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Katherine Bilsborough: Lesson plans – less is more

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Writing a lesson plan before a class is a bit like writing a list before packing for a trip.

You can travel without a list of course but you will avoid a few problems if you spend a bit of time planning – not a whole week though. That would be silly. A few minutes should be enough. Pre-empting problems will bring peace of mind and when it comes to teaching, this is a major defence against burnout and work stress.

New teachers who have had training will have been evaluated and assessed on their lesson plans. They will spend hours preparing a 45-minute lesson. Plans include things like class, time, materials and aims as well as notes about each stage of the lesson and lots of extras. These teachers understand that a substitute teacher should be able to pick up their lesson plan, walk into the classroom and teach the lesson without any problems. You can find lots of lesson plans like this (complete with downloadable materials) on the Teachingenglish website. Here’s an example:

You can find lesson plan templates on the Internet too – that you can fill out yourself for your own classes. Here’s a typical one in a word document that you can change to suit your needs.

More experienced teachers tend to spend less time on lesson planning. They know what they have to do in the lesson. And if they ever get it wrong, it doesn’t matter because they are armed for most eventualities and have a mental library of Plan Bs.

But what the wise teachers have in common - whether they are new or more experienced - is that they understand the importance of lesson planning but are 100% practical in their approach. A 45-minute lesson should warrant around 5 to 10 minutes planning time. And the plan should be simple and always follow the same format so that it becomes second nature and end up almost writing itself. I’ve managed to reduce my prep time by around 90% since I started teaching - granted that’s quite a long period of time - but there really is no need to be a slave to lesson planning. Save your energy for the classroom - that’s where you’ll need it most.

No more burnout – a simple guide to successful and time-efficient lesson planning

  1. Gather everything you need (course book, teacher’s book, class register, timetable, etc.) and make a cup of tea.
  2. Look at the pages in the course book that you are going to be using. Then look at the corresponding teacher’s book pages. This is where you’ll find ideas for warmers and coolers, extra activities, tips and ideas, photocopiable worksheets … you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. An experienced materials writer has done the job for YOU.
  3. Think back to the last lesson when you start planning the next. If possible, do the planning immediately after the previous lesson. This ‘coherence will be appreciated by the students - even though some might not notice. Look at things like:
  • Where did we get up to in the book?
  • Is there any marking to do?
  • Did they learn any new vocabulary? (To recycle at the beginning of the next lesson)

Finally, here’s an example of one of my lesson plans – and YES! I write my lesson plans on a post-it. If the plan doesn’t fit, then I’m being over ambitious, I’ll fail and feel bad.