Five ways to avoid TEFL lesson failure - don't be a car crash

Five ways to avoid TEFL lesson failure

Have you followed the five ways to avoid TEFL lesson failure? Are you ready to step into your classroom and teach English?

How is your game-face checklist?

  1. Lesson plan – Check
  2. Teaching Material – Check
  3. Confidence – Check
  4. Happy Face – Check

Sometimes unexpected things make your lesson a flop. Sometimes not even the best planned, well prepared and thought out lesson plan can save you from flopping. All TEFL teachers have experienced that heart-stopping moment when you realise your lesson is just about to crash and burn. For most TEFL teachers, it is the worst feeling possible.

How can we avoid TEFL lesson failure? How can we prevent a car crash from happening? How can we maintain our first-rate reputations as TEFL teachers?

The key is to know and understand why sometimes your lessons flop. If you can find why your plan fails, you will avoid TEFL lesson failure in the future.

Let us look at five reasons lessons can flop and what you can do to avoid TEFL lesson failure.

1 - Your lesson plan is weak

A weak lesson plan contributes to lesson failure. There are several ways your lesson plan may not be as good as it should be. To have effective and engaging lessons, you must ensure the following:

  1. Your materials need to be appropriate, meaningful and engaging.
  2. Your classes must be structured and flow logically.
  3. You must give clear instructions on what your students must do.
  4. It would be best if you used engaging and motivating activities.
  5. The lesson you chose is appropriate for your students’ language level.
  6. Have lots of backup activities.

Most experienced TEFL teachers know that you must have backup activities if you finish your lesson quicker than you thought. Some back activities can also be alternative activity ideas if you’ve planned something that isn’t working well with your class. Your backup activities must include practice activities if your lesson is too challenging for some or too easy for others.

What you need to do: Make sure you stick to the six planning tips

Your lesson cannot be perfect all the time, but you are more likely to have a great lesson most of the time by ensuring you stick to these six planning tips.

2 - You don't know your students

Knowing your students is the key to having a great class. You need to understand how to adapt your lessons to your learners.

  • You cannot plan an appropriate lesson unless you know and understand your learners.
  • You cannot choose topics or activities that interest them unless you know their interests.
  • You cannot plan relevant activities unless you know their learning objectives, strengths and weaknesses.
  • You cannot build rapport with your learners if you don’t empathise.

Many reputable schools give their TEFL teachers the students’ backgrounds, levels, goals, objectives, limitations, etc. However, if you are self-employed, meaning you manage and teach your classes, make sure you do a needs analysis. A needs analysis will make your lesson planning more manageable and your classes enjoyable for you and your students.

What you need to do: Understand your students

When you first meet your students, perform a needs analysis. The needs analysis gives you an idea of your learners’ levels and why they are in your class learning English. However, you will only get to know your students as you teach them. So please don’t underestimate the power of casual conversation and pay attention to what your students are saying.

3 - You will never have a class where every student has the same level

What I am about to tell you is frightening yet very common in the TEFL world. Although they tell you that the class is a B1 (CEFRL) or an Intermediate level, there are many sub-levels in each level. For example, they could say B1-B2 – Intermediate. Then they say Pre-Intermediate, Lower Intermediate, Intermediate and Upper-Intermediate. I have just given you four different Intermediate levels! Be prepared to adapt your lessons. Make the range wider. Include activities that will challenge a Lower Intermediate but still be helpful for an Upper-Intermediate. At the end of the day, if you teach, engage and motivate, then you’re onto a winner.

What you need to do: Get used to varying learner skills

Expect this scenario for every lesson. Always assume some learners will be stronger and others are going to be weaker. Assume that some learners will grasp a concept immediately, while others will take more time and need more help. Ensure you have prepared for this. Prepare and include activities challenge and reinforce.

4 - Your classroom is chaos

No matter how great your lesson plan is, your lesson will fail fast if your students are not listening to you. Classroom management and discipline are crucial to the success of your lesson. You will have classes full of students who may be older than you or may have very senior posts in a company. This, of course, can be very intimidating, especially for inexperienced and new teachers. Never forget: You are the boss! Your students are in your classroom because they lack something you can give them that helps them in their professional or personal lives. They need to learn or improve their English. Only you, their English teacher, can help them. You are the person in the classroom who is responsible for the classroom dynamics and ensuring that all the learners are attentive and engaged.

What you need to do: Take charge and exercise control

Whether your students are first graders, university students or company executives, always remember that you are the teacher, the boss! If students are giving you trouble, you need to solve the problem. Make sure they know who is boss and the rules of the classroom. Don’t be a pushover, be firm but have empathy and show them you care about their learning. Build a relationship where they want to be in your class because they want to and not because their parents or boss told them to take English classes.

5 - Your students are dozing off

There are many things you can be in the EFL/ESL classroom, but being boring and unengaging is not one of them.

Boring lessons will give you uninterested, unengaged, bored students. They, in turn, can become disruptive, disheartened or even rude students. Learning is not an easy task; you should remember that from High School! But, at the end of the day, if your students are engaged, happy and motivated, they will learn faster and more effectively. Most of us TEFL teachers find satisfaction in seeing our students improve their English.

What you need to do: Be engaging, motivating, and do not be boring.

Look at the lesson you planned. Be objective. Try to imagine yourself as the ELL (English language learner). Do you find the lesson interesting? Engaging? If your answer is yes, then you’re onto a winner. If not, make some changes to your lesson. If you find your lesson enjoyable, the chances are your students would find the lesson enjoyable too. Love your lesson, look forward to teaching it. You will transmit your energy and enthusiasm so even the most unmotivated students will come on board. Do you remember your favourite teachers in school? The energetic, lively and knowledgeable ones were the ones you liked the most.


You need to remember one thing. If your lesson looks like it will flop, don’t force the issue and change gears. Instead, do not hesitate to use your backup activities. A good trick is to increase the STT (student talking time). Go into Q&A mode (questions and answers). Most students love to talk. After all, speaking confidently and correctly most of the time is one reason they are studying English. Ask them to expand on their thoughts. Limit your TTT (teacher talking time). Don’t talk too much. Give yourself time to see how the class picks up with more STT.

In time, with more experience tucked under your belt, you will develop the skills to avoid TEFL lesson failure.

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