My experience shows that lesson planning depends on three key factors.
- The teacher's level of English
Find even a few minutes every day to do the following: read a book in the original version; watch a show or a clip; visit an educational site. The more knowledge you accumulate, the more confident you will feel planning your lessons and the easier it will be for you to prepare for your classes, as well as to be ready for any unexpected problems. To give a simple example: if your pupils cannot grasp the concept of articles (a, an, the, zero article) let alone its usage, you may come up with appropriate quotes from current literature, and cite a familiar show. Even in “The Twilight Saga” (gasp!) they constantly use articles in their speech. Or maybe you can click on a popular link and ask them to find every article they see on the (smart) board.
- The teacher’s book
If you only have the one in your native language, invest in a manual published in English by a reputable publishing house, like Pearson, Oxford or Cambridge. For me, when I came to teach second form – beginners aged 8, straight after my university students aged 22 graduated, such a Teacher’s Book was a life-saver. My level of English was high, but I had no idea how to teach young learners. It helped that I knew how to manage children, and that I never saw discipline as a problem. When I read my Teacher’s Book published by Heinemann, I realized that I could in fact skip preparation. Every step of the lesson was carefully described, all the answers were given, all the recordings transcribed, and I could copy lots of exercises for handouts. English To Go site was launched at about the same time, and I started writing my own lessons, learning how to do it as I went along.
- Experimentation with timing
When we first start teaching, the typical period of 40-50 minutes is a bit of a mystery. How much or how little can one fit into it? Our plan may state the theme of a lesson, but how do we know what will take five minutes, and what may occupy the whole period? A good Teacher’s Book is a reliable guide, as it often gives you the approximate time needed for an exercise or a test completion.
Then again, no two classes and no two pupils are the same. Timing needs practice. You may envisage your whole lesson, jot down the minutes, and write the whole scheme on the board in class. Children love experiments and mysteries; most of them enjoy a challenge. Wording is also very important. A traditionally “boring” topic may suddenly acquire some fascinating features if we tell them that it is to be done not in “half a lesson”, but in twenty minutes flat! I would tell my pupils, “See, this is what my Teacher’s Book says. Now let us see how you manage”.
I would write down, for instance:
- Warm Up. 2 mins.
- Introduction to a new topic. 3 mins.
- Reading a text. 5 mins.
- Pair discussion. 5 mins.
- Exercise. Gap fill. 7 mins.
- Listening. 8 mins.
- Dialogues. 5 mins.
- Read a short paragraph about Sally. Now write a similar paragraph about yourself or your friend. 10 mins.
- Questions. 5 mins.
To economize the time, write down the homework task and the lesson plan on the board before the lesson.
How to avoid burnout
Before you even start working at school, think, analyze, and evaluate your own expectations. If you want to have smooth sailing, if you hope that all the children will sit at noiselessly “Attention” through every lesson, if you expect all the parents to understand and support you, and if you think that all your colleagues will be friendly, you are in for a disappointment. Surprisingly, children and adults are human. Any school is a microcosm, a model of the society as a whole. What you see all around you in life outside an educational institution is to be found at your chosen place of work.
Start compiling your own materials and organizing them into files
Once you try out any new activity in any class, you will see how it goes. What works with a group of talented future scientists may not work in a group of future humanities students or nurses and bus drivers. Thus, you will begin a life-long process of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. This little pile is good for a science class; this one is better for a general education class; and that one is only to be opened when I have to deliver an open lesson for my colleagues and/or school administration. Come on, we all know that a demonstration lesson carefully prepared and rehearsed in advance is NOT our everyday life!
Feeling dejected, dispirited, disoriented, and ready to drop this job occasionally is normal
Remember: you are not alone. All of us “go to bed and wake up” with problem children. This is what working with real live people on a daily basis means. You cannot forget them all once you are outside, but you must learn to control your emotional output, so that your own family life does not suffer. If you feel that you are exhausted, give yourself a break. Relax using whatever means suit you. Walk around when the weather permits; meet with friends who work in a different sphere and listen to their problems; watch some soap opera or an action movie. Introducing variety into your life as a teacher is very important.