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Planning 1

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Planning is one of those essential skills of the competent teacher. 

Planning 1 - methodology article

This article looks at some general lesson planning questions:

  • What should go into an English language lesson?
  • What is a lesson plan?
  • Why is planning important?
  • Do you need to plan if you have a course book?
  • What are the principles of planning?

What should go into an English language lesson?
Every lesson and class is different. The content depends on what the teacher wants to achieve in the lesson. However it is possible to make some generalisations. Students who are interested in, involved in and enjoy what they are studying tend to make better progress and learn faster.

When thinking about an English lesson it is useful therefore to keep the following three elements in mind - Engage - Study - Activate

This means getting the students interested in the class. Engaging students is important for the learning process.

Every lesson usually needs to have some kind of language focus. The study element of a lesson could be a focus on any aspect of the language, such as grammar or vocabulary and pronunciation. A study stage could also cover revision and extension of previously taught material.

Telling students about the language is not really enough to help them learn it. For students to develop their use of English they need to have a chance to produce it. In an activate stage the students are given tasks which require them to use not only the language they are studying that day, but also other language that they have learnt.

What is a lesson plan?
A lesson plan is a framework for a lesson. If you imagine a lesson is like a journey, then the lesson plan is the map. It shows you where you start, where you finish and the route to take to get there.

Essentially the lesson plan sets out what the teacher hopes to achieve over the course of the lesson and how he or she hopes to achieve it. Usually they are in written form but they don't have to be. New or inexperienced teachers may want to or be required to produce very detailed plans - showing clearly what is happening at any particular time in the lesson. However in a realistic teaching environment it is perhaps impractical to consider this detail in planning on a daily basis. As teachers gain experience and confidence planning is just as important but teachers develop the ability to plan more quickly and very experienced teachers may be able to go into class with just a short list of notes or even with the plan in their heads.

Whatever the level of experience, it is important that all teachers take time to think through their lessons before they enter the classroom.

Why is planning important?
One of the most important reasons to plan is that the teacher needs to identify his or her aims for the lesson. Teachers need to know what it is they want their students to be able to do at the end of the lesson that they couldn't do before. Here are some more reasons planning is important:-

  • gives the teacher the opportunity to predict possible problems and therefore consider solutions
  • makes sure that lesson is balanced and appropriate for class
  • gives teacher confidence
  • planning is generally good practice and a sign of professionalism

Do you need to plan if you have a course book?
Many teachers will find themselves having to use a course book. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a course book - but although they do provide a ready-made structure for teaching material, it is very unlikely the material was written for the teachers' particular students. Each class is different and teachers need to be able to adapt material from whatever source so that it is suitable for their students. A course book can certainly help planning, but it cannot replace the teacher's own ideas for what he or she wants to achieve in a class.

What are the principles of planning?

  • Aims - considering realistic goals for the lesson, not too easy but not too difficult. You may find the following checklist useful:
    • What do the students know already?
    • What do the students need to know?
    • What did you do with the students in the previous class?
    • How well do the class work together?
    • How motivated are the students?
  • Variety - an important way of getting and keeping the students engaged and interested.
  • Flexibility - expect the unexpected! Things don't always go to plan in most lessons. Experienced teachers have the ability to cope when things go wrong. It's useful when planning to build in some extra and alternative tasks and exercises. Also teachers need to be aware of what is happening in the classroom. Students may raise an interesting point and discussions could provide unexpected opportunities for language work and practice. In these cases it can be appropriate to branch away from the plan.

Effective lesson planning is the basis of effective teaching. A plan is a guide for the teacher as to where to go and how to get there. However - don't let the plan dominate - be flexible in your planning so that when the opportunities arise you can go with the flow.

Callum Robertson, BBC English