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Where do you start? How do you choose a topic? Which order do you do the tasks in? What if you run out of time? What if you run out of materials? Ah! So many things to think about! In this tip I aim to answer these questions and give you some ideas for making the planning of the lesson as simple and painless as possible. Remember that as you start teaching not everything will go to plan. In fact, using your lesson plan in a flexible way is part of the skill involved in giving a good lesson. If a task is going well and students are engaged in it and making good use of the time you should probably let it carry on for longer than planned. Likewise, if an activity in your plan isn’t going down so well you may decide to cut your losses and move on. So, please don’t think the plan is to be stuck to whatever happens. React to your students and adapt on the spot whenever possible. Consider the plan to be a tool to guide you, but always use it flexibly.
Where do you start?
There are many different ways of planning a lesson. As you start teaching, plans tend to be written in great detail and as you get more practice and more tried and tested techniques and activities under your belt, your plan may look more like a shopping list or you may just hold your plan in your head. There are no rules about how detailed your plan should be, unless you are on a teacher training course or are being observed, so experiment with the layout and find out what works best for you.
A simple way to start is to plan your lesson in a table format. Here’s an example. Tasks are taken from this lesson plan about news. This plan shows how you could use the first three tasks only.
|Activity / Task||Aim||Interaction pattern
(T = teacher Ss = students)
|1) Ask students questions in task one about news and media.||To get students into the topic of news.||T - Ss||10||Chairs in circle for intro.|
|2) Draw the media advantages and disadvantages chart (task two) on board. Ask students for a few examples.||Set up next task and support weaker students.||T - Ss||5||Remember to ask Ss who normally don’t offer ideas.|
|3) Students copy chart into notebooks and complete with their own ideas in pairs.||Students practise media related language.||S – S||10||Feed in new language when necessary.|
|4) Pair up the pairs to make groups of four.||Students to share and compare ideas in groups. Students explain their ideas to another pair.||Ss – Ss||10||Monitor carefully and listen out for common errors.|
|5) Group feedback. Compare answers and find areas of common agreement.||Share Ss’ ideas and round up task.||T - Ss||10||Get one of the Ss to write some advantages and disadvantages on the board.|
|6) Show students a couple of real headlines from British newspapers. Get students to guess the story behind the headline.||Introduce next task about news headlines.||T – Ss||5||Download and print off some headlines from online papers. Try to find some funny ones. Show a tabloid and a broadsheet paper so Ss can see the difference in style.|
|7) Students in groups think up stories behind headlines in task three.||Students practise narrative tenses.||Ss - Ss||15||Monitor and feed in language when needed. Offer correction when appropriate.|
|8) Ask groups to feedback their ideas for the stories behind the headlines and tell the whole group.||Students re-tell stories to group – repeating task is good practice.||Ss – T + Ss.||Don’t correct as students are speaking in front of whole class. Make a note of important errors in my notebook to correct next class.|
This is just one example of how you could write out a lesson plan. There are many ways to do it.
How do you choose a topic?
Depending on your teaching context, you may need to cover certain topics in which case you won’t have to think about the topics. If you have free choice think about what you and your students are interested in. If you don’t know your students very well yet, ask them what they would like to talk about in your classes. You could give them a questionnaire or just ask them informally. You could pick ten or twenty topics you think they may like and hold a class vote to get the top three or four for the next few months.
Which order do you do the tasks in?
First of all, select the tasks you can use with your class. Then think about any extra activities you would like to add. You may want to add some visual materials and find some photos on the internet which you could use to enhance the presentation part, or you may be able to localise the topic by finding newspaper articles from your country. Once you have selected all the tasks think about how they can work together. Start with the easiest tasks and the ones that work on the vocabulary for the topic. This will give them the lexical resources they need to follow the class. Then build up the lesson plan by slotting in the other tasks.
What if you run out of time?
When you start teaching it’s really easy to over plan. If you find you run out of time don’t worry. You may be able to finish the topic in the next class so you can continue where you left off. As you are giving the class, keep an eye on the clock but if an activity is going really well and the students are speaking in English and enjoying the task, let it go on. Be flexible with your timing. Another task later on may not go down so well so you will be able to cut it shorter. Try to save a few minutes at the end of the class to ask your students to summarise what they did in the lesson. This will force them to re-cap and revise what they did.
What if you run out of material?
If your students race through the activities you have planned and you actually run out of materials you can always spend the time revising the vocabulary from the class. You could also ask the students to think up some questions related to the topic, which they can ask each other in groups, or you could set up a role-play connected to the theme. You may be left with time for a game so always have a few ideas up your sleeve for how to fill in a spare ten minutes or so.
Many of the activities can be adapted to fit in with a topic so it will look to your students like a seamless addition to the class and not just a time filler!
As you get more practice at planning lessons the easier it will become and the happier you will be to adapt your plan as you go along. Spend a bit of time after your classes to reflect on how things went. Look back at your plan and think about how well the activities worked. If they didn’t go so well try to think of reasons why. You can take these reasons into account for the next class. You will most definitely learn from your mistakes so don’t worry if things don’t always work out exactly as you planned.
First published 2008