Get Your ESL Class to Write a wikiHow

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Teaching ESL to disinterested adolescents is a difficult but rewarding undertaking. This article describes a lesson plan created to stimulate student interest and creativity. It appeals to students’ appreciation for the absurd by allowing them to create odd/highly improbably situations, but it also encourages their best work, with the incentive that a well-crafted article will be posted online for the world to see. More practically, it helps them understand and reproduce the following:
-The imperative (and verbs such as should, have to, and must)
-Sequence of events/ordinal numbers (example: first, second, then, finally, after, etc.)
-Use of the future tense (if students are at that level)

Please note that this is a project that will probably take more than one session to complete. Also, it can easily be modified to fit a variety of needs.


  1. Get students’ attention. Note: Step one can be difficult. Consider doing improvisational ballet at the front of the class or yodelling.
    Communicate Effectively Step 17 Version 2.jpg
  2. Begin the class immediately by asking them some basic vocabulary questions. “You! Yes, you Raquel, not the bookcase. Give me a verb.” Hopefully Raquel responds with a verb. Write the verb on the board. Ask for some more, and you’ll get them. Students love shouting English words at random.
    Delegate Step 5 Version 2.jpg
  3. Wait until your students provide enough verbs, ten or so should be sufficient. Ask them to stop. Label the column “verbs”, draw a vertical line next to it, and ask for nouns or objects (labeling this column as well). Be prepared for classroom objects such as pens and chairs, and ask them to branch out a little more.
    Delegate Step 6 Version 2.jpg
  4. Be aware you have two options here, depending on your students’ level of English. For less advanced students, ensure that the number of objects is equal to the number of verbs. For more advanced students, or if you’re just a cruel teacher, have them name exactly double, creating two object columns. They should be written so that, if the board is read from left to right, you have verb — object — object.
    Be a Good Debater Step 12.jpg
  5. Ensure you have put up all of the words, then make combinations. You can either draw horizontal lines connecting the verbs and the objects, or (more daring but also more fun) ask the students to make the connections. Do not allow the students to write on the board. The writers get over-excited and the rest of the class gets whiny.
    File for Divorce in Texas Without a Lawyer Step 17.jpg
  6. Explain briefly that although these combos have a subject and a verb, they are not sentences. They should already understand this.
    Become a Petite Model Step 11.jpg
  7. Write How to on the board. Now you will have reached the midpoint of the lesson, and the students have no idea where you’re going with this. Perfect. Well done you. This means there’s a greater chance they’re still paying attention. At this juncture, switch gears, and write the phrase “how to” on the board. If they don’t already know what it means, they catch on quickly.
    Be a National Delegate (USA) Step 6.jpg
  8. Do a couple practice examples using how to. One could be ‘How to open a door.’ Have a student perform each step as you describe it. Put the steps on the board. Be sure to include whichever concepts you find most important, such as ordinal numbers, adverbs such as ‘now’ ‘then’ ‘after’ ‘while’ etc. or constructions using ‘must’ ‘should’ ‘have to’ and so on. This lesson is meant to be modified to fit your/your students’ needs.
    Be a National Delegate (USA) Step 1.jpg
  9. Ensure your students have been given the structures you prefer (hopefully this is not the first time they have been introduced, as it is a lot of information to take in at once), then move back to your combinations and make them into ‘how to’ sentences. An example might be “throw-window-TV”, this becomes “How to throw a TV out of the window.”
    Be a Secret Agent Step 6.jpg
  10. Break the students into groups or pairs, and give them each a three word sequence. Give them a few minutes to form the sentence. After they’re finished, have them read them aloud. Correct any mistakes.
    Be a Smart Student Step 12.jpg
  11. Have the students complete their ‘How to’ instructions. It’s a good idea to put up minimum requirements on the board, such as the number of of steps, use of specific words, and anything else you want them to incorporate.
    Communicate Effectively Step 7.jpg
  12. Correct their work. Then, after they have completed these drafts, it is obviously your job to correct them. Enjoy. If it makes you feel better, they have homework, too. They have to visit and browse the site.
    Conduct Research Step 8.jpg
  13. If you are beginning a new session with the students, here is your chance to explain the concept of a wiki. Ask a student for a simple sentence in English. Then, have each student add some breadth and detail to the sentence. Ask the students who wrote the sentence, using it to demonstrate that a wiki is a collaborative, peer-edited work.
    Get a Full Scholarship Step 9.jpg
  14. Ask them about their experience with the wikiHow website. (You’ll be lucky if more than 2 or 3 visited, but that’s life).
    Be a Smart Student Step 5 Version 2.jpg
  15. Explain that you want their (corrected) ‘How to’s presented properly with an introduction, tips and warnings, and an image. If you especially want to annoy them, ask for a presentation/demonstration. For the competitive students, explain that any truly excellent article submitted will be uploaded onto the wikiHow website.
    Show Employees Your Appreciation Step 1.jpg

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