Katherine Bilsborough: Lesson plans – less is more

Writing a lesson plan before a class is a bit like writing a list before packing for a trip.

You can travel without a list of course but you will avoid a few problems if you spend a bit of time planning – not a whole week though. That would be silly. A few minutes should be enough. Pre-empting problems will bring peace of mind and when it comes to teaching, this is a major defence against burnout and work stress.

New teachers who have had training will have been evaluated and assessed on their lesson plans. They will spend hours preparing a 45-minute lesson. Plans include things like class, time, materials and aims as well as notes about each stage of the lesson and lots of extras. These teachers understand that a substitute teacher should be able to pick up their lesson plan, walk into the classroom and teach the lesson without any problems. You can find lots of lesson plans like this (complete with downloadable materials) on the Teachingenglish website. Here’s an example: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/mingling-terry%E2%80%99s-trip

You can find lesson plan templates on the Internet too – that you can fill out yourself for your own classes. Here’s a typical one in a word document that you can change to suit your needs.


More experienced teachers tend to spend less time on lesson planning. They know what they have to do in the lesson. And if they ever get it wrong, it doesn’t matter because they are armed for most eventualities and have a mental library of Plan Bs.

But what the wise teachers have in common - whether they are new or more experienced - is that they understand the importance of lesson planning but are 100% practical in their approach. A 45-minute lesson should warrant around 5 to 10 minutes planning time. And the plan should be simple and always follow the same format so that it becomes second nature and end up almost writing itself. I’ve managed to reduce my prep time by around 90% since I started teaching - granted that’s quite a long period of time - but there really is no need to be a slave to lesson planning. Save your energy for the classroom - that’s where you’ll need it most.

No more burnout – a simple guide to successful and time-efficient lesson planning

  1. Gather everything you need (course book, teacher’s book, class register, timetable, etc.) and make a cup of tea.
  2. Look at the pages in the course book that you are going to be using. Then look at the corresponding teacher’s book pages. This is where you’ll find ideas for warmers and coolers, extra activities, tips and ideas, photocopiable worksheets … you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. An experienced materials writer has done the job for YOU.
  3. Think back to the last lesson when you start planning the next. If possible, do the planning immediately after the previous lesson. This ‘coherence will be appreciated by the students - even though some might not notice. Look at things like:
  • Where did we get up to in the book?
  • Is there any marking to do?
  • Did they learn any new vocabulary? (To recycle at the beginning of the next lesson)

Finally, here’s an example of one of my lesson plans – and YES! I write my lesson plans on a post-it. If the plan doesn’t fit, then I’m being over ambitious, I’ll fail and feel bad.


No votes yet

Submitted by deboraneves on Mon, 05/12/2014 - 09:13


Katherine, I wish I could do that! I've been a teacher for more than ten years, and still struggle and spend a long time planning. I keep some files in my computer with all the activities I have used, so that I can repeat some of them the next time I teach the same level, and that helps a lot, but, still, I agree that maybe I am being over ambitious. Thank you for sharing!

Submitted by cklauer on Mon, 05/12/2014 - 14:14


The first thing, in my humble opinion, for a plan to work is to think where we are going, that is, the objectives; and then how to know if we have arrived there. A set or list of activities might be seen as a plan, but it is not if the activities (however fun and "good") do not point at achieving something.

Submitted by Anna Rozanska on Mon, 05/19/2014 - 21:26


Yes, I agree that it can be easy with a coursebook, especially a good one. But two years ago I started working for a private school that uses no resources - we teachers have to provide our own materials. That means that a lot of extra work has to be done, and the old-school lesson planning is much harder to avoid. Any ideas on how to quickly and effectively prepare teaching materials - and ones that do not violate the copyright? I'm looking forward to a post addressing this subject.

Submitted by Anthony Ash on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 19:00


I don't really agree with this. I appreciate the notion of cutting down planning and I can spend as little as 10 minutes on a plan. However, simply following what's in the coursebook is not necessarily conducive to a good lesson, as it means your linguistic and communicative lesson aim is nothing more than: to complete two pages of the book. I've written a more detail response about this here: http://ashowski.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-coursebook-lesson-aims/ Anthony

Submitted by Ngalee on Mon, 06/02/2014 - 03:53


I agree with the point that efficiency can only be achieved by being prepared and having a plan. This is true for both spoken an written english. in terms of speaking, the best method is speaking with people who are more fluent than you, without worrying too much on grammar. Challenge is there aren't a lot of English teaching programs that do this, other than a few like Spoken English Practice. www.spokenenglishpractice.com. So you pursue the same inefficient methods you have been trying all your life like memorizing grammar rules. I hope more and more ESL teachers read posts like this and improve their methods of teaching. Teaching English needs to be modernized!

Submitted by cmftrier on Tue, 06/14/2016 - 13:45


This is such an interesting topic! I wrote something similar in an article: Fielder, C., “Are detailed objectives really necessary in lesson planning?”, The Teacher Trainer Journal, Vol 28/2, May 2014, pp. 18-20. Best regards Clare Fielder

Submitted by Alexandra_ on Wed, 12/07/2016 - 12:03


Katherine, thank you for the article. A nice example for a busy teacher. Could you share your 'error correction game'?

Submitted by Claude0152 on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 17:17


The school I work for wants to implement a "flipped" learning approach, and we don't really "follow" a particular group of students (they are all adults), but I think putting all the material (teacher's book, lesson (from the students' perspective), powerpoint, other material) on my table helps me see how to make links with all of them and what I would choose to change (sequence or activity). I also plan transitions between different parts of the lessons (questions to ask my students that can help me go from one place to the other).

Submitted by Milica Vukadin on Thu, 07/04/2019 - 17:33


Can moderators please influence and remove this post??????? Researchers have spent years perfecting teaching methods and curriculum development in order for it to be written on a post-it note??????? It's really shocking! Spending some little time on your lesson will not cause buronout - this is a simple excuse for laziness. Please research CLIL and use of ICT in your lesson planning. If you have good knowledge of theory you don't need to spend hours of planning and you will get faster with time. Making lesson plans in 5 minutes is an insult to your profession and it is also disrespecting your students.

Thanks for your comment, but the main point of this article isn't that teachers shouldn't not plan their lessons - in fact, it states quite clearly: 'they understand the importance of lesson planning but are 100% practical in their approach. A 45-minute lesson should warrant around 5 to 10 minutes planning time.' and then goes on to suggest how this might be achieved. Of course all teachers have different approaches to planning - that's what makes teaching interesting! It's also important that teachers don't suffer from burnout, a serious problem for many teachers and one that you can read more about on our site. Best wishes, Cath TE Team

I completely agree with you and I do understand that my comment was harsh. Burnout is a serious problem and we all experienced it, but spending 5-10 minutes on planning a lesson is really not the answer. If we look at the issue from another perspective this means that almost anyone who has a book and a little knowledge of teaching methods can be a teacher. No one, no matter how experienced they are can't develop a lesson plan that supports deep learning in such a short time. I read many articles from this author and I know how qualified she is, this is why the article baffles me the most. Every teacher should have its eclectic style of teaching but in reality teachers who act like this can easily lose their job and reputation.

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