10 Themed ESOL Lesson Plans

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Author: Chris S. Published on: Jan. 16, 2019 Expected Reading Time: 8 mins

Day in, day out, we greet our students with the same old stockpile of ESOL lesson plans and resources we've been using since, well, as long as we can remember.

Sure, they get the job done. Students learn what they need to learn and, even if it wasn't particularly enthralling, we can at least say we've done our jobs, can't we?

Or can we?

Isn't our job as ESOL teachers about more than simply imparting knowledge? Isn't it about engaging, and even *inspiring* our students?

At Two Sigmas, we certainly think so. That's why we've put together this guide to ten unique events that make for the perfect themed ESOL lessons.

By using the resources and ideas we've gathered together for you, you can abandon those tired, oft-repeated lesson plans, free your students from the monotony of going over the same old vocabulary exercises, and inspire them to fully engage in their lessons.

1: Super Bowl Sunday - February 3rd

Football players in their bold, colorful uniforms, thousands of fans packed into a huge stadium with bright lights, scoreboards and the field itself...There really is no sight on Earth quite like the Super Bowl, which is why the annual event makes such a great subject for visually-stimulating ESL lessons.

Over on Voxxy, you'll find a great range of audio and video resources with supplemental exercises designed to improve comprehension and spelling, all based on the biggest football game of the year.

More video-based classroom resources, including some based on the famous Half-Time Show and those multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercials, can be found on Edutopia.

Of course, there's no reason to stop at Super Bowl itself. You could always use the event as a way to introduce sport and concepts such as teamwork and competition. Fluentu has a great list of resources to get you started on that one.

2: Abraham Lincoln's Birthday - February 12th

Did you know that if the 16th president of the United States were still alive today, we'd be celebrating his 210th birthday this coming February?

If that isn't the perfect opportunity to go back in time and plan some fun lessons around US presidential history, we don't know what is.

For adult ESOL learners, Stickyball has a compelling lesson plan based on the life and work of Honest Abe, including a reading comprehension exercise and plenty of discussion topics that can help students practice their spoken English.

Meanwhile, younger students will enjoy the range of fun Abraham Lincoln activities found on Mr. Donn's Site for Kids and Teachers, including an entertaining and informative game called Will The Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?

Looking to use Lincoln's birthday as an opportunity to learn about other presidents? As you'll probably figure out from its name, English Lessons on American Presidents has a host of lessons on the 44 presidents from Washington to Obama, with lessons on the current US president expected soon.

3: Mardi Gras - March 5th

A popular carnival celebration held every Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras is a vibrant, colorful and exciting event, so it's no surprise that there's a host of lesson plans and activities out there to help you make your ESOL lessons equally as exciting.

Once again, ISL Collective offer lots of playful-yet-educational activities, including a Pictionary-style game for novice learners and word searches that are ideal for improving vocabulary.

For intermediate and advanced learners, take a look at Teacher Planet, who offer a range of Mardi Gras resources that are sure to liven any ESOL lesson. We particularly like the Bake a King Cake exercise, where students follow along with a recipe to bake the delicious cake that is such a traditional part of the celebration. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it can also be very helpful in improving reading skills.

4: Shakespeare Day - April 23rd

If we're teaching students all about the English language, how could we possibly ignore the man who practically invented much of the way we use that language today?

From amazement and bedazzled to phrases like "all of a sudden" and "wild goose chase," William Shakespeare gave us many popular words and phrases that are still in common usage. That presents a great opportunity to play a game with students, looking at many of the terms invented by The Bard and getting them to work out their meaning.

You could even write the words or phrases on one set of cards and the meanings on another, challenging students to pair them up in a matching game.

Need a few more resources to help you out?

ISL Collective offers a whole host of worksheets suitable for learners of all ages, whilst TeachingEnglish has a full 60-minute lesson plan available with a quiz, speaking activities, and games.

Don't forget too that Shakespeare's work has been adapted into countless popular movies. Watching them offers students an extra resource for hearing the English language spoken and can also be a great topic for discussion.

If you're stuck for inspiration on this one, IMDB has a full list of movies based on Shakespeare's work.

5: Star Wars Day - May 4th

Speaking of movies, May 4th is often unofficially called Star Wars Day (as in, "May the Fourth be with you"), with fans of the blockbuster franchise planning events all over the world.

Though it isn't for everyone, this can be a fun way to engage students in their learning and you may be surprised to find that there are actually quite a few Star Wars ESL resources out there.

We're big fans of the Star Wars worksheets hosted by ISL Collective, particularly those that help with practicing use of the present simple tense and using adjectives to describe people.

You might also want to check out Lessons on Movies which provides exercises, discussion prompts and homework ideas based on the movie Star Wars: A New Hope

6: Cinco De Mayo - May 5th

Though Mexico observes Cinco De Mayo to commemorate their army's victory over the French empire in 1862, in the United States, the event is very popular as a celebration of Mexican-American culture. That makes it the perfect excuse to engage students in activities and discussions about different cultures, as well as about all the fun aspects of the celebration itself, such as the unique food and dancing.

Thankfully, there's plenty of resources out there to help with this.

TeacherPlanet has everything from puzzles and activities to factsheets about Mexican traditions that may be suitable for teenagers and novice adult learners, while younger students can enjoy a host of fun games put together by Mr. Donn's Site for Kids and teachers.

For hands-on activities, be sure to check out Teach-Nology where students can get messy making their own mini pinatas and fiesta fiestas, perfect for not only picking up new vocabulary by also improving reading skills as they follow along with the instructions.

Elsewhere, ESL holiday lessons and ESL libraries both have excellent resources for lessons based on the history and tradition of the day itself.  

7: Father's Day - June 16th

Every year, we set one day aside to honor the men and father-figures in our lives with a special day just for them.

This can be a great opportunity to engage students with lessons about the family with a particular emphasis on male family members and vocabulary related to them.

To do that, Busy Teacher has put together a list of ideas and resources that range from writing greetings cards to creating their own family tree, both ideal for practicing writing skills and brushing up on that vocabulary.

For students at all levels, ESL Holiday Lessons' complete English lesson on Father's Day offers multiple options for activities based on an audio and written piece about the celebration. Depending on the age and ability of your students, you may choose to do a simple fill-in-the-gaps activity, a multiple choice exercise or phrase-matching game.

Planning to use Father's Day as a launching pad for other family-related lessons? Fluento has five excellent activity ideas on the subject, while TeachingEnglish offers a full 60-minute lesson plan aimed at younger children and new learners.

8: International Left-Handers Day - August 13th

Yes, Lefties of the world unite! There's a whole day devoted especially to you, and your favorite sources of ESOL lesson plans and activities haven't let you down.

The day can be used as a jumping-off point to talk about the differences between left and right and to introduce direction-based vocabulary, or you can use the following resources to use it as subject material to help students improve their written and spoken English.

TEFL.net's On The Other Hand lesson plan has a host of predominantly oral-based activities on the theme of being left-handed, while ESL Holiday Lessons.com offers lots of text-based activities to improve spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.

9: Black Friday - November 29th

Love it or loathe it, Black Friday has become well established as a part of modern culture. In terms of ESL lessons, that may not be a bad thing, giving us lots of opportunities to introduce subjects around shopping, money and learning numbers.

This listening and reading comprehension exercise from Heads Up English is ideal for low to intermediate level learners, while more advanced students might be more engaged with the range of 40 different exercises from Breaking News English lessons.

10: New Year's - December 31st / January 1st

Whether it’s talking to students about New Year’s resolutions or exploring how different cultures celebrate the occasion, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to building lessons around New Year.

Busy Teacher has a whole host of ideas for planning a New Year's themed lessons, including New Year's resolution worksheets and calendar templates, all of which are ideal for helping students practice writing skills and learning about numbers and dates.

Elsewhere, ISL Collective also have a huge host of downloadable activities to use in class.

For New Year's celebrations in other cultures, look no further than TeachingEnglish from the BBC and British Council. They have a full 60-minute lesson plan based on the theme of Chinese New Year which can help with introducing animal vocabulary, practice speaking and storytelling skills and practicing date-related vocabulary.


Can you think of any big events that make the perfect themed ESOL lessons? Share your favorites with us in the comments below.

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