ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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How I Plan a Lesson

July 1st, 2010 by Dave · 3 Comments

I was recently asked in an email how I approach planning a lesson. At first, I struggled to put it into words. I don’t really think there is any one right way.

For me, I usually approach lesson plans the same way I approach planning courses. I start from the big picture. What are our goals for the day? Maybe we want to practice a particular skill, or increase our knowledge about certain content, or make progress on a long-term project. Once I have the main goal(s) in mind, I decide what our big activity will be.

Let’s say, for example, that I want to give the students a chance to learn some new vocabulary words, while practicing figuring out meaning from context. So I need to find / make a reading that has vocabulary words whose meanings can be figured out. What then?

Once I know some of the activities I want to include, I think about different approaches. There are tons of ways to “do a reading” or “introduce vocabulary words”. Personally, I usually try to do each activity in a way that maximizes student interaction, with the goal of meaningful communication. Sometimes, I might do readings as homework, and have small group, student-led discussions (like this). Another approach would be to have students take turns reading sentences or paragraphs, discussing vocabulary as we go.

If I really want to concentrate on the content, I might give the students a worksheet that asks some content questions, and includes the vocabulary words I want to target. I could read the reading aloud, before handing it out, and ask the students to do their best to fill out the worksheet. Next, I could give them the article, and have them check their answers and fill in the blanks in small groups. I might ask each group to come up with another content question based on the reading, and see if they could stump the other groups. It really just depends on what skills we want to work on. For homework, we could do a writing activity that asks students to reflect on their own experience with / opinions of the topic, giving them a chance to use the vocabulary in a more meaningful way.

In terms of time, one important thing that I’ve learned is not to schedule my “big” activity for the end of the lesson. Often, that results in it being rushed, or cut entirely. Even if I’m able to get through it, we might not have enough time to reflect on it as a class afterward. In a two-hour class, I would typically begin the main activity right after our break. Obviously, though, it depends on the activity.

I almost always go into class with more planned than I expect to have time for. That way, if something isn’t working (like, if a set of discussion questions falls flat) I can cut it and adjust the lesson on the fly. I tend to be very flexible, and try to give my activities time to breathe if students are getting a lot out of it.

In writing this, I can see that I rely a lot on intuition in my teaching, and that makes me doubt whether or not this type of “advice” is helpful to novice teachers. Any other suggestions on approaching lesson plans? Any questions on what I’ve shared here?

Tags: blog · ESL activity · lesson plans · reflection · theory

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 khalid // Jul 3, 2010 at 11:46 am

    That’s great advice – thanks! Sure you illustrated the ways in which specific circumstances affect how a lesson is planned, but you also provided some structure to the process, and advice on specific things to watch out for. Excellent!

  • 2 chris // Jul 8, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I think ANY attempt to explain “how to” is useful if it comes from someone who “does”.
    It can be a starting point, something to compare your own approach against (either helping by finding out you are not alone, or by seeing another possible way) and it may even clarify things for the “doer” if they have never had to explain before.
    ps – nothing to do with the above but here’s another graphic that might inspire.

  • 3 cathywint // Nov 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I think this is a very honest description of your planning activity and as such would be very useful to novice and experienced teachers alike. I too am an ‘over-planner’ and like to be able to giggle the lesson as it progresses, and be able to respond to learners rather than still rigidly to a lesson plan. I think the key to being confident in doing this is being about to reflect on the lesson and evaluate the activities, how they linked together and the value to the learners.
    As well as ‘wing’ some lessons, I do also find that I teach a lesson according to my plan, and generally I do like to have a plan, even if I think some things can be skipped, speeded up or altered in any way.

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