ESL Lesson Plans for High School: 4 Ideas for Teaching Teens English

A promising future for your ESL high school students starts right now.

Build confidence and communication now, and they will have all the skills they need to succeed later on.

They will be able to not just picture the possibilities of the world, but to picture themselves in it.

So what does it take to build ESL lesson plans tailored to the needs of high school students?

It’s actually pretty simple: They need to be fun, challenging and rewarding for both you and your students.

More practically, they need to help students work together as a group while also building their own identities.

So harness your teaching powers and get ready to develop some of the most exciting, communicative and confidence-boosting lesson plans.

In this post, we are going to look at four different lesson plans to get your ESL high school students supporting each other and expressing themselves with ease.

What’s Different About ESL High School Students

Teaching high school students is a badge of honor for teachers around the world. The challenges of teaching high school students are many, especially when it comes to ESL. The main reason for this is that ESL high school students are involved in more when it comes to their learning, both in and out of the classroom.

Your unique ESL students are not only learning the skills they need to succeed after high school. They are also engaged in developing their personal and cultural identities and figuring out how to fit in as adults. It is important to harness this energy: Combine their urges to identify themselves with ESL lesson plans, and you have your teaching work cut out for you.

Teaching ESL high school students can be a very rewarding moment in any teacher’s career: You get to be part of your students’ growth into adults and often help them achieve their goals of reaching university level academia. This makes developing ESL lesson plans that focus on communication essential. It is also invaluable for you to develop ESL lesson plans that build language confidence.

4 Inspiring ESL Lesson Plans for High School Students

1. ESL Vision Board

The ESL Vision Board is an activity that combines creativity with communication. Your ESL high school students will gather their favorite magazine clippings and words relating to their English future. This lesson plan allows students to set English goals in a fun and powerful way.

This lesson plan will require a bit of work on your part. However, the reward for your students is more than worth it. The ESL Vision Board activity may extend to two days, depending on class time. It is good to carve out about two hours for this lesson plan to be fully effective. You will need to compile a variety of magazines for your students to browse and cut pictures and words out of as well. Many places like doctor offices, corporations and libraries will often donate outdated magazines for this activity.

A Closer Look at the ESL Vision Board Lesson Plan: 

  • Presentation. To give your students a good creative template, spend an evening creating your very own ESL Vision Board. Maybe you are teaching abroad and studying your students’ native language. You can use this as your creative catalyst. For example, a photo of someone exploring a city market abroad with the phrase “learning new cultures while learning a new language” may inspire your students to travel abroad to keep learning English.

Similarly, you can also use your presentation as a way to guide and inspire your students in the creative process by giving an actual example of your language learning goals: For example, find a photo of a landscape scene and name each thing in the photo using the language you are learning. This could be your students’ native language, and they may even find a mistake or two in your grammar, which is always a fun role reversal.

  • Practice. For the practice stage of this lesson plan, you will put your class into small groups of three or four. Each group will have a stack of magazines they will browse through together. This will allow them to communicate in English and discuss their individual language goals with others in a guided way. It is important that you keep your ears open, not allowing any language to be spoken but English, the target language of the lesson plan.
  • Production. Once the student groups have a good plan in place with photos and English words cut out, let them loose to get creative. You can keep them in groups to enhance the communication aspect of the activity as well. Once their ESL Vision Boards are complete, they will present them in front of the class, and this can serve as the second hour of the lesson plan.

2. Hobby Charades

Your rowdy class of ESL high school students have a lot going on in their lives. They are studying to earn that high school degree, keeping up with friends on social media and filling their free time with loads of hobbies. With the Hobby Charades lesson plan, you can boost your students’ ESL skills while using their wonderfully unique hobbies to your advantage.

And what better way to apply practical English than discussing hobbies, since they often make up most of native English conversation? The Hobby Charades lesson plan can be easily completed in a one-hour class, and you can always extend it to two classes if your ESL high school students are excited and engaged.

To ensure this lesson plan is successful in the classroom, take an hour and develop a fun worksheet with pictures and designated areas for your students to list their hobbies and make sentences with those hobby verbs and nouns. Here is a great ESL teacher resource for you to draw from.

You can also back up this learning by pairing videos with language learning. With a FluentU teacher account, you can either assign videos about hobbies to students, or you can let them search for their own interests and use the resulting content to help find words and write sentences.

The FluentU program uses authentic videos like movie clips, music videos and vlogs to teach English. And since each video has subtitles that show definitions at a click or tap, students will find it easy to understand what they’re watching and apply it on their own.

You can also prep a hobby flashcard list before class, and let students browse the flashcards and take some quizzes to study the vocab. Quizzes will adapt to each student, providing a personalized experience for each user. 

To spark creativity, put a few pictures of hobbies at the top of the worksheet. Then make a line down the center of the worksheet, serving as the two areas your students will use to put their hobbies on paper. One half of the Hobby Charades worksheet will be for brainstorming and writing hobbies down. You can label this at the top as “Hobbies to Explore.” The other half of the worksheet will be for those Hobby Charade sentences, giving your students the chance to practice their grammar. You can label this half of the worksheet “Hobbies in Action.”

A Closer Look at the Hobby Charades Lesson Plan:

  • Presentation. Once your Hobby Charades worksheet is complete, fill one out as if you are a student yourself and share it with your class. Then you will pick one student to act out one of your hobbies, letting his or her classmates guess what it is. This will ensure your students have a great vision for how they will need to write and explain their hobbies.
  • Practice. Pass out the worksheet and let your students add their favorite hobbies and write complete sentences using their hobby as a foundation. This will not only let them focus on their writing skills, but also their English grammar. Grammar is an important element for ESL high school students who may be taking an official ESL university exam in the near future.
  • Production. Once all students have completed their worksheets, it is time to let them put words into action. Separate your class into two groups and have students from Group A exchange their worksheets with students from Group B. Then one student from Group A will act out a hobby from a student’s worksheet from Group B, and his or her teammates will need to guess what that hobby is. This will continue until the hobbies run out or class time finishes.

3. Where Would You Go?

Nearly every high school student has travel on their mind. They are growing into adulthood and want to explore the world and experience cultures different from their own. Where Would You Go? is a fun lesson plan to get your ESL high school students chatting and thinking about their English future.

Many of your students may have aspirations to travel to English-speaking countries and strut their ESL skills in a powerful way. You may even be teaching ESL to foreign students in a native English-speaking country, and they may be interested in a culture entirely different from their own and yours. This lesson plan is a fun and exciting way to open lines of communication and build essential speaking confidence.

A Closer Look at the Where Would You Go? Lesson Plan:

  • Presentation. In order to begin the creative process, do a bit of brainstorming of your own. Ask yourself, “Where would you go (if you could go anywhere)?” Then prepare a short presentation for your students. This will allow them to begin thinking about where, why and what. You may even find an opening question useful to start the conversation, such as, “What are some places in the world that interest you?”
  • Practice. Once you have shared the place and culture you wish to see and experience, it is time to let your ESL high school students do a bit of brainstorming. Let them think on their own and also encourage them to ask you and other classmates questions. Here are a few example questions for travel. This is perfect for the communication to come in the “Production” stage.
  • Production. When your students are ready, put them into small groups to share where they would like to go in the future. Give them about ten minutes to get engaged in a lively conversation about all the wonderful places in the world before you throw a secret wrench into the conversation:

Approach a group and ask one student where one of his or her group mates would like to go. Then ask why they want to go there. You will follow this up by asking another student and this will give them the ability to start thinking on their toes in English.

4. Hero Awards

The Hero Awards ESL lesson plan is a great way to get your high school students thinking deeply in English, as well as having them think about what values a good person has. This is an invaluable exercise for life during and after high school. And your students will build on their already powerful ESL skills as well. This lesson plan is perfect for two one-hour classes, which will give your students time to prepare their presentations.

Where Would You Go? focuses on collaboration skills and the ability to present with confidence, and it allows students to communicate in a more concise and effective way. Your students will need to choose one person, past or present, to be the recipient of a Hero Award. However, you will need to present your own person first. You can use this information to draw ideas for this lesson.

A Closer Look at the Hero Awards Lesson Plan:

  • Presentation. First things first, you will need to lead your ESL high school students by presenting someone with a Hero Award. Bring in a picture, or show them one on the classroom computer. Explain to your students what that person has done, and why you chose them to be your Hero Award recipient. This allows your ESL high school students to begin thinking about their very own presentations.
  • Practice. Once you have given your presentation and they have seen how it is done, open the classroom up for questions. After all questions are answered, pair your students up and let them begin their Hero Award creative process. They can discuss, collaborate and bounce ideas off their partners. They can also begin practicing their presentations with their partners toward the end of the first class period set aside for this lesson plan.
  • Production. The production stage of this ESL lesson plan is all about student presentations. They will have had time to practice and prepare and you can help them along if needed. They will present their Hero Award and also take any questions from their classmates. This will give them invaluable public speaking skills they can use with both English and their native language.


Developing communication and confidence in your ESL high school students is essential.

It will not only build their ESL skills, but help them develop skills they can use outside the classroom as well.

Through the above activities, they will be able to define their cultural identity in a powerful way and gain knowledge of other wonderful cultures and languages available to them.

Take advantage of these unique ESL lesson plans for your high school students and boost their confidence in fun and exciting ways.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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