ESL Curriculum Development Series: How to Perfect Your Lessons

Posted by MK Argo on Oct 20, 2018 10:15:00 AM

Are you ready to present the best ESL curriculum to your ESL school? Have you perfectly integrated technology and interactive materials into your lessons? If so, then perfect! If not, then you should keep reading because we’re about to cover how you can make your curriculum the best it possibly can be for your ESL school!

Now that you’ve completed all of the preliminary steps, learned to include technology in the classroom, you are now ready to beta test and perfect your school’s ESL materials. First, we will discuss how to test your materials and then how to improve them based on problems which arise during the testing phase.

Pilot Testing Your ESL Curriculum

Beta testing your curriculum is a vital step in the process because it is the most effective way for you to discover areas within your materials which require improvement or maybe even need to be eliminated. Below you will see a step by step guide to creating your beta test group, goals, and facilitation process.

1. Have fellow educators proofread your materials

To get the most out of your beta testing experience, your first step should always be to proofread your materials and then have a colleague correct them as well. This stage can be whatever you would like it to be. If you have decided your materials absolutely must stay in the same form and order, then just have the colleague correct the grammar of the content and improve minor details.

However, it can be helpful, especially if you’re no longer teaching yourself, to have you teachers give input on the content itself and even the structure of their presentation. If you choose this route, be sure to allocate additional time to changing the materials based on the feedback you receive from your educators.

2. Use the curriculum to plan lessons

Following the proofreading stage of your lesson materials, be sure to be well prepared for the beta testing by crafting lesson plans out from the curriculum. Choose which portion of the curriculum you will use wisely. Consider using a variety of lessons. This will give you a more comprehensive view of what you need to improve.

Some educators will choose to beta test their entire curriculum, or even do so after the school year has begun. This method has several drawbacks and can negatively affect student learning if you’re not careful. If you choose to do this, be prepared to explain to the teachers and parents why you feel comfortable testing the unperfected materials on actual students. Be sure to provide suitable reasons and ways the teachers will do additional preparation to counteract the challenges of teaching an untested course.

3. Define the goals of your test group

Allocating time for a beta testing period prior to beginning your school year will help you save valuable resources, money, and time for everyone involved in your school. If you do not have clearly defined goals, however, you can easily misuse this very helpful period within your curriculum development.

A valuable practice in outlining the goals of your beta group would be to create a list of curriculum aspects you’d like your sample group to pay attention to, like assessing ESL students. This list could include:

  • Cohesiveness of materials
  • Ease of presentation
  • Accuracy of information
  • Adaptability
  • Quality of worksheets and supplementary materials
  • Amount of information provided

Consider having your sample group rate each of these categories in addition to providing quality, written feedback. You could even break your test group into subgroups who can focus on each, individual point. This method can be especially helpful when testing your entire curriculum or more than one lesson at a time.

Take a few minutes right now to document what comes to mind when you think about the goals of your ESL curriculum beta testing.

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4. Compile your focus group

When finding people to join your focus group, be sure to create a comprehensive list of the characteristics necessary for each participant. These characteristics can be simple or complex depending on your program goals. Maybe you want just to do the testing with teachers from your school? Perhaps you want to involve students and parents?

Whatever your goals, be sure to consider the logistics. One of the biggest challenges is getting everyone to show up and show up consistently and on time. One great method to ensure attendance is to provide incentives (i.e., extra credit for students, or simply a free dinner). Reach out to who you think will be the most reliable members first to get onto their schedules.

5. Keep the content as short and effective as possible

Consider keeping a short timeline. Unless your testing your entire curriculum, you should be able to keep this phase short and sweet, especially if you have a well-constructed plan heading into it. Your test period should be well structured, but open to experimentation. It may take longer or shorter to test your course depending on what you will have to change and adapt when presenting the materials.

Flexibility is key as you plan the timeline, and prepare a brief outline of what content will be covered as the beta progresses.

6. Never beta test until your course is complete

As you work through your curriculum development process, it can be tempting to beta test your materials as you create them. Please don’t fall prey to this strategy. This type of testing is inefficient and often chaotic. Create a solid base of materials before trial, at the very least.

Ensure all of your materials and additional resources are organized and easily accessible at this phase.

5. “Soft launch” your materials in certain classrooms (optional step)

This is probably the piece that most people worry about when it comes to testing their courses in an active ESL classroom.

Amid the chaos of the school year, you are additionally responsible for perfecting the materials on your own and keeping track of data generated as the course is being tested. Your school’s promised results and good reputation can feel like they are on the line in this scenario. But there have been successful curriculum’s developed this way.

Don’t let this phase scare you. You have gone through all the necessary steps to ensure the smooth delivery of your beta materials.

6. Gather feedback forms

Remember those feedback forms we suggested creating earlier in step three? During this phase, you really should have those handy. Distribute and explain the function of these forms to all group members. Be sure to allow each participant with a suitable amount of time to review these handouts.

Feedback from your students can be precious during the pilot phase. It can be used to determine what learning outcomes are likely to be, the most feasible length of each lesson, and any additional materials necessary for the creation of your perfect ESL course.

You can even use the virtual world as a digital, interactive record of your course’s feedback. Some testers use Facebook, Slack, or similar platforms to create polls or forms for the group members to fill out. Just be sure to remind your people to provide this vital information in a timely manner!

7. Keep a clear record of the results of your test

When deciding on a course, there are very few elements that are as convincing as seeing proof of the results promised. Having clearly defined reviews for your curriculum will help you draw in and retain more students to your ESL school. The pilot phase of your course is the perfect opportunity to gather these results.

This is where social and digital media can come in handy. You can easily slide your poll results over onto your school’s digital marketing platforms. Remember, however, this phase really only applies if you are using students, and possibly parents, during your test phase.

8. Evaluate your materials

Based on your original defined goals, you can determine if your pilot course was successful or not. If the beta is successful, prepare to do the final edits with the new insights you received from the pilot. Even if the beta was a disaster, don’t lose hope for your course, this just means you have even more useful information on how to improve or refine your future curriculum.

Accountability is important in each stage of curriculum development. When program providers and instructors demonstrate accountability, this ensures that everyone has confidence that the program can help learners build the skills and knowledge they need. A program is accountable when evaluators can pinpoint strengths and weakness accurately, and work to improve what needs to be worked on.

A curriculum is genuinely successful when there is evidence that the program is successful that the students achieve the marked outcomes, and the instruction and materials are effective at accommodating learners with different needs and styles.

A good curriculum can overcome many common classroom challenges like under-equipped teachers, sparse resources, and students who have been left behind by other formats or schools. Testing your curriculum might seem like valuable time wasted by your schools, but it’s the opposite: your perfected curriculum will save you time and create a better classroom environment and improve learning outcomes.

Perfecting Your Curriculum

You have made it! The final step in curriculum development is to work out all the kinks and correct all of the errors, and then you’re DONE! For some developers, this can be the most stressful step in the process, but it can be gratifying in the long term for your school.

First, begin by reviewing the comment cards from your beta testing process and from whatever colleagues you assigned to review the materials. Compile a comprehensive list of what to change prior to the editing phase. If you play your cards right, you may be able to recruit help in the editing phase, or even pay a professional curriculum editor to do the dirty work for you as you prepare for the school year.

In addition to comment cards, an easy way to spot imperfections in your curriculum is to return to the student checklists you used during the content development phase to double check that your curriculum meets all the necessities. You can find the full post on ESL curriculum development preliminaries, but here they are restated.

Here’s a sample list of what your ESL curriculum should accomplish:

  1. Meet the basic language needs of the student.
  2. Clearly define the focus of your ESL program.
  3. Determine and explain EL learning outcomes.
  4. Successfully integrate assessment materials.
  5. Demonstrate accountability.
  6. All materials should be appropriate for the age levels of the classroom.
  7. The instructional principles used to promote learning are clearly stated and consistent with what is known about ELs.
  8. The learning outcomes that can be expected are clearly described.
  9. Assessment materials are easy to use and grade.
  10. The curriculum is easy for the instructors to use when planning and presenting lessons.

Carefully work through this list as you perfect your curriculum. Remember, your materials can be fantastic, but if they aren’t student-focused, then you need to rethink some things. Providing your school with a student-focused curriculum that is easy for your educators to use is the best thing you can do for your retention rates!

Compiling and Distributing Your Curriculum Materials

Finally, you are ready to provide your educators with a copy of the curriculum you have developed. Thanks to technology, assembling and distributing your new material resources to your ESL teachers should be simple.

The easiest way to distribute your materials will be digital. When you choose this method, you can include resources that are impractical to include in printed content. These elements can be graphics, interactive materials, and links to additional resources. Through digitization, everything your teachers need from their curriculum can be found in one place: their computer!

Printing your materials is a somewhat impractical option and can be quite expensive. You, of course, can still use this more traditional method if necessary but consider how much easier and beneficial digitization can be in safeguard your materials and providing additional resources.


Congratulations on creating a successful curriculum! This is the final installment in our ESL Curriculum Development Series, but the conversation doesn’t have to stop here! Through the Your Agora interactive teaching platform, you can share tips and tricks on how to improve the curriculum development process even further.

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