Describing Traffic and Road Signs in Basic English

Part 1: Lesson Description

Lesson Title

Describing Traffic and Road Signs in Basic English


This lesson is geared towards beginning English language learners who plan to take a U.S. driving test. The goal of this lesson is for learners to be able to recognize various traffic and/or road signs and describe their meanings for the purpose of passing a U.S. driving test and driving safely on the road.

Learner Audience / Primary Users

The primary audience are beginning adult immigrant English as a Second Language learners who plan to take a U.S. driving test.

Educational Use

  • Curriculum / Instruction
  • Assessment

College & Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) Alignment

  • Level: Adult Education
  • Grade Level: A
  • Subject: English Language Arts / Literacy
  • Strand: Reading
  • Sub-Strand: Reading Informational Text
  • Standard Description: CCR Anchor 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 
  • RI 1.7: Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas (e.g. maps,charts, photographs, political cartons,etc.).



Material Type

  • Instructional Material
  • Lesson Plans
  • Homework and Assignments
  • Images and Illustrations

Learning Goals

The purpose of this lesson is for learners to be able to:

  • Recognize and describe the meaning of various U.S. traffic and road signs


  • Designers for Learning
  • Adult Education
  • Driving
  • Road Signs
  • Traffic Signals
  • Traffic Lights
  • Traffic Signs
  • DMV
  • Drivers

Time Required for Lesson

30 minutes

Prior Knowledge

Driving Related Verbs (Stop, Go, Turn, etc.)

Colors (Red, Yellow, Green, etc.)

Directional Vocabulary (Ahead, Straight, Left, etc.)

Shapes (Triangle, Rectangle, X-gon,etc.)

Negative Forms (No, not)

Required Resources

DMV Drivers Manual for Appropriate U.S. State

Images from "Presentation Preparation" handout and/or "Evaluation Preparation" handout

Paper, low-stick glue or tape

Lesson Author & License

  • Lesson Author: Lina Christie

Part 2: Lesson

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, the learner should be able to:

  • Recognize and verbally state the meaning of 5 to 10 U.S. traffic and/or road signs

Lesson Topics

Key topics covered in this lesson include:

  • Traffic signal lights
  • Pedestrian signal lights
  • Traffic signs

Context Summary

This lesson may be implemented in a basic or beginning ESL class designed to teach general life skills or one specifically related to driving.

Relevance to Practice

Adult ESL learners often immigrate to the U.S. to access better economic opportunities. In addition to their command of English being a primary challenge in securing employment, these learners can have trouble accessing transportation, which means that outside major metropolitan centers that have public transportation, they need to be licensed to drive a car in order to transport themselves to classes, job interviews, etc.

Key Terms and Concepts

The following definitions and terms are taken from the 2016 California Driver Handbook (, pages 22-26. Please consult the driving manual or handbook for your own state as terms may vary.

  • Caution
  • Crossroad
  • Divided
  • Flashing
  • Highway
  • Intersection
  • Merge
  • Pedestrian
  • Reverse
  • Sharp (as in turn)
  • Two-way
  • Winding, windy
  • Yield

Instructional Strategies and Activities


Time: 2 to 5 minutes

Display examples of road signs from across the world

Find and display different road signs from across the world, ideally from the learners’ home countries. Examples:

Elicit discussion regarding the signs. What are they? Where have or can they see these signs? How can they describe the signs? What do they look like? Use questions that will activate previously learned vocabulary (e.g. colors, shapes).


Time: 5 to 8 minutes

Discuss learner motivation for obtaining a driver’s license OR

If the class is a non-driving focused class, ask the class about who has a driver’s license. If the class is a driving focused class, you can ask about who already has a driver’s license, as some learners may be licensed in their own countries but not in the U.S. Either way, elicit discussion about the purpose of a driver’s license and what kind of knowledge is required to obtain one.

Show a video

Alternatively, you can show a video to elicit discussion about the importance of traffic signals and road signs. Why do they exist? What are the consequences when drivers do not follow or understand them?


Presentation / Modeling / Demonstration

Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Present U.S. specific traffic signals/road signs

Select, modify, or create 5 to 10 traffic signals from the following handout to be taught:

Download: Presentation Preparation: Traffic Signals Shapes and Descriptions.pptx

Whatever you choose, you will want to consider the following:

  • Shape
  • Color
  • Symbol or Figure
  • Message

Your job as the instructor to prepare for this lesson before class will be to “reverse engineer” each signal or sign that you want to teach into its basic units as stated above using construction paper and low-stick (removable) tape or glue.

Example: You want to teach about a traffic light. To create a representation of a traffic light using paper, you would need to break down a traffic light into the following: Rectangle, Red (Stop Message), Yellow (Slow Message), Green (Go Message, and Grey (Off Message) Circles, and Message for . In other words, you can “build” a traffic light as follows:

To introduce the concept of “flashing” or “blinking,” you could add the following shapes:

Once you have figured out the signals and/or signs you will teach, you will have a finished product similar to the following to present in class:  

Guided Practice

Time: 5 minutes

Have learners match signals and/signs to their definitions

After you finish presenting the signs, your guided practice will be to allow students to match the definition (message) to each sign or vice versa. Depending on how many sets of signals and/or signs you made, this can be an all class or small group activity, and you can make it casual (call a student to define a sign) or competitive (make a game out of it!).

Since you should have built your signs to be modular (meaning you can remove and restick pieces), you can rearrange your initial presentation into different combinations, and the activity you present could look like the following example::  



Time: 5 minutes

Have students complete a fill in the blank or matching worksheet with the chosen signals and/or signs for this lesson

The worksheet should be no more than 2 pages long, and in black and white.

Provide basic colors for your students to complete the worksheet with, OR have them label or write the color name next to the signal/sign shape.

You may print out the signs from the Presentation Preparation or use the following file:

Download: Evaluation Preparation: Blank Backgrounds.docx

Example Completed Worksheets:

A more advanced activity would be to have students reconstruct the signs just from memory on a blank piece of paper.


Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour (outside of class)

Photo essay assignment

Have students take pictures of the traffic signals and/or road signs presented in the class that they encounter to and/or from class, or that are in their neighborhood, and create a simple slide show to verbally narrate and present in the next class.

Part 3: Supplementary Resources & References

Supplementary Resources - Find the driving manual for any U.S. state: 

Manual of Traffic Signs - A comprehensive listing of the most commonly used traffic signs in the United States: 

Free Road Sign Practice Test on 

Free Road Sign Quizzes: 


California Driver Handbook 2006: 

Attribution Statements

"No Traffic Lights Vs Traffic Lights" created by user "studio tdes" under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 license.

"I-Team: Caught on camera, drivers igngoring traffic signs" created by user "WWLP-22News" under Standard YouTube license.

"JUMPING Traffic SIGNAL on Red Light - Awareness Video" created b user "Neha Shreya" under Standard YouTube license. 

"Pedestrian Walking free icon" icon created by "Scott de Jonge" under CC 3.0 BY license.

"Hold free icon" created by "Madebyoliver" under Flaticon Basic license. 

"Curvy Road Warning Sign free icon" created by "Freepik" under Flaticon Basic license. 

"Car front free icon" created by "Google" under CC 3.0 BY license. 

CC Attribution

This course content is offered by Designers for Learning under a CC Attribution license.
Content in this course can be considered under this license unless otherwise noted.   

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