Lesson Planning As Process – Cecilia Lemos

Lesson Planning As Process

– Cecilia Lemos

My lesson plans – and the concrete results of my lesson planning – have changed greatly over the many years I have been teaching and they continue to change every semester. They change because me, my students, my students’ needs, my needs, and the tools I work with have changed. It would be foolish if my planning didn’t change as well. It’s an evolutionary process that I explore in some depth HERE.

When we are new to teaching, a detailed lesson plan is essential because it gives us confidence. By thinking of all the steps, all the procedures, all the materials needed, all the types of interactions that might take place along with predicting the time each activity will last, we get the feeling of being ready for the lesson.  By thoroughly planning a lesson, we reduce the chances of being caught off-guard — something that can be very frustrating to any teacher, but that can be especially difficult to those new to the job. No matter how long we’ve been teaching, though, it’s always important to ask ourselves questions like these as we plan and reflect and work to plan a lesson:

What will my students have learned after this lesson is over?

What will they be able to do by the end of it that they weren’t able to do before?

How will this lesson help them progress in their learning?

(and most importantly)

How will I help them get there?

When planning lessons, besides considering what I will talk about, how I will talk about it and what materials I will use as I talk about it, I try to predict possible difficulties and questions the students might have so I can be ready to address those. This helps me fit the lesson within the bigger picture of the term and the content I am supposed to cover. I reflect on the balance between types of activities and types of learners. That always makes me calmer before teaching. More than planned, I am prepared.

That brings me to what I truly believe is the heart of lesson planning: not the printed – or in my case, the handwritten  – plan itself, but all the thinking behind it as I consider the groups I’ll be teaching and their individual and collective needs.

Nowadays, my physical lesson plan consists only of bullet points – key words, book pages, links or worksheets. That is the result of nearly 20 years of teaching. The fact that my lesson plan can fit on one side of an index card does not mean it is somehow been reduced to that. There is a lot behind those words on my index cards, but all that’s in my head. I don’t have to write the procedures for each activity because I have done them so many times I know them by heart. On the other hand, when it is a new activity or tool, I do write the procedures out, just to have something to rely on if my memory fails me.

I have also used lesson planning to work on my own specific problem areas that either I have noticed myself or that have been pointed out to me after an observation.  For instance, once I got feedback that my instructions were long and confusing. What did I do?

For a while after that, when planning I would think of the words I would use to give instructions for the activities I had planned and write them down. Seeing the instructions I wanted to give written down helped because I could reflect on their effectiveness and edit them as needed so that they became more clear and concise. Having the instructions written out before actually giving them and that process I went through as I worked on them made me a better teacher — I hope!

That is what lesson planning is really all about.  It’s not about having planned, but rather about being prepared, staying on top of things, and getting better in the process.

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How important is lesson planning? – Ann Loseva

The Real Work Of A Lesson Plan

— Ann Loseva

Let’s agree on being sensible teachers entering classrooms with a notebook or a sheet of paper with some appropriate notes scribbled on them. The question is not to plan or not to plan. That’s out of the question. The questions that I would pose are how detailed should these notes be? What part do they play in the lesson? Should every step of the plan be followed? Should you allow yourself to be guided by the plan or should you allow your lesson to flow according to the plan? That is, should you allow yourself some room for improvisation? I do.

Still, what I know about lesson planning comes from the methodology classes that we had at teacher training university where I studied. Let’s face it – the knowledge is rather basic. We were given the big picture of what a well-structured lesson should look like. Hence, I publicly admit that I have never written a lesson plan in such a detailed way as to note timing of every section, let alone write up my exact words for introducing these sections. Frankly speaking, I’m rather scared of going on a CELTA course for this very reason.  Dissecting a lesson will not appeal to me and I might as well fail, and of course failure is something a teacher fears so much. I have a feeling that this skill of writing in-depth lesson plans could be very helpful, so, to my regret, I’m held back from further development due to my unwillingness to welcome change.

Having worked in the profession for almost eight years, I have shaped an image of what a perfectly suited lesson plan is for me. This perfectly suited lesson plan reminds me of a to-do list. There are points mentioning activities I plan to do, along with explanations of how to conduct this or that activity, as well as NB(nota bene) points I want to remind myself not to forget or want to remind students to pay attention to — and that’s it. The one core principle that is an absolute must for me to stick to is meaningful connections. Logic, consistency and clear-cut structure are crucial. In an ideal lesson plan, tasks are interrelated and help meet lesson objectives. It’s also important that a lesson aims at practising several skills rather than just one, thus providing multifaceted language experience and loading. Yet the lesson itself could be a flow of activities, pre-planned or spontaneously arising in my mind. In the class itself, students’ reactions play a great role as well.  A teacher needs to be sensitive to this emotional aspect of a class and easily adjust.

Maybe it’s not planning that I would speak of as being important, but rather an ability to structure a lesson in such a way that at the end of it, students have a clear and complete idea of what the lesson has just been about.  Additionally, students should be able to see how the teacher has managed to interweave this particular lesson into the pattern of lessons that make up a course.

A lesson plan can be long or short, detailed or sketchy, but it should do its work.    ~ Ann Loseva


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How important is lesson planning? – Steven Herder

Don’t let a lesson plan stifle magical moments
Has this ever happened to you? You discover some new thing and suddenly you notice it everywhere. This happened with the first car I bought in university: a 1964, baby blue VW beetle. It was 400 dollars and had a homemade wooden floor. The funny thing about this, though, was that having bought a VW beetle, I suddenly began to notice other VW Beetles. They were, in fact, everywhere. This very same phenomenon is happening in my classroom with what I have coined, SLOW moments.

Slow down
These Spontaneous Learning Opportunity Windows (SLOW) are serendipitous moments when everyone is suddenly focused on exactly the same thing. It may be triggered by a student’s comment, a joke, a mistaken answer, something from the textbook, or something I just said. At that moment, everyone’s brain has stopped and a small window has opened. If you are ready, it is very easy at that moment to slide something through the window and into the student’s brain. It actually gets easier and easier the more you keep an eye open for these SLOW moments.

Classroom interaction
The SLOW strategy can improve your teaching by exploiting classroom interaction during a class. Since these interactive decisions must be made on the spot, this technique takes some practice (Google Allright; Bailey; Wajnyrb; Tsui; or Nunan and classroom interaction for lots more).

To get started, there are three things necessary to become adept at exploiting a SLOW moment: 1) confidence, 2) awareness of the syllabus and 3) the ability to riff like a jazz musician. If you don’t believe in yourself when you go off-script, you risk the students also not believing you. Secondly, you need to know the syllabus so you can make sure that everyone succeeds in being able to do what you ask them to do, using meaningful language that isn’t too far away from what you’re doing or have done in the past. Finally, riffing simply means improvising with some underlying intention. So, here are some examples of a few things that led to SLOW moments:

Yuki complains that she’s hungry (Onaka heta). Yuki is always hungry, every week, like clockwork. So, I call out, “Yuki is hungry again. Yuki, this morning I had a big breakfast. I had 2 pieces of toast – one with peanut butter and one with honey. What did you have? Nothing? Really? Everyone – Why do you think Yuki didn’t have any breakfast? (Elicit ideas and give feedback) OK, let’s give Yuki some good ideas to help her fix her life. Yuki, I think you should _____. Anyone else? What should Yuki do?

Chikako reports, “I went *to shopping and *studying English last night.” I call out in a cheesy quiz show host voice, “Double chance!” and suddenly we are all in the same moment. “Can anyone find two small mistakes?” Then, “Can anyone else give me a two-verb sentence about last night?” Can anyone ask Chikako if she bought anything cool?

Miki asks, “What’s on the test?” I call out, “Miki sure loves tests! Miki, what do you think is on the test? If you were Steven, what would you put on the test? Everyone, ask your partner, “What do you think TERRIBLE Steven will put on the test?” Ready… Go. (Time passes…) OK, let’s review what could be on the test.”

Killing time
Hiromi suggests, “Let’s play a game today.” I call out, “Hiromi is the queen of “killing time” What does it mean in Japanese? Yes, exactly, jikan wo tsubusu. In this class, who else is good at killing time? Which teachers are weak against these killing time queens?” “Everyone, ask your partner, how do you sometimes kill time?”

Yuri writes, “I take… *on the train to school every day” while I’m walking around the room during a writing assignment. When I see this mistake, I call out (knowing that this student will laugh rather than being embarrassed) “Wow, Yuri, you are a very macho girl. Everyone, do you know how macho Yuri is? Every morning, she takes on* the train (I gesture putting on a train like a backpack). There are two or three good ways to say this. Anyone? Yes, “take the train”, “catch the train”, “get the train”… great.

Hidden bonuses
This technique is actually full of hidden bonuses: it builds extra rapport with students, it teaches students to learn from other students, it promotes consciousness-raising, and it encourages active participation. The more you invest time into observing what is ACTUALLY happening in your classroom, the better your lessons will be.

How important is lesson planning? – Yitzha Sarwono

Prepare for the Unexpected

Detailed lesson plan? Who needs it? Well, maybe we all do. Having a detailed lesson plan can really help you not only own your lesson, but also own your classroom. The first thing you have to realize, though, is that it’s all about outlook and outcome. When you have everything planned down to the finest details, you can be sure that the outcome can at least be something you’ve expected.

Birthday party, grocery shopping, holiday trip or wedding day: we all have prepared something in our life, right? Planning is something that comes naturally in our life. Planning your lesson involves using some of those same skills —  except that with a classroom lesson, your goal is to make sure the lesson is learned well by your students.

When planning a birthday party, you not only make sure there’s enough food for all, but also that the food is something everyone will enjoy: Not too spicy, not too oily, delicious and easy to digest during the fun busy moments. Got it? Now, apply this same idea to your classroom. Make sure your lesson is prepared well enough to feed everyone in class so that they all come out full of knowledge and eager to come back for more. To achieve that you’ll need some serious planning, not only carefully but also completely as you have to prepare for the unexpected. Acquiring this skill takes thinking and practice to own, and it won’t happen overnight, but it is a skill that will help define you as a teacher.

When my lesson has been laid down to the very details, it means not only have I taken a giant step toward owning the content I’m teaching and the methods I’m using (an important thing for me) but also that I can feel secure when I open the classroom door. I have brought my umbrella should things go wrong – and they will go wrong.

I teach kindergarten, so things can go way beyond unpredictable and right out of control sometimes because kids come in with a variety of swinging sleepy cranky moods. This is why I always make sure I have some topic-related fun back-up activities planned in case I need to get learners back on track.

Speaking of which, one time I planned a picnic on the playground to teach my class about adjectives. Of course it rained all day. Detailed planning allowed me to be able to switch the activity with some twists here and there to get my lesson done indoors without panic. This was my umbrella.

To plan your own classes down to the tiny details, here are some questions worth lingering on:

Topic of the lesson:

  • What do you  want students to learn?
  • How do you want them to understand?
  • What questions might pop out along the way?

Concept to be applied:

  • What are the skills I want my students to grasp?
  • What do I need them to understand more and first when I can’t get them to get all?
  • What do I want them to take away when the class is over?

Back up plans:

  • When I’m running out of time which ones could not be omitted and which one I could skip?
  • What activity to prepare should my plan not go well?

All in all, it all comes down to what you have in your bag. If you keep these things in mind, prepare adequately, and come in with the positive outlook, then things will be fine. With the right planning, you’ll know what kind of fun you can expect.

When you have your umbrella you can surely dance in the rain! Have fun planning everybody!

How important is lesson planning? – Scott Thornbury

Scott ThornburyHow important is detailed lesson planning?

Because you’re probably expecting me to answer the question in the negative, and because I love surprising people, I’ll answer it like this:

VERY important – if you’re a new teacher, faced with all the unpredictability, spontaneity and simultaneity of the classroom zoo. It’s HELL in there, and your lesson plan is like a magic charm that will protect you from being eaten alive. Your very detailed lesson plan allows you to navigate a safe path through the jungle. BUT, however detailed, however carefully thought out, it’s not foolproof. There will come a point – very early on in your career, probably – when, as the Scots poet, Robbie Burns put it: “the best laid plans of mice and men/ gang aft agley”. That is to say: stuff happens! So you need to learn to adapt your plan, maybe even abandon it.  It’s not even a case of having a plan B. Or C. Or D. There comes a point when you just have to think on your feet.

VERY important – if you’re participating in some kind of training program, and especially if you’re going to be observed. A detailed lesson plan is a must – and it’s also very revealing evidence as to the quality of your pre-lesson decision-making. You can tell a lot about a teacher by looking at their lesson plan. How realistic are the objectives? How logical is the staging? How varied are the activities? How plausible is the timing? And so on. But, again, just because you have planned it like that, doesn’t mean it will go like that. Just as chess-players can’t predict their opponent’s first move, you can never be sure how your class will respond to your plan on the day. A skilled observer will be looking at how you monitor the effectiveness of your plan ‘in flight’ – and how you modify it, where appropriate.

NOT so important – if you have a coursebook and accompanying teacher’s guide that does it all for you. But even the best coursebooks were never written specifically for your particular class on that particular day, so you will need to select, adapt and supplement – maybe a little, maybe quite a lot. besides, an over-reliance on the coursebook will result in lessons of a certain sameness and even blandness.

NOT so important – when you’ve been teaching for a while and have developed a fluent set of classroom management skills and activity routines. I’ve always maintained that when you start teaching it’s 90% planning and 10% management. But for an experienced teacher, it’s 10% planning and 90% management. Like cooking, you start off following the cookbooks faithfully, until you start acquiring some reliable cooking skills and intuitions, and you can start to improvise successfully.

NOT so important – in fact impossible, when you’re asked to substitute for another teacher, or to take over a class at short notice. I had to do this a lot as a fairly new teacher in a school in Egypt, and I learned very quickly how to manufacture a lesson out of very little – a single visual aid, or a short dictated text. These skills were invaluable, not only because I learned how to be resourceful and to get maximum benefits out of minimal materials,  but also because I discovered how much the learners can contribute to the content and flow of the lesson – if you trust them.

COMPLETELY unimportant – if, having developed a set of effective management skills and teaching routines, having experienced what it’s like to think on your feet, having learned how to be resourceful with very little, and above all, having learned to trust your learners, you are ready to fly on your own – and without a detailed flight plan. It’s then that you’ll experience the (almost) unbearable lightness of teaching.