Student Retention and Effective Lesson Planning

By Cindy Harrison


 I recently received an e-mail from an ESL director who needed some advice on the problem of student dropout. What director or teacher has not encountered this problem?

It is a fact of life teaching in an ESL ministry. There are many reasons for it and a few solutions to help it.


The number one reason we see student dropout so often is that literacy classes of any kind are far down on the list of our student’s priorities. Most lead busy lives that leave little time for extras such as a weekly ESL class, but there are those achievers who thankfully see a need to better their language skills. We need to applaud those few who end up at our ministries for registration.


As the weeks go by, their everyday higher priorities crowd out their lower priority for better language skills. Tiredness, dread of taking themselves and their children out in the dark in bad weather, family sickness, marital problems, home and work responsibilities, and the children’s school responsibilities cause lack of regular attendance.


Then we in our literacy ministries add to the student dropout problem by our lack of daily or weekly prayer for our students to just come each week, besides the lack of praying for their spiritual and educational learning needs. On top of that add these correctable problems:


  1. Lessons with too much teacher talk;


  1. Very little preparation time with not a lesson plan in sight;


  1. Lack of communicative activities and games for adequate practice;


  1. Teaching more than 8-12 new vocabulary words per class time;


  1. Lack of guided practice after the new material has been introduced;


  1. New material introduced without enough visuals to give students understanding;


  1. Little or no reading and writing practice;


  1. Guided practice that is so slow a moving a turtle would pass it by;


  1. A poor placement tool so that students are placed in classes too hard or too easy;


  1. Placing students in a class according to there level of understanding, not speaking ability;


  1. Teaching material that is not relevant to the students needs;


  1. Lack of teacher interest in the students themselves;


  1. Lack of some accountability;


  14. And teachers being too pushy in evangelism.


Besides students dropping out for personal reasons, this list just about covers the rest. Maybe you could add a few I’ve forgotten. Each time I’ve ever been asked by a director to trouble shoot problems with certain classes, it has always been one of these. The bottom line is that unless it is for personal reasons, students drop out when their needs aren’t met.


A good lesson plan for a classroom includes these basics:


1. Begin with prayer;


2. Share a scripture, testimony, song, poem, or thought that shares Christ’s love;


3. Provide a warm-up activity or game to practice last week's material;


4. For beginners-low intermediates introduce new, pertinent dialogue (8-12 new words) with good visual aids that give understanding. For high intermediates-advanced provide discussion activities and games that allow language practice and expansion. Take notes on vocabulary expansion needs and pronunciation problems that can be addressed later;


5. Include brisk guided practice(drill) time so that students hear the new vocabulary words, sentences, and questions of the dialogue enough that they are able to reproduce them(Teacher saying the words, then sentences, and questions 5x with students repeating after teacher 5x with the use of TPR, activities, and games). If students are on intermediate-advanced level, giving new word definitions, having students ask questions and make sentences with new words plus enough discussion, activity, and game time;


6. Include a time of teaching idioms and slang for advanced students;


7. Time for students to practice reading and writing the new dialogue, words or phrases so they can really understand how it is pieced together;


8. Thorough time for pronunciation practice of sounds, words, sentences, and questions that students are struggling with, during the guided practice time, with fun pronunciation games;


9. At least four communicative activities or games in a 90 minute period where students are able to practice the new dialogue they have learned;


10. Useful homework that allows students to practice the new material they have learned.


11. Wrap-up time for students to talk freely with teacher about any concerns or needs.


After having taken classes from beginner level to advanced and teaching classes as small as 5 to as large as 40 plus on different levels, I know there is always a reason for student dropout. It is our place as faithful directors and teachers to ascertain what the problem really is, pray about it, take even uncomfortable steps to correct it, and even accept it when we’ve done our best and some students continue to attend regularly.

Please look and pray over the list of problems and the basics for a good lesson plan to see what place they have in your ministry.

Hope Literacy Inc | Executive Director: Harry Wilson | Phone 817.999.9357