Teaching English as a Foreign language takes a particular kind of skill set. One that takes time to cultivate (assuming you want to be good at it) and one that seems to cause new teachers especially, BIG BIG headaches. So I asked some friends, “What lesson planning advice would you give?“ Here’s what they said:
teaching in Thailand
“When planning always think about what the students will be doing for that particular part (warmer, checking homework, context setting, free practice) of the lesson. Will they be seated, standing up, in pairs or groups. In each stage of the lesson try and vary what they do. Students who sit the entire lesson are more likely to lose interest. This also applies from one lesson to another. You must vary each lesson each day. This will keep your students expectant.”
Start your lesson planning with a real life context that you and your students can relate to and will enjoy. Base your warmer and all phases of the lesson on this context not just the grammar in the book. By focusing on the context your students will produce much more fluid and realistic language.”
Director at CEDEI, Ecuador
“Over prepare! It’s better to have extra activities than find yourself at the end of your planning with still half an hour to go and nothing to do!”
taught in England, Indonesia, France and Argentina
“Lessons are very personal and a lot of teacher’s are taught to plan a lesson according to a blueprint (i.e. PPP). Well, several blueprints exist (eg. ARC, TTT) and even then there is no definitive studies which show that these are more beneficial than any other models. These models are just starting points. Teachers must feel the freedom to explore and attempt different lessons and strategies. If you try something and it is successful, keep it, try it again. Try and fail, learn from it. Try and succeed, keep it, change it. Teachers will then develop lessons with personalities and they will also gain a sense of what works, what doesn’t and more importantly: what learners like.”
“Teachers normally feel a need to prepare excessively in their first years of teaching. Hence the job becomes time-consuming. Another lesson model which is highly useful is the Test Teach Test model. Teachers use the exercises as the test sections and basically have to adapt and either ‘dumb down’ or ‘smarten up’ the language in the Teach section, depending on the class. This is a great way for teachers to get used to ’emergent language’ (language/ language needs which arise in class) and how to use it to deliver an insightful and highly personalised class for the learners. This is also a great way for teachers to start letting go of the control they feel they need in the beginning. One way to develop strong teachers as well as happy students.”
taught in the US, Mexico, Ecuador, and teaching in Chile
“At the beginning of my teaching experience, I spent at least as much time planning as I did teaching, and some things worked well while others didn’t. Trial and error has led to the point where I look at what I need to teach and then think, “this game applies well here,” or “this grammar point requires a few written exercises from this book,” etc. The trial and error also leads to the gradual accumulation of books and worksheets that complement one’s teaching style and reduce the amount of planning time down to however long it takes to make enough copies for the day.”
“More direct advice: try to keep three dynamics in mind. 1. The four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking); 2. individual, pair/small group, full class; and 3. Moving from guided to independent practice. It may sound very academic, but since the days when I was spending hours planning as a new teacher until today, I find that the more successfully my lessons incorporate those three considerations, the more varied and meaningful they are for my students.”
taught in Thailand, and teaching in Canada
“Plan back-up activities! There is no worse feeling for a new teacher (or even an experienced one) than running out of material. During the lesson planning process, think of ways you can extend activities so that you have a cushion if the lesson progresses quicker than anticipated.”
taught in Australia, Russia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and teaching in Argentina
“It’s important to have a good mental grasp of the material you’re going to cover and where you want to get to in the lesson. Any written plan should be more of a simple guide than a detailed work of art. The most important thing in any class it to get the student engaged and involved. Start with a warmer that reinforces a previously covered topic (error correction etc.) or introduces the lesson’s theme – in either case make the students work together, to get the interaction ball rolling. Try to avoid long reading or writing activities in class as this is stuff that can be done alone at home (reading and writing fluency activities are apt for class and most textbook activities are brief reading/writing practice). Any class is the student’s opportunity to put their English into practice so get them talking/listening as much as possible (this is where pair and group work are so important – and i think the teacher sticking their heads into the pairs or group as much as possible is key because you can optimize your personal attention to each student this way). AND – never sit down – always circulate to monitor and explain etc. or be up at the board demonstrating something.
I guess that’s more classroom approach than planning. But I think in a planning sense, it’s more important to know what you want to achieve than to write it out in excruciating detail, know your material and your objectives. Plan to keep the class dynamic by switching things around and challenging the students to explain their answers.”
teaching in Thailand
“As a newly-qualified CELTA teacher, it is engrained in you to spend hours planning the perfect lesson. Flexibility is needed in the classroom. Become familiar with what you are teaching, have exercises for the students (the Internet is a great resource for this), don’t be consumed by teaching grammar forms but rather the situations using functional language, relax and most importantly, ask more experienced teachers for advice and help.”
taught in China
“Feeling uninspired about a particular lesson or topic in your textbook? Turn to YouTube. A short and simple clip (anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes) can really help jazz up the content that you are trying to teach. If you are excited about the lesson plan, the students will be too. I find that my students get really excited about video clips, it adds a “real world” application to what we’re learning and it gives me a little break! I introduced a lesson about Australia with a clip of the national anthem featuring lyrics and dramatic montage of pictures from around the country. While studying Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart” we watched a brilliant animated short to help review different parts of the story. We generally watch each clip 2 or 3 times, and I give students something specific to watch for/understand each time. I use MacX YouTube Downloader to save the files onto my USB to bring to class (but you can find other free programs to download for PCs).
Another general tip is to have a good classroom routine, particularly for the beginning of class. This makes lesson planning easier, and the students seem to appreciate knowing the general framework for your class. For the first ten minutes of every reading class last semester, we did SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). It helped the students calm down, get focused, and read something that they enjoyed. Often students would come to class early and begin reading without any prompting! For a speaking class, we began each period with a fun tongue twister. For an American Society and Culture class, we begin with a student-led five minute presentation about a different American holiday.”
taught in Vietnam and China, and Thailand
“The question about lesson planning advice presumes that one needs to plan a lesson in the first place. And yet we’ve all met teachers who boast that they don’t need to plan, or do it while on their motorbikes. “Some of the best classes are the ones where I just went in there and said, ‘What do YOU wanna’ talk about?'”
These teachers seem to have a different kind of teaching style that’s more in the moment, spontaneous, flexible, and in-tune with the students’ fluctuating moods and needs. It’s like “drunken master” Kung fu. They go with the flow, both expending less energy and achieving superior results. The key is to be yourself and not be afraid to go in without some fixed plan. It’s a win-win situation for all.
The only problem with this renegade style is that, unless the teacher has taught the same class ad nauseam and isn’t planning because the plan is already emblazoned in the soft tissues of their brain, the lesson is most likely going to suck! Occasionally one might hastily throw together a slipshod plan in an emergency, and pull it off with flying colors, but that’s against the backdrop of more thought out lessons. Even if one could spontaneously orchestrate stellar activities, one would have to do it without any of the props or resources which would make it more engaging and effective. Mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, many an Über teacher, who needn’t bother with planning, doesn’t get rehired because the students complain that their classes are too boring.
So, for starters, one needs to accept that one actually needs to make a solid lesson plan, and not doing so is not an option.”
Thanks everybody! Stay tuned for part 2! Please share your ideas and thoughts too!