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Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Using Objectives in ESL Lesson Planning

ESL teacher with class of students

Are you new to teaching English or facing the somewhat scary task of having to make your own ESL lesson plans? Are you unsure how to build a lesson around a topic that you want to teach? While there is no universally-recognized recipe for how to create a TEFL/TESOL lesson plan, there are some important ingredients to include, like lesson objectives. Considering objectives in ESL lesson planning is essential if you want to deliver a useful and engaging lesson. We’ll show you exactly how to incorporate ESL learning objectives into your lesson plan!

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

What are objectives in ESL lesson planning?

Objectives in ESL lesson planning are also known as lesson aims, student goals, learning goals, or learning objectives. Though the term varies depending on where you received your teacher training, the goal of objectives stays the same: defining a specific and measurable outcome of a lesson that is centered on your students’ achievement. Usually, a lesson should have not just one, but several ESL learning objectives that are linked to a certain time frame or task.

Shakti teaches online and in-person in Mauritius

Why are objectives important in ESL lesson planning?

Your lesson objectives drive everything you do throughout your lesson. They can be the difference between an aimless lesson and one that intentionally brings students a step closer to meeting their language goals. Here are some reasons why ESL lesson objectives are important and how they can help you as a teacher:

  • Defining objectives makes you examine your lesson content to ensure that there is an actual need for the topic you’re teaching and the activities you’re planning to do.
  • Your class will run smoothly if you have a solid plan for how each lesson element fits into your overall teaching goal.
  • Assessing student progress is easy by looking at whether or not the lesson objectives were met.
  • You will be able to identify whether the lesson was a success and should be used with future students.
  • Students will have a clear picture of what they should take away from the lesson and why the lesson is important if you share the objectives with them.

Learn everything you need to know about crafting ESL lesson plans and other essential teaching skills in the Bridge 120-hour Master TEFL/TESOL Certification course.

How do you write ESL learning objectives?

When you’re planning your lessons, the first step is to ask these questions to establish the lesson objectives:

  1. What am I teaching in this lesson?
  2. Why am I teaching it?
  3. What will the students be able to do by the end of this lesson?
  4. How will I know if the students have learned what I want to teach them? In other words, how will I measure the success of the lesson?

By answering these questions, your objectives will become clear. They will form the irreplaceable framework for your lesson.

What elements should an effective ESL lesson objective have?

There are three main elements that every lesson objective should include:

  • Specific. ESL learning objectives should always be specific and relate to the main topic of your lesson. For example, if you are teaching the simple past tense, all lesson objectives should refer to the learning stages of studying the simple past tense.
  • Measurable. ESL lesson objectives should be measurable. Your students need to produce language that clearly demonstrates their understanding of the lesson content. Think about what student actions you can observe to assess whether the lesson objectives have been met.
  • Student-centered. Objectives in ESL lesson planning should be student-centered in order to be effective. In other words, what will the students be able to do?
  • Pro tip: Try to write your objectives with action verbs that correspond to the EFL games and activities that you will use during your lesson.

Rachel, online English teacher

What are some good and bad examples of ESL lesson objectives?

Examples of ESL lesson objective elements

For the best results, lesson plan objectives should meet all of the above criteria. They should be specific, student-centered, and measurable.

Let’s take a look at some examples of lesson objectives that do and don’t meet these criteria:

  • Generic and unrelated to the lesson topic: Students will master the grammar point.
  • Specific and related to the lesson topic: Students will learn how to use the simple future to discuss upcoming plans.
  • Unquantifiable: By the end of the lesson, students will understand the past perfect.
  • Measurable: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the proper form of the past perfect by writing five sentences in the past perfect.
  • Teacher-centered: I’ll explain the passive voice by using a visual aid and a worksheet.
  • Student-centered: Students will identify verbs in the passive voice by underlining them in a text.

Putting all of the elements together

Now, let’s put all of the elements together. Here’s an example of an ideal ESL learning objective that is specific, student-centered, and measurable:

  • By the end of the lesson, students will accurately be able to use the modal “should” both orally and in writing in the context of giving advice to a friend.

This objective relates to the grammar point, the modal “should,” which is the lesson topic. It also defines what students will be able to do by the end of class, and you can easily measure success by monitoring and assessing the students’ use of the target word in their oral and written output.


ESL lesson plans can range from a few notes on the back of an envelope to full-blown works of art. They can be quick, last-minute EFL lesson plan outlines or so fully developed that a substitute teacher can walk in and complete the lesson without skipping a beat. As long as you’ve defined your ESL lesson objectives, your class has the potential to run smoothly and bring students one step closer to fluency!

Check out more tips for preparing ESL lesson plans here!

After backpacking Australia on a Working Holiday visa, Bridge graduate Johanna traveled to Japan for a year to teach English. She then moved to New Zealand for another two years before returning to her chosen home country, Japan, where she currently lives. Now, with more than eight years of professional English teaching experience, Johanna enjoys her expat life in Japan teaching teenagers at a private junior and senior high school, where she recently received tenure after only two years. When she’s not teaching, Johanna continues to travel regionally and explore new places.