ESL Classroom Routines

Several years ago, when I was doing my teaching practicum in my MATESOL program, I had the opportunity to teach a community ESL class. Most of my students were immigrants who were taking the course in order to increase their proficiency level. The class followed an integrated approach, and, frankly, my coteacher and I found it difficult at times to balance “the right amount” of speaking, reading, and writing. Since for both of us it was our first experience teaching ESL, we were afraid that the course would seem to appear a bit unstructured. Our practicum supervisor suggested implementing classroom routines to help us keep the course more organized. And he was right!

Establishing classroom routines not only helps the teacher organize the course, but it also facilitates learning and motivates students. In addition, for many learners studying English in a different country (so-called ESL environment), the classroom can be a new and oftentimes frightening experience, so an interesting regular activity that they do in class will help them get used to the learning context.

Here are some examples of activities that the teacher can use as routines (daily, weekly, or every other day).

  • In-class journal: Students freewrite (for about 7-10 minutes) in their journals on a given topic or a prompt.
  • A vocabulary activity: Examples are numerous.
  • A speaking activity: The teacher gives students a topic to discuss with a partner. Variation: A controversial topic can be used for a small class debate.
  • Oral presentations: Students do weather reports, news reports, social life reports (depending on their proficiency level).
  • A reading thought: Each Monday, students will share an interesting idea from the readings that they did over the weekend.
  • A pronunciation activity: Practicing a particular sound, teaching a song, a tongue twister, or a short poem.
  • Writing-to-learn activity: Students do an impromptu writing activity (for prompts, see my blog, “Writing to Learn Activities“).
  • A phrasal verb presentation: Students present a phrasal verb by explaining its use and providing examples.
  • Reading-based freewriting: See the description in my blog, “Reading-Based Freewriting for English Learners.”
  • A video activity: The teacher plays a short interesting video on a given topic for students to discuss. The teacher can also ask students specific questions before the video to have them look for the answers while watching the video.
  • An idiom of the day: The teacher (or students) presents an idiom related to the topic of the lesson and gives examples.
  • A joke of the day: The teacher tells a joke (related to language, local culture, etc.).
  • A short cultural moment: The teacher presents a small aspect of the local culture. In the case of ESL students: Students can present an interesting aspect of their own cultures.
  • Surveys: Surveys can be a great tool to help students practice their speaking skills and get to know their classmates. They can be done at the beginning of the class (for about 7-10 minutes). The teacher gives students a specific question and students will walk around and survey as many classmates as they can in a given time. It can be a great review of the material from the previous lesson (grammar, vocabulary, or a particular topic).

What classroom routines do you implement in your teaching? Which ones work the best for your particular context?

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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11 Responses to ESL Classroom Routines

  1. Mokhigul says:

    I have got students who are in different levels. And their levels are not suit with school curriculum.I work in rural area where most students involve in agricultural work when they find free time instead of practising english

  2. tom debney says:

    Every time I see a post such as the one presented above, I always feel part stupid and part relieved: the former for not thinking of implementing such a straightforward method myself as it is so obviously a very sound and practical way of promoting good teaching practice; the latter at once again finding ways to alleviate the stress of not knowing exactly what next to do. So thank you very much, Elena, for sharing such helpful insights.

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      Thanks so much! I often feel the same way. I think that observing other instructors, attending conferences, and sharing ideas with colleagues can inspire us for interesting teaching ideas and activities. Enjoy teaching!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Dear Elena:

    Thank you for sharing with us this important information.
    I am sure this will be a useful tool for improving my english class.
    I ‘ll become a better teacher for my students.

    Elizabeth.

  4. Param Murgan says:

    Wonderful Elena. Being innovative is doing things in a way that enhances learning. Sharing ideas confirms good practice that is utilised, and gives birth to better methods.

  5. Thank you Elena !you are so interesting in your classroom routine that will help me with my classes.
    Do you know my problem Elena? Haiti we ‘re facing serious difficulties with students our method ‘s sometimes bad.we ‘re teaching grammar because of the state curriculum. We suppose to do so ,they will take exam. We let the communication skills .that makes the class boring.

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      Thank you for your comment and thank you for sharing your concern. I understand. Perhaps you could implement short and simple activities focused on oral communication skills even in your grammar classes. Plus they can be a great opportunity to practice grammar principles covered in class.

  6. Yeri says:

    Thank you Elena for sharing with me about classroom routine to make the classroom more organized. The activities you cite in your examples give me idea how to make use of various resources to make students produce and use English for communication. Very interesting!

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