One of the most interesting aspects of working with other teachers is to see how they plan their lessons.
Everyone seems to have a slightly different format, their own attitude to structure, perhaps also a patented abbreviation system or set of symbols. How we use our lesson plans seems to develop over time; more experienced teachers sometimes barely bother to create one, but I still find myself hand-writing a single page of ‘notes to my future self’ which have simple and unchanging aims:
- They are an aid to memory, so that I don’t forget to teach, address, announce or correct something
- They provide an answer to that perennial question for any teacher, presenter or writer: ‘What happens next?’
- They apportion time between the different elements of the lesson
- Perhaps most importantly, they tell me just what my students will be expected to achieve during this class. They answer another question: ‘What will they be able to do at 9:30 that they couldn’t do at 8:00?’
Beyond this, though, the lesson plan can serve an important role for the development of your learning materials and for ensuring good classroom management. I regard lesson plans not as architectural plans or shopping lists, but as living, dynamic documents. I expect to refer to them in the future, certainly after the class and before the next one, and perhaps in years ahead. To give my future self some helpful hints, I find myself writing a lot of extra information on my plan. Here are some ways in which your plan can become more flexible and informative:
Explore These 5 Extra Ways to Use Your Lesson Plan
Note Down Good Examples
Your textbook will provide (hopefully!) useful examples of most everything you’re planning to teach, but I think it’s an excellent practice for teachers to develop their own. When you hit upon a particularly good one - a funny grammar example, or a really neat use of a phrasal verb - write it down, so that you can use it in the future.
Write Down Learning Moments
Here, I mean moments where you learn, not just the students! Not a lesson goes by without I pick up something interesting about my students’ culture or faith, those curious facts about where they’re from which add so much to my understanding of the world. It was from my students that I first learned of the abandonment of China’s single child policy, that Saudi men may take four wives (but only if each wife agrees to the following marriage) and about the Catalan independence movement, among a host of other things. Each is ripe for a little Googling after work, and in doing so, I enrich my own understanding ,which itself feeds usefully into the content of my classes.
Make a Note of Problems
Let’s face it, not all grammar was created equal. Simple as it may seem at first glance, teaching the language of countable and uncountable nouns (much/many, some/any) for example, can be a real headache. So, once you’ve achieved this once, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time it reappears on the syllabus. Note down your methods and examples, draw timelines, diagrams, charts, pictures, cartoons - anything which will help you engagingly explain difficult topics.
The same is true of vocabulary. There’s an easy and hard route to explaining complex words. For example, if we’re teaching ‘precise’, we could reach for the dictionary and try to teach it using the definition (not recommended), or look for synonyms (exact, correct, perfect - much better). But then we could teach the word using numbers which make sense to our students, for example, the precise number of students in our school, or the precise value of something. Once you’ve found these numbers, write them on your plan so that they’ll be available next time.
Evaluate and Re-organize
Your plan is not just a record of what you intend to teach. It’s also a record of what you taught, the only written evidence of what happened in your class. This makes it an invaluable tool for a process which is too often overlooked: self-evaluation. At the end of each class (if there is time, which isn’t as often as I’d like) I sit down and consider the work I just did. There are invariably areas for potential improvement; I often find that there was too much Teacher Talking Time, that my examples could have been clearer, or that I didn’t do enough to mitigate issues relating to varying student abilities. A few moments’ consideration, guided by my plan and resulting in a few sentences of notes, always helps reassure me that I’m on a positive professional path, and that the next lesson will see improvement.
It might also be that the class needed reorganizing. Were the elements presented in the right order? Did the students have all the tools they needed to practice the target language? Could the classroom management have been improved? Honest discussions with yourself will always yield good things.
Note Down Student Problems
A lot of ESL teachers struggle to eliminate or reduce L1, the students’ first language. Arranging a seating chart or encouraging new student pairings can help. It’s also good to be aware of potential cultural, national or personal conflicts; not these down in your plan too. Are there burgeoning friendships which you might encourage to grow? Are there mixed abilities, so that one group will need extra work to engage them while the others are still finishing? Write it all down; you’ve got more than enough to think about, in the heat of battle, and a few good notes can make the difference between solving a problem and letting it slip through the cracks.
In just the same way, it’s nice to note down your successes. Looking back over my plans from the last year, I’ve got pleasing ‘notes to self’ in the margins:
- - ‘Full sentence from Han!’
- - Brilliant TT [tongue-twister] for Japanese students: “Larry was surprised when the supply lorry arrived” - hilarious!
- - ‘Abdul better at writing on [the] line today - keep mon[itoring]’.
- - ‘Look up ‘All About That Bass’ - ? body image debate ?’
These little notes to my future self only took a second to write, but are extremely valuable.
I encourage you to view your plan as a living document, and to refer back frequently to make sure you’ve addressed student questions, made the best use of the material, and continued to develop as a diligent and self-aware professional.