Language Items in TEFL

How To Teach English

Day 24: SwimmingTEFL teachers often talk about Language Items. But what exactly do they mean?

Simply put, they are small self-contained pieces of language which you can teach or practice in a lesson. (That’s the most usual definition in TEFL.)

Once you have the language item, you can prepare one or more activities to present and practice it with your class.

Language Items, then, are the building blocks of a lesson.

Arriving at a Language Item

When you prepare a lesson, it’s often useful (especially when you’re starting out) to have a definite, very specific, idea of what you’re going to teach in each lesson. This can often be found by completing this kind of sentence:

At the end of the lesson, my class will be able to…

And good phrases to complete this might be:

…use the present perfect.
…order a meal.
…tell the time.
…identify all the colors.
…talk about the floods in India.

These are lesson targets and some of them are fairly large in content. Talking about the floods in India could include a huge amount of language!

However, each of these targets comprises one or more language items, some of which are very small indeed.

For example, to teach your students how to tell the time you might teach and/or practice with them these language items:


  • numbers 1 – 12 (and each number is a separate language item)
  • quarter past
  • quarter two
  • half past


  • it’s…
  • it’s about…
  • it’s exactly…

And so on.

The example above was fairly simple, but as you can see you can take a lesson target and break it down into language items.

The next step is to take each language item and prepare an activity or two on it.

Useful Links

Lesson Targets in TEFL – what you’ll teach in a lesson

Lesson Preparation – how to prepare a lesson

TEFL Lesson Planning‏‎ – how to prepare a lesson

photo credit: -Snugg- via cc

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