Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Lesson planning: back to basics

One of my former Weekend TEFL students got in touch with me the other day, stuck on a lesson planning assignment in her online TEFL course.  Now that I've been teaching for so many years, lesson planning isn't something I ever really worry about - unless I'm being observed or assessed, in which case I still don't get worried about it, I just try to make my plan more explicit so that the observer can see where it's going as the lesson progresses.  

However, in giving a bit of advice to my former student, I started to think about my current lesson planning habits, and realised that I probably need to review my own strategies and make sure that I haven't fallen into any bad habits without realising...  
  • Decide what the end result should be.  What do you want the students to be able to do by the end of this lesson?  If the topic is big and will take more than one lesson, break the topic up into the right number of chunks and allocate the chunks to the different lessons.  Can some of the topic be dealt with as homework?  How will this be checked?  Will you need to review and revise each chunk at the beginning of the next lesson?  Make sure you allow time for this, especially if it's an important part of the curriculum.
  • Work backwards.  When you have the destination clearly in your mind, it's much easier to plan the route.  If you want the students to be able to 'talk about hobbies while revising adverbs of frequency', decide on the target language before planning any of the activities.  How many hobbies?  Which adverbs of frequency?  Then decide how will you know that they have met the objective - what sort of activity will you use to allow the students to demonstrate their new skills?  How will you monitor the activity?  Will you allow some time for feedback and consolidation at the very end? 
  • How will the students get to that final activity?  Plan the rest of the lesson with the end in mind.  Use different types of activity if possible, to meet the different preferences and learning styles of the different students in the class.  Some students love spontaneous role plays whereas others prefer having time to work alone before having to 'perform'.  Some students love gap-fill activities (yes, it's true!  I absolutely love doing them myself when I'm learning a language) whereas others find them both dull and ineffective as a way to learn. 
  • Think about the interaction patterns throughout the lesson.  Plan who will be talking to whom at each stage - this is also a good way to identify excessive teacher talking time, if this is something you are prone to.  If it's a discussion in pairs, will the students be working with the people they normally sit next to, or will you try to get them talking to different people?  What will happen if there is an odd number?  If you are going to make groups, how will you manage this from a practical point of view?
  • What materials do you need?  Don't spend two hours creating beautiful resources which will only be used for five minutes, unless you are really sure that the materials can be used over and over again.  Don't re-invent the wheel - there are so many fantastic free resources which teachers can use - I particularly like this website from the British Council.   Consider limiting the number of photocopies you use - not only will you save a few trees over your career, you will also help students to value the handouts you do give them.
  • Have a Plan B up your sleeve if possible.  I always like to have something in reserve in case things don't go according to plan - if the photocopier is broken and I can't do the copying I need, or I have a headache and don't feel up to the demanding lesson I've planned.  I like to have a range of different activities which the students can do in an emergency, from the essential but dull (mock writing exam) to the challenging (preparing group presentations or a photo project), depending on the type of emergency!

What tips and strategies could you pass on to other teachers?  I'd love to know!


  1. I'm a fairly new IELTS teacher - with, sad to say, very little to no training in the IELTS field - and I get quite stuck when it comes to teaching listening and reading skills. Would you have any tips to share?

    1. Hi

      I'd definitely recommend the official IELTS website as a starting point, plus the fantastic website www.ielts-simon.com (on my blog list to the right). He's the best IELTS teacher ever - his advice is clear and simple, but guaranteed to help students get well above the 5.5 where so many of them seem to get stuck forever.

      My best advice from my own experience is to actually DO as many practice tests as you can bear YOURSELF - and under exam conditions. You'll probably get nowhere near a 9.0 for the Reading at the beginning, but as you practise the techniques on yourself, you'll become much more effective at teaching your students.

      Good luck!

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