3 Practical and Printable ESL Lesson Plans to Teach Adults Survival English

Teaching adults can be a great privilege.

Let them know you care with outstanding, informative lesson plans!

Adult students are eager to learn.

They take responsibility for their learning progress.

They often provide a wonderful snapshot of their own culture, so both teachers and students can learn in the classroom.

But adults are also more demanding. They want to know how to function in their new language as fast as possible, and they prize practicality above all else.

They’ll challenge your knowledge and methods of instruction, pushing you until they get the best information you can give.

When teaching adults the English language, it’s very important to provide practical, useful language—such as key vocabulary and phrases for survival in English speaking countries—that can help them in their everyday lives and advance them toward their lofty goals of English fluency.

What’s Different About Teaching English to Adult Students?

When adults are learning English, they often need very practical English. Functional survival English. How to shop for groceries. How to greet friends, neighbors and colleagues. Language necessary for everyday interactions and professional success.

Maybe your students are preparing for a family vacation or business trip abroad. Maybe they’re preparing for an interview where they’ll need to speak and understand English fluently. Or maybe they’ll be moving to an English-speaking country and they’ll need to know everything from how to turn on their washing machine to how to send a letter in the mail.

When organizing your lesson plans for adults, always keep practicality at the forefront. Will your students be able to use their new vocabulary on a regular basis? What will they be able to take away from your lesson?

Since they’re the grown-ups in their respective households, never forget that they’re taking time from their busy schedules to study, and they’re likely paying for lessons by themselves. This often means that they want to extract as much value from their lessons as possible.

Tips for Teaching English to Adult Students

For the previously given reasons and more, adults can be very different English students than children.

It seems a bit contradictory, since we know that most adult learners have big goals and a desire to succeed, but they’re actually often more reserved in trying new words or being bold in the classroom. The desire for success often leads to a fear of failure.

Here are some tips to get your adult students speaking and participating like free, uninhibited children.

  • Connect with them. Make real connections with your students. Spend a short period in every class to get to know them personally. Are they married? Do they have children? What are their hobbies? Share your own experiences and relate to your students in any way possible.
  • Make them feel comfortable. When students feel safe to speak and make mistakes, they’ll speak more often and more honestly. Reward participation with positive reinforcement, no matter if errors were made.
  • Avoid childish books. Your adult students probably won’t find cartoons and other children’s books relevant to their lives or learning English. Find appropriate ESL learning materials.
  • Warm up with real-world videos on FluentU. Let your students see real-world English in action.

    FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

    They’ll get to see how natives speak English and get familiar with the language before trying it out themselves. Plus, FluentU provides plenty of tools for students to actively practice English vocabulary and grammar, like interactive subtitles, flashcards, vocabulary lists and more. Great for homework assignments and in-class activities alike.
  • Learn their language, too. When I’ve taught adult Korean students in the past, I would often ask them about words in their language as well. This showed I was also trying to learn their language at the same time, which created an atmosphere where we all were working together to learn another language and culture.
  • Give every student a chance to speak. One of the most challenging aspects of learning English for adults is becoming comfortable with speaking the new language. Take time to let every student practice and answer a question, even if they are just repeating one after the other. The more they speak, the more comfortable they will become.

3 Practical ESL Lesson Plans to Teach Adults Must-know Survival English

Lesson Plan #1: English Job Interview Skills

Download the Job Interview Worksheet here.

As businesses around the world are becoming more globally-minded, English is becoming more important than ever. English language proficiency is an important skill to list on any resume. Many adult ESL students need to practice or learn English to keep their current jobs or to apply for new ones.

This lesson plan aims to help with just that.

Aim: To prepare adult students for a job interview

Skills: Speaking, listening, comprehension

Materials: Blackboard, worksheet for students

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Part 1: Introduction (10 minutes)

Introduce the topic to the students. Talk about job interviews and why they’re important. Ask the students the following questions to spark general conversation about the topic:

1. Have you ever had a job interview before? What was it like?

2. What’s important during a job interview?

3. How did you dress for your job interview?

4. Do your skills and personality matter for job interviews?

3. What questions do employers ask during an interview?

Part 2: Activity (20 minutes)

Hand out the worksheet given above. Explain the differences between the employer and the applicant.

Go over the first two questions in each section for practice. Write a sample answer on the blackboard for the students to see and copy down. Then, have the students finish the worksheet, working in pairs.

Part 3: Role Play (20 minutes) 

Once the class finishes the worksheet in pairs, have each pair split up.

One student from each pair will be an employer and the other will be an applicant. Have all the employers remain seated and have them create their own company names (one company per person seated).

The applicants should all stand up. Once all the company names have been created, have the students go around to each employer to find out more information about their companies. The company will then ask each applicant questions as well.

Part 4: Review (5-10 minutes)

Which one was the students’ favorite company? Who had the best interview? Have the applicants and students share some of their interview highlights.

Further practice suggestions

For homework, have your students create or update their resumes in English. Have them bring these resumes into class, share some highlights and edit them using their peers’ feedback.

Lesson Plan #2: At the Grocery Store

Download the Grocery Store Worksheet here.

Going to the grocery store or supermarket is a regular task in any country or language. Whether your students will be traveling or living abroad, this lesson is great for teaching food and shopping vocabulary.

Aim: To teach students about the supermarket and shopping

Skills: Speaking, listening, comprehension

Materials: Blackboard, handout for students

Level: Easy to intermediate

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Part 1: Introduction (10 minutes)

Introduce the topic to the students. Talk about unusual things you can buy in your grocery store. Have students think and discuss scenarios when they must speak or read in the grocery store in their native language. Discuss how students can do the following in English:

1. Ask to have produce weighed. How to understand the price.

2. Ask the butcher about the price of meat and how much you want to buy.

3. Learn how grocery stores are organized (e.g. produce, processed foods, international food, candy, soft drinks, alcohol, etc.)

Part 2: Activity (20 minutes)

Hand out the worksheet provided above.

Explain the differences between the customer and clerk. Assign the students their roles in their pairs. Let each pair plan each role play scenario with the help of the worksheet.

Make sure they understand that they need to improvise a lot of the role play on their own. Have them write information and phrases down before they get started so they have something to guide them during the role play.

Get the students to do a quick practice role play session with a partner. Walk around to see if anyone needs help. Talk about how to do better role plays as a group.

Part 3: Role Play (20 minutes) 

Once each pair finishes their practice role play, have each customer find a new clerk. Have all the clerks remain seated and get the customers to rotate around the classroom.

Once everyone has a new partner, have the customers initiate one of the role play scenarios and act it out with the new clerk. The clerk must respond to the new customer’s questions. This time the students should try to perform the role play without notes.

Part 4: Review (5-10 minutes)

Did anyone buy something unusual? Which grocery store was the most expensive? Which one was the cheapest? Did you understand where things were in the grocery store? Did any store not have what you were looking for?

Further practice suggestions

Have students film an exchange at a grocery store with an English speaking clerk. If you’re not located in an English-speaking country, or if they aren’t comfortable asking strangers to be on camera, have students get creative and make short videos showing themselves at the grocery store using the vocabulary they learned in this module.

Lesson Plan #3: Around Town

Download the Around Town Worksheet here.

We all have things we need to do around town: shop, meet friends, run errands, eat at a restaurant, find some entertainment. That makes this lesson super practical. You’ll also be teaching students how to discuss options, make plans and give directions.

Aim: To teach students how to make plans with friends

Skills: Speaking, listening, comprehension

Materials: Blackboard, worksheet for students

Level: Easy to intermediate

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Part 1: Introduction (10 minutes)

Introduce the topic to the students. Discuss activities you can do in the town you live. Have students think about the last time they met a friend in town and what they did. Ask students the following questions to spark a classroom discussion.

1. What are common things you do with their friends?

2. How do you get there?

3. How much does it cost?

Part 2: Activity (20 minutes)

Hand out the Around Town worksheet. Have each pair plan their day out with each other by first answering the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. Once completed, discuss some of their plans as a class.

Part 3: Role Play (20 minutes) 

Once each pair finishes discussing their role play information, have them write out a script following some of the cues in the given role play script. Walk around and help students fill in gaps that they’re struggling with. If there’s time, have students find a new partner and make up new conversations on the spot. They can use their scripts for reference and try to ad-lib parts of the conversation that need to be modified based on their new partner’s responses.

Part 4: Review (10 minutes)

Have students read their scripts out loud with their first partner. Have other students summarize their plans out loud or on paper.

Further practice suggestions

Have students make plans with their classmate, either in pairs or small groups. Then have them make a short 2-3 minute video recording or PowerPoint presentation documenting their day with pictures, video and audio.

Your adult students will be far more comfortable using English in everyday scenarios after trying these activities. Give them a try!

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