Inspiration from an ESOL needs analysis lesson

Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini series  focused on two of the places I find teaching and writing inspiration. This part looks at how needs analysis lessons can also furnish teachers (and writers) with fresh ideas and new direction.

Needs analyses forms 2014 - 2015 (UK only)

Needs analyses forms 2014 – 2015 (UK only)

I am no stranger to the needs analysis lesson. Over my seventeen years of teaching, I have earnestly distributed questionnaires and collected in papers umpteen times. I’ve always had the very best of intentions to process this data and use it to plan a term’s worth of useful lessons which cater to the range of needs and abilities within my class.

Often though, my good intentions at the start of the year have remained just that – intentions. As term goes on, I have failed to revisit the needs analyses and check that we are on track with accomplishing what the learners wanted to do. Sometimes this is due to the actual information on the needs analyses being less than useful. For example, if I ask learners the question: “What do you want to improve this year?” they (quite reasonably) write “my English”.  It’s hard to use this data in any meaningful way.

This year, I decided that I would go about constructing my needs analyses lesson in a far more methodical fashion. I compiled a list of questions. Some were open ended questions and some were statements which learners had to mark with agree, disagree or don’t know.

I won’t include my whole range of questions here, but here are a few to give an idea:

  • Why do you come to this class?
  • Do you study English out of class? If so, what do you do?
  • Do you speak English much out of class? If so, who do you speak to?
  • Are you happy with your job? If not, what would you prefer to do?

I distributed the questionnaires and asked learners to work in pairs and interview each other. I encouraged as much discussion as possible. After some time, I opened this up into a class discussion. Learners were asked to report back on their partners’ ideas. The reason for doing this was simple. If learners hear each other’s ideas and needs, they are more likely to tolerate the odd lesson which is not directly geared towards their needs. For example, if a learner has requested lots of speaking practice they might be a bit hacked off if the next lesson focuses on CV writing. However, if they hear Pascal say how he is unhappy with his present job and how he really needs to learn about CV and cover letter writing they are more likely to tolerate a lesson which does not necessarily tie in with the needs they expressed.

Discussing the learners’ needs also meant that should I mislay the completed questionnaires at any point (quite a likely scenario as I am in the process of moving house at the moment) I would have some kind of memory of what learners are wanting and needing to do.

My next step is to shape the results of the needs analysis into personalised learning plans for each learner. These plans will be distributed to the learners and discussed in December (when I hope to conduct informal progress interviews).

So, what did I glean from the needs analyses lesson?

  • Your learners can always surprise you even if you feel you know them very well. I learned that a young factory worker in my class  dreams of opening up a bar in Lerwick. He wants help with researching the local market and writing a business plan. I think there’s scope here for a really interesting series of lessons.
  • Classic ESOL topics which I have tended to avoid (because I feel they are a little boring and patronising for learners of this level (strong intermediate) scored high on the list of my learners’ priorities. Topics which were mentioned included making appointments, going to the doctors and making small talk at work. Many of these topics have been a bit “done to death” and can make dull and dry course book fodder, making me wonder (and here I have my writer’s hat on!) if there is room for fresh angles on these.
  • Pronunciation is extremely important to my learners. The need to “blend in” seems important. One learner tells me that it is not enough to pronounce the words “correctly”  – he wants to mimic the local accent and sound like a real Scot, rhotic rs and all! While I’m not sure this is a realistic aim, I’m looking forward to devising some activities around it.
  • All of the learners said they wanted to tackle a few creative projects this year and are interested in making a film together. Great news!  I’m thinking about finding a way to link this with the pronunciation aim (see above).

For some excellent needs analysis ideas see this great blog post from Alex Case.

photo credit: <a href=”″>Southland Paper mill, Kraft (chemical) pulp used in making newsprint, Lufkin, Texas  (LOC)</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

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