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What is ‘Engage, Study, Activate’?
And how can you use it to structure your next lesson?
Engage, Study, Activate (ESA) is a method of sequencing activities in your lessons and was first proposed by Jeremy Harmer in his book, ‘How to Teach English’.
At first glance, ESA appears to be the same as PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production). Like PPP, there are three stages. Each stage of ESA roughly corresponds to PPP, but with ESA, the stages can be moved around or used more than once.
These stages can be used like Lego bricks, fitting together in multiple combinations. This can keep things interesting for students as they can get bored with the same structure every lesson.
Let’s look at each stage and how they can fit together.
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This is the stage where you get the learners’ interest. If it’s at the beginning of the lesson, it’s also where you’ll set the context.
You could engage learners using things like:
Dramatic stories or anecdotes
Exciting pictures or video clips
It’s also about personalisation — encouraging learners to relate the material to themselves or making predictions about the material and lesson.
The focus of this stage is building engagement.
This is the equivalent to both the ‘Practice’ and ‘Production’ stages of a PPP lesson. Learners should look at the target language, notice how it looks or sounds, and ensure they can reproduce it accurately.
While the methods can include the kind of teacher-led activities you might find in a PPP lesson (such as drilling or explicit grammar instruction), they can also include discovery activities. These are more like the tasks you might find in a task-based lesson and are more about leading students to find their own answers.
The focus here is on the accuracy of the target language.
This is the equivalent of the ‘Production’ stage of a PPP lesson.
Learners should be able to do activities that promote communication that everyone can get involved in. This could include writing activities as well as spoken.
Unlike a strict PPP class, students can use any language that they feel necessary to complete the activity. All of these activities would fulfil the criteria for an ‘activate’ stage:
Designing an advert
The focus of this stage is on communication and fluency.
Engage, Study, Activate — Lesson Stages
As I said, the ESA structure is like Lego — you can assemble them in various orders and repeat stages to make a different sequence.
Teachers use three common sequences with ESA, and Harmer calls these: straight arrows, boomerang, and patchwork.
This one is simple — the stages go in order, ‘Engage’ to ‘Study’ to ‘Activate’. Here’s an example of a low-level class to practice ‘can/can’t:
Engage — watch a short video to set the context and raise the learners’ interest.
Study — show a photo of a character from the video. Can and can’t are used to describe her. The teacher makes sure the students can use the language correctly.
Activate — group work to design and describe a character whom they present to the class.
An example would be E — A — S — A.
Here the students would be engaged, then do a task, focus on form, and then do another task with (hopefully) improved accuracy.
This is reminiscent of a Test-Teach-Test structure.
An example would be E — A — S — A — S — E.
This one looks like it’s gone crazy, but it’s about responding to learners and their tasks.
If you think students need help with accuracy, put in a ‘Study’ stage. If they’re becoming bored? Put in an ‘Engage’ stage.
Overall, it’s a flexible model that can be used with any lesson.
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