To an ESL teacher, the lesson plan is as essential as the course materials, maybe even more so.
Think of the coursebook as the vehicle, the tool you will use to take your class on this journey that is learning to speak another language. The lesson plan is the road map that helps you set a course from Point A to Point B, the first being little or no knowledge of a specific language point, the second being learning said language point - reaching a learning goal.
But like any road trip, things can go wrong. And if you embark on a road trip with the wrong map…well, you’re just setting yourself up for trouble. Here are some of the mistakes in lesson planning that will make you veer off course.
8 Biggest Lesson Planning Mistakes
Planning Before Getting to Know Your Class
Would you plan a road trip with a group of friends without knowing what they want to see or what their interests are? Chances are they have their own goals/expectations for the trip. You will surely have the course syllabus for the semester/year ahead of time, but that is simply a list of what your students should learn to reach a specific level. Lesson planning (what you’ll do for each individual lesson) should begin after you’ve obtained more information about your students’ goals, expectations and interests.
Not Having a Clear Goal
Consider a single lesson you will teach. What do you want your students to accomplish by the end of the lesson? Learn the Simple Past? Or better yet, learn to talk about events that happened in the past? Once you have a clear goal in mind, everything else will fall into place, including the activities you will choose to reach this goal.
Having No Lesson Structure
Your course syllabus is your big picture of the entire journey; each individual lesson plan is what you’ll be doing at each individual stop and what you you’ll be doing to get them one step closer to the main goal. It’s simply not good enough to spend 45 minutes at each stop; you have to have a plan - with a solid structure. For a great example of what this structure should look like check out this article.
Failing to Include Variety
When you go on a road trip you want to see natural landscape, but also enjoy some of the things each city or town has to offer. Variety is key. Make sure to include lots of different types of activities in your lesson plan: video, music, crafts, games, group work or pair work, etc… but make sure you include activities or tasks that serve your purpose: reaching the goal.
Using the Same Lesson Plans
The coursebook and the class syllabus may be the same as last year’s, but are your students the same? Each class, each group of students is different. The lesson plans you used in previous years may not be the best for this particular group of learners. Moreover, consider the new things you might need to change/add - there are always new apps, music artists, movies and interests that crop up every year. If you’re happy with your previous lesson plans or have some that really worked, by all means use them, but don’t forget to make the necessary tweaks so that they better suit a particular group of students.
Planning Technology for Technology’s Sake
Everyone is using technology in the classroom, so you'd better add some computer/Internet activities, right? Wrong! Yes, there are amazing things you can do with your ESL class, but technology should be used in the classroom only if it helps you reach your learning goal. For example, say your goal is for students to practice asking for and giving directions, and you want to use a particular piece of realia, like a map, but you don’t have any real ones. You can always use online maps (virtual realia) and for that you could definitely use a computer.
Planning to Cover Materials and not Teach Students
If your goal is to “Finish Chapter 7”, well, let me be honest with you…that’s not a very good goal. Yes, you have a syllabus. Yes, you have an overall class plan you need to meet. But top of mind should be what your students must learn.
No Plan B
You’ve planned an awesome lesson, a multimedia lesson with video and audio so your class can have some good listening comprehension exercises. But the moment you connect your computer you realize you have no Internet connection. Well, stuff happens and when it comes to using technology in the classroom, you have to be prepared in case something does not go according to plan. Should you ditch your entire plan and just have them play games for the rest of the class? You should always have a Plan B, another route that will take you to the same lesson goal. If your goal is to practice listening comprehension, you should have another listening comprehension exercise that will easily replace the one you planned on doing in the computer, maybe a CD or a reading out loud.
Planning is important, above all, because it gives students a sense of structure.
They get the impression that on this road trip, you’re in the driver’s seat, and you know where you’re taking them. They will know that you’re taking them where they need to go. You can simply drive them there. Or you can give them one heck of a ride. Which would you choose?