"Just as a man would not cherish living in a body other than his own, so do nations not like to live under other nations, however noble and great the latter may be."

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948), Indian anti-colonial activist
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This free ESL lesson plan on colonialism has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Despite the end of Colonialism in the 1970s, it still leaves its mark on the world today. Many former colonies had their wealth stolen by European powers and effectively had to start from zero when they gained their independence, not to mention the political and economic culture of extraction and exploitation left over from colonial times. Other former colonies, such as Canada and Australia, experienced greater fortunes, both amongst the most advanced nations for living standards today, but was this at the expense of indigenous populations? In this ESL lesson plan on colonialism, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the reasons countries desired colonies, and the effect of colonialism on the modern day.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for Christopher Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which take place in October. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

VoxEU | The economic impact of colonialism

In this article, Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson, authors of ‘Why Nations Fail’, explain that 500 years ago, before the colonial project began, there was not a great deal of inequality between nations, yet today, after colonialism, there is a huge level of inequality. They detail how the different political and economic cultures practiced in the colonies left lasting impacts in these countries still felt today. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is called “History vs Christopher Columbus” by TED Ed which looks at Columbus Day and asks whether it is acceptable to celebrate it today, considering all the horrific things he was responsible for.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including which countries were involved in colonialism, how colonialism affected indigenous populations, and how former colonies gained their independence.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with colonialism such as imperialism, settler and neocolonialism. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about colonialism. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as why some former colonies have struggled to develop their economies, what assistance former colonial powers should give the ex-colonies, and whether there were any positives of colonialism.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of colonialism. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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