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How to Teach Primary Key Points for English Classes


Most classes are going to have a primary objective that you want your students to learn. We usually call these “key points”. There are many different methods towards teaching these “key points” and today we are going to explain one of the more popular methods. It’s important to remember that simply explaining the sentence structure or the grammar point or whatever the key point is, is not enough. You need to explain it, you need to introduce it in a conversation, and you need to practice it in written form and a speaking form as well. Let’s take a look.


Primary Objective Method

Warm Up

Sample Conversation (with the key point)

Key Point Explanations

Key Point Simple Practice (Written)

Key Point Spoken Practice

Game/Activity (with key point)


Simple Role Playing Activity (with key point)




A warm-up usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes. I usually like to use the warm-up time to practice and review previous lessons. So let’s say that two months ago I taught my class different ways that they can talk about themselves. They learned that they could talk about their family and different hobbies that they have and other types of small talk. For my warm-up, I’m going to split my students up into groups of two. Then I’m going to explain the situation. I want them to greet each other, introduce themselves, and try to have a simple conversation using what they learned before. I try to choose something that is relatively easy or something that they have practiced already many times. I don’t want my warm-ups to be too difficult. The warm-up should serve as a transition from the student’s normal everyday lives speaking in their native language to an English language environment.


Sample conversation

Next up is the sample conversation. Sample conversations are a common feature in most ESL textbooks. I really like having sample conversations simply because they are great at introducing that lesson’s main topic. It also gives you a simple place to start when explaining that lesson’s key point. Most of you will be using a textbook that hopefully will already have a sample conversation within it. Sample conversations should be relatively short. They should do three things. First, they should be using vocabulary that is related to that lesson’s topic; so if the lesson’s topic is wining and dining customers, than much of the vocabulary or the setting of the conversation should be at a restaurant. Second, the conversation should include that lesson’s key points. So to go back to our earlier example if I’m teaching my students polite ways to make recommendations then I hopefully will see in the sample conversation “why don’t you try the sushi?” Or “you ought to try the gyoza”. Third, the conversation should also introduce any secondary objectives that you might have. For example, for our lesson maybe we can teach the students how to politely decline recommendations, so hopefully we could see something like this in the conversation, “I’m sure it’s delicious but I really don’t like fish”.

There are a couple different ways that you can go over the sample conversation depending on how much time you have in your lesson. One common way is to choose a student to read for one of the roles and you as a teacher read the other role. The rest of the class will follow along while you and the other student read the conversation. Then you can have the students pair up in groups of two and go ahead and read the conversations themselves. Once they have read the conversation through they should change roles and read it again.


Key Point explanation

Once the students have read the conversation a couple of times you need to go to the white board and explain how to create the lessons Key Point. At times this might involve some grammar explanation. Here you have to be really careful. Many English teachers simply do not understand how difficult it is as a language student to understand complex grammatical terms and ideas. There will be situations where you have to go into grammar but you also need to develop different ways to be able to explain how to use that lesson’s key points without having to turn to grammatical terms. There are a couple of different ways that you can do this. First you can simply refer to the sample conversation and explain what situations you might use these key points in. Then you can write the key points on the board and slightly change them to personalize them. So if the sample conversation had “why don’t you try the sushi?” Then we can change the “try the sushi” part and insert something else. You can act like you have a headache in front of the class, then you can ask the students “what should I do?” Then you can point to the board and most students will get the idea that you want them to use the Key Point to give some advice. Hopefully one of the students will say something like “why don’t you take some medicine?” Here you also want to introduce other similar meaning sentences and if there are any differences explain those differences to the students. In our example today we could write “why don’t you______”, “you should_______”, “you ought to______”, “it might be a good idea to________”.  If your students are at lower levels than you might want to limit the amount of similar sentences you write on the board. Sometimes if you write too many they just get confused.


Key Point simple practice

We have explained the lesson’s key points to the students. And hopefully they have a general understanding of everything. Now we want to slowly reinforce that understanding. And we also want the students to start creating their own sentences. At first we need to help the students, we need to hold their hand while they try to create the first sentences using the key points they just learned. That is what this first simple practice is for. Most textbooks will have this after the sample conversation. A common type of practice is where you will see six pictures, and maybe for our example today we will see six different people with different problems. For each picture our students have to write a polite recommendation. Generally with this first simple practice, part of the sentence is already written out for the student. For example we see a picture of a man who is sad, and next to the picture already written out is “Why don’t you ______?” the student simply has to finish the sentence. This might be too easy for some students but the basic idea is to give them some simple easy practice. Later on in the lesson we’re going to give them much more difficult activities to do but for now we just want to reinforce the key points that we just explained.


Key Point simple speaking practice

By now we have gone over the lesson’s key points a number of times. The students read it in the sample conversation. The students heard you explain the key points in the Key Point explanation. And they just got finished creating their own sentences in the Key Point simple practice. Now were going to have the students try and practice speaking the sentences. There are many different activities and games that you can use for simple speaking practice. For our lesson we’re going to have our students take a normal sheet of paper and cut it into six different squares then the students will write down a different problem on each square. These problems should be something like, “my head hurts”, “I want a girlfriend”, “I don’t have any money”, “I’m scared of aliens”, “I can’t sleep at night”. Then we are going to collect all the squares, shuffle them up and put them in the center of the table. We’re going to write each student’s name on the whiteboard. Then one student will take a square and read the problem. After the student reads a problem the other students have to give polite suggestions. For each polite suggestion they give they get one point next to their name on the whiteboard. After the students have given as many suggestions as they can or after a certain time limit the next student will take another square and read the problem and the students repeat the process.


Return to sample conversation

If I have time, one thing I like to do is return to the sample conversation after I have explained the lesson’s key points. This time when we read the sample conversation, we’re going to take the two or three instances where our key points are used and change them to different suggestions. So the conversations are mostly the same except for the polite suggestions which the students will change to something else. You will need to demonstrate this in front of the class so you can take one of the better students and tell them to read a role, then you read the other role and when it comes to the sentence that originally said “why don’t you try the sushi” you change it to something else like “why don’t you try the pizza”. If the students are having trouble understanding this then you can write the conversation on the whiteboard and underline the parts that they need to change. If they are still having problems then you can write down some other possibilities that they could use in the sentences. Break the students of into the pairs and have them try it.


Simple Game/Activity

After we have explained the key point and gone through the conversation and the different practice we are now ready to have our students try to use what they’ve learned. There are a couple different ways to do this. You can play a game or do an activity in which the students have to use what they learned. Or you can do a role-playing activity.

Here were going to explain how to do the activity to the students. We’re going to explain to them what English they need to be using during the activity. We can also explain to them why we are doing this activity and how it will help them improve their English. This is where the students really start to learn. Using what they studied in these games activities absolutely essential for them to improve their English. Of course all of these games and activities ask the student to use what they learned over and over again but if the game or activity is a little fun and that students generally do not mind. Using these games and activities is 1000 times better than any drill or rote memorization. There are a lot more fun and they are a lot more useful.


Simple Role Playing Activity

So in the previous practice we have given the students some easy simple practice so that they can get used to creating their own polite suggestions. Now what we want to do is create a role-playing activity in which our students might actually find themselves in at some point. Then in this role playing activity they are going to have to use what they learned in the previous 40 minutes. This is probably the most important practice. This is when you give the students more freedom to actually try and use what they have learned. Generally I like to tell the students before we start this role-playing activity that this is the first time they have learned this so if they make mistakes it’s not a big deal. In fact sometimes mistakes can be beneficial. The most important thing is for them to attempt to use what they have learned. I also tell them that we are going to review this in later lessons and that eventually they will get the hang of it and they will learn it with few problems. So the most important thing here is not to perfectly say everything but to simply trying to use it.

It’s important to remember that you can’t simply say to your students, “Pretend you’re at a restaurant and try to give suggestions on what to eat”. With some students this might work. But with the majority of students they are going to need a little more help or structure. What I like to do is create role-playing cards. The card will introduce a situation, it will have some information about the role the student should be playing and it will also have a couple of sentences or questions written out in the sample conversation style to help them get started. Also written on the cards is what I want the students to practice and why we are practicing this. Have the students study the cards and try to remember the details. If the students forget how to say something or they forget a certain vocabulary word then it is okay to go back in their notebook or look at the card to help them remember. But you want to make sure that the students are not simply reading the card. You want them to look at the card, put the card down, look at the other student and say the sentence or the question. This might seem like a very minor detail but it really can have a big impact on how much the student remembers the Key Point. I’m always telling my students this, don’t read it, actually look at the other person and say it. While your students are doing this role-playing activity you want to go around to each of the groups, observe them and help them if they need it. Try to give them some compliments or answer any questions that they might have. When you are going around watching the groups do this role playing activity if you see any common mistakes that other groups are making as well make sure that you go to the board and explain the mistake and how to correct it in front of everyone.


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Randy League owns an English School in Japan and has been teaching English for 20 years. In his free time he trains MMA , plays video games and studies Japanese.

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