they do not allow students to push their buttons. They handle even the most challenging situations with composure, thoughtfulness and professionalism. They never compromise a student's dignity.”

Annette Breaux : 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors

This general lesson plan is designed to :

  • establish rituals that install the right conditions for success
  • allow for teacher modelling of what is expected
  • leave room for play, experimentation and error
  • check for understanding and student success
  • evaluate the teacher's efficacity and allow for reflective practice
  • generate individual student data to help the teacher design the next steps for the class.

Teaching is about building memory. It also about creating memories :)

7 Measures of Effective Teaching

This lesson outline is also designed to help teachers to integrate the 7 qualities that students expect from their teacher. (From John Hattie's must read work "Visible Learning for Teachers" available here in condensed form as a PDF)

This lesson plan allows teachers to be organised and assertive by encouraging calm, businesslike procedures and rituals and allowing discreet, soft behavioural correction of students who are off task.


Before students arrive

Before the lesson starts I install on the interactive whiteboard.

It serves as a dashboard for the entire lesson in terms of timings, notetaking, key vocabulary, noise levels and gameplay.

Try it below or open it full screen by clicking here.

Rituals at the start of the lesson

Exercise books

If students need to pick up their exercise book as they come in, have them ready at the door so that they can pick them up discretely as they site down. This avoids losing time by handing out the books. I organise them in coloured piles (red ones together, blue ones together etc) so that students can find their book easily. I place them at the beginning of each row of chairs to minimise the searching through books.

Homework to hand in?

I have pupils hand in their homework on arrival in one of two bins: “I think I did this well” or “I didn’t give this my best”. This technique has been proven to encourage pupils’ willingness to better do their homework so as not to have to hand it into the ‘shame’ bin. It can also help identify students in difficulty.

00:00 - 00:05 As students arrive

Straight to work. No time to waste.

When students arrive, there is systematically something to do posted on the whiteboard. It is a five minute task that sets up the rest of the lesson or revisits past work (spaced repetition and retrieval).

A "Do Now Activity" - DNA

Students come in, they say hello, they sit down and they start work.

No worksheets to hand out, no instructions to give and no silence to wait for. The silence comes naturally from students getting down to work in a ritual way.

Even if there is a slow start, the teacher insists on the positive actions of the class and not on those who are not doing what is required. For example :

"Okay so we have 22 students sat down and working, 23..., 24... that's great, nearly there, and 25, fantastic, well done. You have five minutes."

Feedback is a quick-fire teacher-lead oral exercise.

  • Teacher picks a random student, listens to their response...
  • Pick another students "What do you think? Anything to improve on? Would you like to suggest an alternative? What did you write? How can we take this answer/phrase to the next level?"

(I would like to thank Doug Lemov from the Uncommon Schools project and author of Teach Like A Champion for this research-based advice).

Do Nows

Here are a few general "Do Now" exercises projected in class to get the students working in the first five minutes.

ScreenHunter 68.mp4

Here you can see how can stay rigth on the whiteboard with your projected resources on the left side.

00:05 - 00:10 Feedback on DNA

100% Participation. No opting out.

In any lesson, every student has to participate at least once. The quieter, more shy and least confident students must be sought out and the more dominant students must leave room for the others. How to achieve this systematically?

I have invented a student selection system that mean that for any given question or for any moment of oral participation, all students in the room are thinking of an answer even if only one will be ultimatley selected to share theirs publicly.

Here's how it works :

1. Ask or project a question in front of the whole class.

2. Leave time for every students to formlate their answer.

3. Choose a random student to share their answer.

4. Work your way around the room to challenge, perfect and justify the answer given.

Random pupil picker. Click it to try it !

If you like making random choosers for choosing pupils, phrases, keywords or anything else, try . and make as many as you wish !

This slideshow shows how I organise my room in 6 teams of 4 students.

Sometimes tables are seperated for paired work, sometimes regrouped for team work.

Whatever the configuration, each seat is numbered :

A first digit defines the team and the letter defines the seat A, B, C, D.

See if you can find seat 2B in the diagram.

Owing to this system I can use a random set-picker wheel like the one featured here to choose random students and guarantee 100% participation.

Another means is by dice. A dice to choose the row, a dice (or two) to choose the student. Randomness is the most important so that the quietest students who never raise their hand get to take part and the loudest most dominant ones are able to leave room for the others.

#verbathon Teams, Random Student Chooser and Score Keeping Tools

(I would again like to thank Doug Lemov from the Uncommon Schools project and author of Teach Like A Champion for this research-based advice on "Wait Time" when asking questions).

0:10 - 0:15 The set up

Teacher time

This is the moment when the teacher needs to announce what's happening today and how to do it well.

  • Is this in continuity with previous work or something new?
  • What previous lessons might be useful?
  • What will every student be able to do by the end of the lesson?
  • How does this fit in to other schemes of work.

Need to hand out photocopies or work sheets?

Here's a tip. Do not ask a student to hand out worksheets. It's an excuse for chatter and intertia.

If your class is in 3 rows of 8, place 8 sheets at the front of each row and have the sheets pass backwards.

Sometimes I like to start a stop watch to see which row is fastest. Always fun.

Better still : to avoid encouraging pupils to turn around, place the sheets at the end of each row and have students pass them sideways.


And don't forget : If you've something to say, say it first and then hand out sheets. If students have the sheets infront of them they will try and read them or do them while you are explaining and talking.

You can always project the worksheet while you explaing it in order that all eyes and ears are front facing.

A teacher is in charge of “Relentless positivity and unyielding messaging”.

When delivering the 'set-up' and when delivering feedback the teacher needs to encourage the following 'mindset' among the students :

"I believe that intelligence is not fixed. It is learnable and can grow".

"Success is always a process. Never an event. Failure is always an event. Never a person".

“Everyone else is doing this. I can too.”

“I am looked after, here. I feel safe and cared for”.

“Learning is fun”.

“I have choices”.

"I feel safe and I will make the right choices".

"The rules of the game are clear. I know my role".

"Other pupils will not manipulate me into making bad choices. The rules are clear and shared".

"I am a part of this. I have choices. I'm interested. I have the tools to do this. I am allowed and encouraged to make mistakes. I am becoming an expert".

“What we do here is important beyond school”.

“I am proud of what I do well at school. I always know what I should do better next time”.

“I know where I was. I know where I am. I know where I’m going”.

0:15 - 0:35 Everyone's busy for 20 minutes!

What happens here, at the heart of the lesson, depends on the sequence of work in hand.

But one thing is certain. Some of the best work happens in "gamified" contexts which is why I would invite you to read "Gamify Anything" on this website in order to make expression and comprehension of all kinds a rich and engaging pursuit.

Writing frames

When the core of the lesson isn't 'gamified' I like to use writing frames to guide written production. Here are some examples.


Hexagons for associating ideas and writing about them in complex sentences. Explanation here.

B1 Writing Frame

A writing frame to encourage DESCRIPTIVE, ANALYSTICAL and PERSONAL writing in sentences that are COMPLEX, NUANCED and ORGANISED using tips and tricks from the B1 Project

0:35 - 0:45 Check for understanding

Now it's time for some personal work to see who has understood or taken possession of the notions adressed in the lesson.

This might be personal written work or an oral exercise.

Personally, I feel that 'Checking for Understanding" is about collecting data on each student in order to know whether I have been effective as a teacher, whether the lesson has worked and which students might need extra help.

Here are two data collection tools that I favour in the classroom in order to generate an instant Excel data set that shows me which students have 'got it'. This data set can also be integrated as a formative or summative grading tool.

Checking for understanding is an integral part of a teacher's ability to analyse their own effectiveness in the classroom : the only space where they can control the conditions for sutdents work and success.

Blaming parents, video games or the neighborhood [students] live in … solves nothing and makes creating the classroom you want an impossibility. When [a teacher] takes responsibility, when they stand up and say 'it's up to me, right now, and at this school!' there are no limits”.

Michael Linsin: Teacher and educational journalist

Example 1 : PLICKERS

Example 2 : QuickKey

0:45 - END : Exit Ticket

The lesson began with a Do Now Activity, a ritual to get everyone to work.

I like to finish with an "Exit Ticket" ritual : a short piece of written work that students should present on their way out as permission to leave. It gives the teacher a written trace to Check Understanding and encourages students to formulate a summary of the lesson and of the notions learned.

Here is my collection of projectable "Exit Ticket" exercises.

Exit Tickets

Example Exit Ticket Formats

Phrase sheets

This sheet can be cut in two so that each student can hand it up to 5 example phrases.

EXIT : Student

This Exit sheet leaves room for individual expression on the notions studies in class.