Planning lessons more efficiently with the Global Scale of English

planning lessons with the GSE

The Global Scale of English (GSE) has a number of relevant uses for students, teachers, institutions and government ministries alike.

It was designed, primarily, to give teachers more information about what students need to learn, as well as to address the limitations of a six-level CEFR. The scale does this by expanding on the original CEFR framework by breaking down the current bands into more granular ‘can-do’ statements.

Teachers can use the GSE to track learner progress and use the related tools to help identify areas to focus on and create appropriate lesson content.

In today’s post we talk to Sarah Kowash, an Associate University Teacher at the University of Liverpool English Language Centre. She tells us about some of the challenges she faced before being introduced to the GSE, how she’s currently using it when planning lessons and how it’s helping her become a more productive and student-centered teacher. She also shares some top tips to help you plan classes more quickly while still meeting the needs of your learners at the same time.

Over to you, Sarah…

A bit about me

August will mark my second anniversary as an English Language teacher. I completed my CertTESOL in the summer between my second and final year of university and started working a few weeks later, covering classes at a language school. 

Working as a cover teacher can be stressful in any case, let alone when you have virtually no experience and no resources to fall back on. I definitely learned a lot on the job and thankfully I was surrounded by supportive and helpful colleagues. 

After I graduated, I was offered a pre-sessional tutor position at my university which was a different experience as materials were provided and all I had to do was supplement the course and structure my class. 

Now I’m working as an Associate University Teacher (AUT) at the University of Liverpool English Language Centre. The position of AUT is a fixed-twelve-month post and is designed to mentor recently qualified CELTA graduates and provide them with the opportunity to work within a university setting alongside highly experienced teachers. I teach on the Activate programme which is General English. 

Before the Global Scale of English

Before being introduced to the Global Scale of English (GSE) at the University of Liverpool and concepts like constructive alignment (Biggs, 2003), I struggled with the time it took to plan lessons. This isn’t a unique problem among teachers, especially new teachers, but it was something that made me question if this career was practical in the long-term. 

The initial teacher training course I took was just that – initial. We weren’t given much guidance when it came to planning lessons and I remember spending hours planning for my 30 minute teaching slot the next day. 

Things didn’t really get much easier. Even when I had access to materials and a syllabus, it would take me at least 3 hours to plan a 90 minute lesson, and I was teaching for 21 hours a week. The issue was that I didn’t want to rely completely on the course book, because that wouldn’t allow me to respond to my students’ specific needs. At the same time, I didn’t have the experience to go off-book entirely. 

I also began to question if the lessons I was planning were achieving anything other than being a series of engaging activities that never really culminated in anything concrete. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having fun in class, but I didn’t want to be known as the “fun” teacher who doesn’t actually teach much.

How I use the GSE

Sarah teaching with the GSE

The GSE informed the syllabus that we use at the University of Liverpool. Each class level has a series of can-do statements that a student can be expected to achieve – how well they do so determines their level. For example, for an intermediate class: Can describe what they are looking for when shopping.

Combined with the theory of constructive alignment, which states that each step in a lesson plan should help the student achieve a final task, the GSE really helped to provide some direction to my lesson planning. 

  1. Start by choosing an appropriate can-do statement for your class. This could be based on a scheme of work, students’ needs, course book topic… 
  2. Identify how you are going to assess that students are able to achieve this
  3. Find out what language or skill input the students are likely to need in order to successfully complete the task
  4. Work backwards to plan your lesson

As a teacher, you’ll have complete freedom to decide the type of assessment and the type of input that is most appropriate for your class. However, there are some parameters to guide you.

An example

To use “Can describe what they are looking for when shopping for clothes.”

First, decide how you’re going to assess this: e.g. a shopping role play speaking activity.

Students need to be able to use:

  1. Vocabulary for clothes, e.g. dress, shirt
  2. Adjectives to describe clothing, e.g. fit, colours
  3. Phrases to introduce a description, e.g. I’m looking for… something like this but…
  4. Transactional language, e.g. Could you… for me, please?

As it’s an intermediate class – you can assume that the majority of the students will already have this language, but they won’t necessarily use it accurately. Therefore, your first activities should be review focused, with room to elicit extra vocabulary from the students. For example, you could start with a magazine clothes finding game (bring in a few magazines and put the students in groups. Say something like “find me a green blazer” and the first team to find it, wins.) You could have an activity where students describe each others’ clothes, and make a note of any emergent language. As for the phrases, perhaps show a clip from a movie and ask students to write down what they hear.

Once you are satisfied that the students have the necessary language to achieve the learning objectives, you can set up the task.

More suggestions for using the GSE

Even if the GSE isn’t part of a syllabus that you use, it is very easy to incorporate into your teaching practice using the GSE Teacher Toolkit. It allows you to filter “can do” statements by academic or general English, level, skills and you can also search for keywords. This means that you can effectively build your own syllabus based on your students’ needs.

If you ever share a class or co-teach, using the GSE is a great idea as it enables you to be clear about the aims and learning objectives but it’s less prescriptive. Each teacher could choose a number of can-do statements for the week, and they can choose how to achieve them. That way students will get the benefit of having different teachers but without the potential unintentional overlap and disruption to routine that could occur as a result of a less structured approach.

With two years experience now, I can say that it does indeed get easier, as I was told countless times by my more senior colleagues. I’m building up a bank of articles and videos that I can pull out on the spot if I need to. However, some days are harder to plan than others, and it’s always useful to have a winning formula for planning lessons.

You can find out more about the GSE Teacher Toolkit in the video below:


Biggs, John. (2003). Aligning Teaching for Constructing Learning.

If you enjoyed this article check out these GSE related blog posts: 

In this article