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Planning 2

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Planning 1 outlined the rationale behind lesson planning. This article looks at some of the elements to consider when planning an actual lesson: aims, concepts, contexts and marker sentences.

Planning 2 - methodology article


  • Aims and concepts
  • Contexts and marker sentences

Aims and concepts
It is important to have clear and realistic aims for your lessons. One way to check this is actually to write out what your objectives are. To demonstrate let's take the topic of the use of the prepositions 'for' and 'since' with the present perfect. We can assume that the students have recently been introduced to the structure and use of the present perfect. You could write out your aim like this:-

To present and provide practice of the use of 'for' and 'since' with the present perfect.

This is a clear but basic statement of aims. It indicates what you intend to do, but note, not how you intend to do it.

It is helpful also to define the overall concept or meaning of the target language when it is used naturally. For our teaching point we need to consider when native speakers use 'for' and 'since' with the present perfect. We can now adjust our aim statement accordingly:

To present and provide practice of the use of 'for' and 'since' with the present perfect when talking about the duration of a continuing state or action.

Phew! It hardly trips off the tongue but it is important to do. It clarifies for the teacher exactly what the teaching point is. Many language items are used in different ways, with different concepts. Take the present continuous aspect as an example. Compare these two sentences:-

"I'm writing this at my desk."
"I'm visiting my best friend next weekend"

Both of these sentences use the same form, but the concept is different. It is important when planning your lesson to be accurate in your analysis of the concept. It can be confusing for students if different concepts are not clearly identified or are mixed up during a presentation.

By expressing the concept in the aims, it provides a focus for the planning and that can help to prevent possible confusion. It may be not appropriate for all situations, but it's a good habit to get into. Every planned activity and example sentence can then be referred back to the aim to check that it fits the concept you are trying to teach. It is essential to make sure that the exercises and activities you decide to do actually fit your aims.

Contexts and marker sentences
Having established the concept, the next step is to think about natural contexts or situations where the language item to be taught is used.

For our lesson we need to think of a situation when a native speaker would use the present perfect with 'for' and 'since'. It can be used when people talk about how long they've had their jobs and possessions. We do this, for example, when talking about our lives - so we could take a party as our context. At a party, you might meet new people and talk about yourself.

A common method of introducing a structure to the students is to use marker, or model sentences. These are contextualised examples which illustrate how to 'make' the target language. If the context is clear they also show how and when it is used. A marker sentence can be taken from almost any source. It could be from a listening or reading text, it could come from the students themselves or the teacher can provide it. The important thing is that the sentence is a natural and accurate example of the target language.

Marker sentences are used in the 'study' phase of the lesson (remember Engage - Study - Activate from Planning 1). There are different ways of exploiting them. If you have a number of examples, you could ask the students to look at the sentences and infer the rules for using 'for' and 'since'. This is what's known as an inductive approach. Alternatively you can use the sentences to highlight and explain the rules yourself. This is a deductive approach.

Aims, concepts, contexts and marker sentences are some of the elements that should be considered carefully by the teacher when planning a lesson. When these are clearly established it is much easier to ensure that the lesson being presented to the students is clear and appropriate.

Callum Robertson, BBC English