5 Emergency Lesson Plans

5 ESL Emergency Lessons


Picture this: It’s 8am Monday morning, you’re fast asleep, snuggled in your duvet, enjoying a rare day off. Life is wonderful!  Suddenly you are jolted back into reality by a phone call…from work… asking you to sub a class in 30 minutes.  I’m sure this has happened to everyone and I’m sure you remember the panic it causes trying to plan a lesson, brush your teeth and get dressed instantaneously. Well fear not, here are 5 ESL emergency lessons that don’t require any prep or photocopying, that you can use in just these instances.







I adapted this idea from a seminar by Michael Swan and have used it many times in class successfully.

Draw a picture frame on the board.

Ask students to describe the picture inside (there is none, they must use their imagination).  Do this as a whole class activity, ask individual students for a small piece of information about the picture and then get another student to add to that information.  Use question prompts if necessary e.g. What time of day is it? Where is it? How many people are there?

Once the students have come up with a full description of the picture ask them to recap and then put them into small groups.

In groups, students write a creative story about the picture. Depending on the picture students could tell you what happens next or what happened before.

Students can either display their written work on the walls for other students to read or you can encourage students to read their stories aloud.


This gives students a chance to practice stress and intonation in questions.

Think of 5-7 general questions that students can discuss, for example:

  1. What are you going to do tonight?
  2. Do you like football?
  3. Where do you live?

Tell students that you are going to read some questions to them but that you have bad reception on your phone. Some of the words will be missing. Students must listen and write down the full question.

Read out the words in bold these are the stressed words in the question. If you want, for effect, you can make crackling bad reception noises where the unstressed words would be. Students write down the complete question and compare with a partner.

Elicit from the students what kind of words are stressed (nouns, verb , words that contain the important information) and unstressed (prepositions, auxiliary verbs, articles, words that do not contain the important information in the sentence). Discuss the difference between intonation in yes/no questions and open questions.

Drill the pronunciation of the questions, pointing out the use of the schwa in unstressed words and the assimilation of ‘Do you’.

Finally in pairs students ask and answer the questions, focusing on the pronunciation. You could also ask them to create some more questions and highlight the stressed words. Students can then join with another pair and dictate their own questions, repeating the activity.


You will be using the Total Physical Response (TPR) teaching methodology to introduce vocabulary connected to cooking.

Write up some verbs on the board connected to cooking. You can change these depending on the level but make sure these verbs can be easily mimed e.g.

Chop, slice, sprinkle, melt, roll, grate, stir, heat, pour, spill, crumble, beat, fry.

Mime the verbs and get students to copy the action (this should make it easier for them to remember the vocabulary and livens up the class).  Shout out words and get them to mime, ask students to mime and others to shout out the word. Turn it into a game.

Next ask students to write a recipe using this vocabulary. Writing a recipe for a traditional dish from their country is a really common exercise so if it has been done to death maybe get them to write a recipe for: a dish they hate, their favourite childhood dish, an invented dish (write some ingredients they must use on the board).


Get students to think of about 5 random questions each and write them down. Alternatively you can write some questions on the board or do both. Ask students to mingle and ask their questions but do NOT allow them to take notes.

Go through any error corrections with the class.

Next ask students to try and remember the answers other students gave to their questions. They should confirm this information with the student using tag questions e.g. Your favourite food is pizza, isn’t it?

Alternatively students could practice reported speech. Students must sum up what the other students said and report it in small groups.


This activity gives students extra practice with the present perfect using already and yet.

Write down your own ‘to do’ list on the board

e.g. make the bed, walk the dog, do the shopping. Put a tick next to the things you have already done and a cross next to the things you haven’t done yet.  Elicit from the students ‘ I have already made the bed’, ‘I haven’t walked the dog yet’. Get students to write their own lists.

To use vocabulary for household tasks you could get students to imagine they are sharing a flat with 2/3 others in the class. In groups students make a list of chores and create a timetable of who is doing each chore and when.

Do you have any more emergency lessons up your sleeve for those morning phone calls from your boss? 

Don’t forget to check out our latest B1 lesson based on the thriller movie, The Box. Download it here!

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you very much for the lessons. They are very useful. I use this style a lot in my classes. I will use the cooking saying it is a meal for someone you really don’t like.

  2. Cheryl Malanek

    Thanks Martin, that’s a great idea saying it’s a meal for someone they don’t like. I will try that myself next time.

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