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How to Build an Effective ESL Course

By Armando Pannacci
If you’re just starting as a new ESL teacher or you simply need tips on how to design a truly effective ESL course, here’s how

When teaching English, there may be times when you’ll need to create an ESL course. This is a common scenario when teaching abroad in many schools, as school administrators often provide materials while leaving it up to their teachers to decide how to implement them into lessons. Also, with so much teaching taking place online, many ESL teachers have been left with no direction from their employers and have had to create virtual courses and lessons on their own.  

So if you’re just starting as a new ESL teacher or you simply need tips on how to design a truly effective ESL course, here’s how. 

The ADDIE method? 

While there are many different ways to create an ESL course, the ADDIE model is by far the most common way of doing so. This method has five steps: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. While it may sound like many steps (and there is a lot to it), this is the simplest method to follow and easiest to execute. As long as you follow these five steps in the correct sequence and understand what they mean, you can’t fail. 

What are the steps of ADDIE? 

1. Analyze 

Your first step when designing any ESL course should be to analyze all the factors that may positively or negatively impact both the teaching and learning processes. The following actions should take place during the analysis stage: 

Assess Your Students’ Needs 

Knowing what your students are currently capable of doing (entry skills) and what you want them to learn (target skills) is crucial in the analysis phase. If possible, you should try to gain this information before creating the course by speaking to either your school administrators, your students, their previous teachers, or their family members (if your students are younger). You can also use other means, including questionnaires or surveys if you feel these might be appropriate. 

Visualize Performance Objectives 

Once you know what students need to learn, you should then begin to think about not only how they will demonstrate what they’ve learned by the end of the course, but also how you’ll be able to measure their performance. For example, if you want students to learn conversation skills, then you need to consider how proficient at speaking English they should be by the end of the course, how they will show this to others, and how you can gauge what proficiency level they’ve currently reached. 

Conceptualize Materials 

While pondering on how you’ll assess your students’ performance objectives, you should also be thinking about what materials you’ll use to assess this, as well as what materials you may need throughout the course. 

Consider what materials you will need to both teach your lessons and carry out assessments. Try to think of the most appropriate materials to use based on the students’ age and the information you’ll be delivering to them, whether it’s books, crayons, worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, online platforms, or even computers. 

2. Design 

After the initial analysis, you should then use the data and ideas you came up with during the analysis phase to design your course. During this step, you should simply be creating rough drafts and notes of how you will later design and implement the course. 

What you design here may undergo many revisions and changes during the process, so keep that in mind. You should be asking yourself questions about the following while carrying out this step: 

Lessons – how will your lessons be structured? What stages or routines will you implement during them? What materials or topics will be covered and in what ways? 

Learning environment – where will the learning environment take place and how will it be arranged? Will you need a classroom or will it take place online? If in a classroom, what will the classroom layout look like? If online, what programs or platforms will you use? 

Assessments – in what ways will you assess your students? Will you need to design quizzes, homework assignments, or exams? If so, how often will these assessments be carried out? How will you measure the students’ learning objectives and what grading or scoring tools will you need to do so? 

Training materials – are you the only teacher who will be teaching this course? Or will there be a co-teacher, occasional substitute, or another teacher later may need to follow the course you’ve designed? If so, will they need training materials or guides created for them to carry out any of the lessons? 

3. Develop 

During the development phase, you’ll now take what you designed in the previous phase to create everything that you will use during your course, which normally includes: 

Lessons, Activities, and Coursework 

At the heart of your course is the coursework or assignments students will follow, activities that they will engage in, as well as the lessons that you teach. At this point, you should be creating everything you and your students will need during the course so that you can carry out your lessons and so students can complete coursework and participate in structured activities. 

Tip #1: Cluster and Sequence Lessons 

When creating your lessons, it’s a good idea to use clustering and sequencing. Clustering is where you look at all the topics you intend to teach throughout the course and cluster them together into lessons where they’ll be most appropriate. 

You should then sequence the lessons in a way where the skills and knowledge required for each lesson are already starting to form during the previous lesson. Each lesson should serve as a stepping stone to the next one. 

Tip #2: Use Adaptation/Adoption When Possible 

Creating new materials from scratch can be time-consuming, so you should see if there are already pre-existing materials available from administrators, online, or from previous courses, that you can adapt or adopt into the instruction. 

Adopting means that you use materials exactly as-is, which would only be appropriate if every item or aspect of it matches what is being taught or tested. In most cases, adaptation is more appropriate, which means making adjustments or changes to materials so they align better with what you’re teaching. 

Assessment Materials 

In the analysis phase, you thought about your students’ possible learning objectives. During the design step, you thought about what assessments you’ll use to gauge these objectives. Now it’s time to sit down and create these assessments. 

Whether you need to make worksheets for homework assignments or digital forms for lessons taught online, you should be making those or creating them now. 

Scoring Tools 

After students complete any assessments you assign to them, you’ll need a way to score them. It’s much easier to quickly score and grade exams or assignments when you have answer sheets or other assistive tools, such as rubrics, that are already made and easy to glance at. 


When it comes to creating instructions, you should be considerate of your students and other teachers, as well as yourself. Your students will need instructions to carry out their assignments, and while you may verbally provide these to them during in-class or online meetings, there may be times when you won’t be available to do so. 

You should therefore create documents or guides that any teacher can follow to carry out the coursework and lessons you’ve created. You may also need these types of guides later if you should find yourself teaching the course again and have forgotten about some aspects of it. 

4. Implement 

Now that you’ve created your course, it’s time to implement it and put it to use. You can now begin teaching your course to your students. While teaching your lessons, here are a few actions that you should be carrying out on an ongoing basis: 

Conduct Formative Assessments 

Throughout the course, you should be conducting assessments along the way to ensure that your students’ paths of learning are headed in the right direction. Assessments, whether they’re quizzes, assignments you’ve graded, or other types, should reflect that students’ skills and knowledge are building along the way towards the learning objectives you’ve set as goals. 

These ongoing or periodic check-ins with students are known as ‘formative assessments, and they can be used at any point during your course. 

Carry Out Formative Evaluations 

While formative assessments help to test students on what they’re learning, formative evaluations are a way of assessing the course itself from an objective standpoint. 

If the assessments you’re conducting are showing poor results where many students seem to be struggling with what you’re trying to teach them, this is an indicator that something is wrong with your course and that adjustments or changes need to be made. 

Formative evaluation is simply where you gather data from assessments to determine where weaknesses may exist, either within the course, the materials, or even your teaching approach. 

Gather Attitudinal Data 

It’s important to know how your students are feeling about the course and their learning progress because this can affect their overall performance, as well as reflect either positively or negatively on how you’re teaching them. The last thing you need while teaching a course is for your students to feel as if they are not learning anything. 

You should therefore gather attitudinal data, by surveying them with attitude questionnaires. These can be any forms or surveys that you feel will answer how they’re feeling about things. 

For younger students, you may need to skip this step and check-in with administrators or parents from time to time instead to gauge their attitudes about the course or student progress. 

Determine Revisions 

While you’re carrying out assessments and gathering the aforementioned data, you should be using the information gleaned from these sources to determine where revisions should be made. No teacher creates a perfect course from scratch without some modifications or changes happening somewhere along the way. So, it’s perfectly natural that you’ll need to change some things or make adjustments to improve the overall course as it’s taking place. 

5. Evaluate 

The final step in the ADDIE process is to evaluate, and just as it sounds, this is the point where you evaluate how the course went and how well students acquired the target skills. Although there are many different approaches one can take during this phase, the two most crucial actions that should always be carried out are as follows: 

Conduct Summative Assessments 

While formative assessments are meant to take place on an ongoing basis so that you can see where students might need help, summative assessments are those that take place at the very end of your course. Final exams are a type of summative assessment because they’re intended to measure what students have learned throughout the course. 

The point of summative assessments is to determine whether your students met the target objectives and learning proficiency levels that you aimed for. For students themselves, these are crucial because it’s these assessments that are often used to determine if students should advance to higher levels of ESL learning or if they’re ready to use what they’ve learned in the real world. 

Evaluate and Revise the Course 

Lastly, you’ll conduct a summative evaluation of your course, which is not to be mistaken with the previously mentioned summative assessments. Summative evaluations are similar to the formative evaluations you carried out while the course was underway, but now you’re looking at the big picture in hindsight. 

You want to identify areas where improvements within the course itself should be made so that if you ever teach the course again or another teacher follows it later, it will be a more optimal and improved version. 

As an example, if you happen to notice that students responded better to certain types of questions or assessments than others, then you may want to question why that is. You can then decide if it’s better to use these approaches that they responded well to or if you need to change something about the way you designed or implemented the approaches that they did not respond well to. 

A final piece of advice 

While all of this may seem like a lot of work, the process becomes intuitive when you’re regularly using it, and after a while, it should come as second nature to any experienced teacher. The five steps used in the ADDIE process have been used to create many of the most effective ESL programs around the world and are considered to be the tried and true, golden method of course design. 

Just remember to stay objective when creating your course, conduct each step with your students’ learning objectives in mind, and always try to include fun elements for your students wherever possible. 

Written by Armando Pannacci for Tefl.NET April 2022
Arm is a Canadian ESL teacher with over ten years' experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.
© Tefl.NET


  • jean says:

    thak you for this it’s so useful

  • Elize says:

    Thank you for telling in which order one should go about.
    Very good advice,

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