When I had first started teaching, it took me hours to plan and prepare for a 90 minute lesson. I would sequence different activities only to realize that one or the other might not work because the materials I had chosen included language that was new to the students, or to realize that some of the activities did not really contribute to the aim of the lesson. I would plan too many activities, fearing that I would have extra time and not know what to do in class, and then become flustered when I did not reach lesson aims. I would spend time cutting bits of paper up, or designing a board game, only to find that students did not find the activity as exciting as I thought they would. I would go into class with what I thought was a beautiful lesson and leave class disappointed because the students had not responded as I would have liked them to.
What can you do to make planning easier for you?
1. Work with others
Sharing materials, lessons and ideas can be very helpful. While there is the fear, common in new teachers, that your peers might think your ideas not very good, or your lessons need improvement, there is incredible opportunity to learn from more experienced teachers just by sharing. Another thing I used to do a lot, and still find the need to do sometimes is to talk someone through my lesson. I find that saying it out loud and explaining to someone what I am going to do and why helps put things in perspective, and makes one realize when something may not work, and why. Ofcourse it might be impossible to do it with every single lesson, but I would for the ones I am most unsure about.
2. Reading and research
There is a lot of literature on ways to teach grammar, as well as the four skills. While reading about grammar and skills is useful, it is more practical to have ideas for activities, and more fun to be able to take an idea into class, try it and decide if it worked, and why or why not. Scott Thornbury’s Grammar, Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar and Bruce Marsland’s Lessons from Nothing are good examples. Additionally, there are a lot of ideas online if you look in the right places. www.teach-this.com is a good place to go to for activity ideas.
3. Use a model
It is not a bad idea to have a model to plan your lessons against. Take a look at lesson plans online or ask more experienced teachers for lesson plans they have written, and identify a pattern, which you can use for your lessons based on your lesson aims, and your students’ needs. This will help narrow down what you are looking for, so when you look online for ideas and resources, for example, you can focus your search on writing or speaking activities, depending on your need. Similarly, you may focus your search on worksheets if your plan is missing settler activities, or on games, if your plan is missing stirrer activities.
4. Set aside planning time
As a new teacher, I used to set aside a specific time during the week to get a lot of my planning done. I found this to be very helpful because:
a. When planning lessons one after the other, you still have your ideas fresh in your mind, and can use them with slight modifications for multiple lessons. You may have to plan three grammar lessons for one week, for example. Activities like grass skirts, or the dot game for a point system work with all age groups, and with any language point. Similarly, you might want to work on vocabulary for two or three of your lessons for a week, and will find that activities like the memory game, hot seat and stop the bus are great for various age groups and work with a wide range of vocabulary.
b. I could choose a chunk of time that was convenient for me, well ahead of my lessons so that my thought process was not affected by the fact that I had too little time to plan, or a time I did not have to worry about other things that I needed to get done. I could choose a quiet place, set the right kind of environment for myself to be able to produce results as I worked. Remember to set a time limit though, because one tends to use up as much time as they have, when planning. If you tried, you will find that you can plan the same lesson you took 2 hours planning, in less than an hour.
5. Give yourself breaks
It is very easy to get frustrated when planning a lesson, and not feeling like you are making progress. It is even more frustrating when you find you have to spend hours and hours planning a lesson, and you are still not happy with the plan you ultimately produced. It helps to take a break from planning when you find yourself becoming vexed. Planning is like writing a poem or painting a picture. Sometimes, it just happens, and sometimes it needs to be left alone and revisited for editing or brushing up.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Sometimes it is only during the lesson that it becomes evident that the plan was flawed. But it is important for the well-being of any teacher to bear in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson, and there is always room for improvement. If a plan did not play out well, think about why. Take the time to reflect on what went wrong, why it went wrong and what could have been done better. Additionally, when a lesson really works, reflect on that too. A couple of minutes spent on reflection can really be an eye-opening bit of time.
I conclude not by saying, ‘Good luck with your planning!’, but rather ‘Enjoy your planning!’