The Stress lesson

Language: to cope with/manage stress, to relieve/reduce stress, to unwind, calm down, prioritize.

Causes of stress: tension, deadlines, high expectations, worry, lack of free time, anxiety, back spasms/ headache, information overload, road rage, peer pressure, high expectations

Reading: How to cope with stress

Speaking: Managing stress, sources of stress, types of stress. Giving advice, Reacting to bad news

Getting started

‘It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.’ – Lou Holtz

As you’ve probably guessed by now I like starting lessons with quotes. They offer a particular start that you can take in any direction you choose. It’s because you don’t know how your students will react to it, and its that unpredictability that offers some room for improvisation with your lessons.  You start off by asking students to discuss the quote and its meaning. You can do this in an open class discussion or ask them to discuss in pairs and get feedback. If you prefer you can elicit the meaning of load and ‘break you down’, once that is clarified you can ask how it relates to stress, and here is the magic:

It can lead to different ideas of stress, put them all on the board (you can make a spidergram with stress in the middle), elicit more if you can, here are some: work, physical, mental, relationships. These can break out into another spider-gram by eliciting examples/types of each of these: family, friends, back spasms, headache, deadlines, peer pressure, high expectations, young children, no free time, information overload, road rage.

Vocabulary focus

Alternatively, don’t elicit these words above and project them on the board.  Ask students to categorize these words in the appropriate type/example of stress. Or cut up these words on slips of paper and ask them to put them in the right category on the board.  Once that is done you can ask them to brainstorm words we use to deal with stress*

*note: This step is for summer school classes, or groups of a higher level who might know the language but haven’t practiced it enough. If you are teaching a class that is being exposed to this for the first time i.e. lower levels. You’ll have to write up some sentences with the language of dealing with stress so that the students can identify these words and understand them.

Speaking practice ideas

This might be an appropriate time to give students some speaking questions about the stress in their lives. remind students of the basics in having a conversation and listening, there are lots of ideas in this video lesson.

  1. What are the main causes of stress for people your age?
  2. How do people your age cope with stress?
  3. Do you worry about your status? How does it affect you?
  4. How do you feel when you are stressed (physical pain, mental exhaustion etc.)?
  5. Are expectations in school or at home too high/unrealistic in your opinion?


Before they start speaking make it clear that they should use the target language as much as possible.  These questions should allow students of upper-intermediate and higher to say plenty. Of course monitor and encourage them as well as correct them when using the target language.

Here is a good time to ask if stress can be positive? How? When? Class discussion!

Coping with Stress

talking about stress

The scanned doc below has 50 ways of coping with stress. You can use this as to create your own idea, change some of the suggestions etc. It is a great speaking opportunity and can open a class discussion and feedback sessions afterwards. It’s particularly good to use when you want to have a less intense lesson, maybe towards the end of a semester/school year.

Reading and functional language

This text is one of many, and you can change it if you fancy something easier or simply different. I just googled ‘coping with stress’ and chose this one because it’s separated into sections which you can easily cut up and do a jigsaw reading with. You can put them in groups of three or do it as a whole class activity and give each person a section (tip 1, tip 2 or tip 3 etc.) and afterwards they have to share information by paraphrasing what was read. Note: It’s up to you how many sections from the text you want to use in class, it’s very versatile. Depending on how many you choose the time required will be affected as well as the questions. By providing the text you allow students another skill practice and to absorb some additional language on the topic that can reinforce what has been discussed already. Have comprehension questions ready for this, vocabulary focused or to check understanding. Ask them to take notes on what their classmates told them:

  • What are the 4 A’s of stress management?
  • What are 3 examples of how to incorporate exercise into your day?
  • Give 4 tips on how to build relationships.
  • What are some ways we can manage our time better?
a lesson on the topic of stress in the ESL clasroom
Stressful situations in our daily lives and how to deal with the

Alternatively you can distribute this picture:

Ask students to identify all the stressful situations in the picture and make a list. Once you get feedback and are satisfied that all situations have been identified ask them to discuss which situations they can relate to and what is some advice they can offer to people in these situations.

Here language for responding to bad news and giving advice can be used. Language for giving advice is in this lesson For responding to bad news here is some functional language:

  • Oh dear!
  • That’s awful!
  • My goodness!
  • I’m sorry to hear that.
  • What was that like?
  • How did that make you feel?

As in the last lesson about media this one has too much for one lesson, you can split it into two, or pick and choose to condense it into one lesson. Up to you. The bottom line is that the lesson is very pertinent to everyone of any age and covers practical tips and advice that can be given in a very non-judgmental manner while practicing language at the same time. Plenty of positives out of this lesson and everyone nowadays feels stressed so most will have an opinion. You can find more lessons here.

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