Planning Evolution

I read Cecilia Coelho’s most recent post with interest, wondering what prompted her to begin her adventure as a blog challenger, having been a sucker for any challenge that came her way. Being just as much of a sucker myself , here is my response to What’s your plan?

Having only started full-time teaching three years ago, I actually have copies of lesson plans on my computer from virtually every lesson I’ve taught at IH Brno. I had done some summer school teaching and a year of pre-CELTA, where my planning largely consisted of opening the book for 10-15 minutes and trying to work out if I knew the grammar (my poor students!) already, but when it got serious, I decided my plans should too.

The first format that I came up with was based on the CELTA plans I’d done, as I think many fresh teachers’ plans are. This is the plan for the first ever lesson I taught in Brno:

1st plan

If you look closely you’ll see I still had an aims column on there. By the end of October, I stopped writing the aims, and a couple of weeks lately I deleted the column from the lesson plan. One thing you can see on the plan is where I’ve edited it after the lesson – this shows any changes I made, things we didn’t get through, ideas on how to improve the lesson if I teach something similar again and more.

It just so happens that this 1-2-1 student is the only one who I have taught for the entire time I’ve been in Brno, so here is a plan for the first lesson I taught with him in my second year in Brno:

2nd plan

Again, you can see where I’ve edited the plan after the lesson – this is a great way of reflecting on the lesson for me. I used highlighting in my plans when there is something I really didn’t want to forget, although this is gradually disappearing now as I settle in to my teaching and planning. Another feature is a list of notes at the bottom of the plan; these are things which have come up in discussion and could be potential themes for future lessons. I copy and paste them from plan to plan, adding and taking away from them as things are covered.

The plan from my first lesson from my third year in Brno, is essentially the same:

3rd plan

What you’ll probably notice though, is that the plans are getting shorter and shorter. This is because there are fewer and fewer reminders which I need during a lesson. The main one here is for before the lesson: something I need to remember to copy is in red.

This year I’ve made one more change to my plans: originally I would print them to take into class, but since the end of October 2010 or so, I’ve started taking my computer everywhere with me, so it seemed a bit of a waste to print plans as well. This means that I can edit lesson plans as they are happening – it’s easy enough to move lines up or down as I decide to change something. It also means that anything unfinished can be copied to the following week. (Of course, I only do this when the students are busy and don’t need my help – the rapport is good enough that they know they can call on me whenever they need me).

This is my latest plan, from  last Monday’s lesson:

4th plan

The biggest thing here is the amount of empty space – I’ve become more and more comfortable with the lesson taking the course required by the student, rather than imposing my own will on it. This is especially true in this class, where I’ve got to know the learner very well.

The one thing that has remained constant throughout all of my planning is the materials column. This is the most important part of any plan for me – I can check it just before the lesson and make sure I have everything I need quickly and easily. I also copy and paste file names of specific worksheets I’ve made in there, so that I can just search for something on my computer and all of the lesson plans featuring that sheet / activity appear so I can see how I’ve used it in the past. This works in reverse too: for example, if I think “I had a great activity for second conditional, but I don’t know what I called it”, I can search for “second conditional” on my computer, and see which lesson plans come up. I was very careful right from the start to give every file as clear a name as possible, and thus far it seems to be working!

Many of my colleagues would ask me if I was being observed when they first saw me planning like this, but they have gradually become used to it. I type much faster than I write (although I still write often), so plans don’t take long to produce. I have a database of all of the lessons I’ve ever taught, ready at hand on my computer whenever I need / want to consult it, and as soon as I see a plan, I can almost always remember exactly what happened in the lesson when I taught it. Best of all, I don’t have reams of paper all over the place.

So, these are my plans. Thank you to Cecilia for prompting me to write this post!


7 thoughts on “Planning Evolution

  1. Hi Sandy!

    Thanks for joining in the challenge! I loved looking at your plans and seeing how they have changed. Just as you, I think the simplifying of the lesson plan does not mean we think this or that item are not useful or important, but rather those things become part of us, and we don’t have to write them down to consider take them into account.

    I loved how with the new word processor you have any changes you make to your plan “recorded” – when I did it digitally that wasn’t possible yet. It ALMOST makes me feel like going digital again – I’m too hung up on paper though. And your point about keeping materials on made me reflect if it;s not about time I bring it back… food for thought 🙂

    I’m glad my first challenge brought some reflection into your work. It sure made me reflect. Glad to have you aboard!



    1. Thanks for the reply and the link. It was interesting to see what has changed in my plans, because although I knew things had gone, I’d never really thought about why before, except for occasionally thinking “I don’t need to write that any more!” For me, the major advantage is that I can take the plans anywhere with me – I don’t have to worry about having piles of paper to take with me from one country to another when I decide to move. Thanks again!


  2. Hi Sandy,

    thanks for an amazing post. What I’ve noticed is there has been some fundamental shifts in your practice over the last few years. You are now much more flexible than you used to be, and I can also see that you’re now focusing on training learner strategies and providing valuable feedback rather than simply delivering some kind of preselected content.

    Lesson planning has always been an interesting topic to discuss for me. During my pre-CELTA year I hardly ever did any planning. I only looked through the teaching materials and made photocopies. I was taught to plan extensively at CELTA, and I think that I quite enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I started producing some very detailed lesson plans. I came back to Moscow in September 2010 and solemnly decided to write up lesson plans for every single class I taught.

    It didn’t last long. The more hours I was given, the more difficult it was to plan everything thoroughly. I blamed my own time management skills and lack of self-organization and even asked my DOS to help me with that. She trained me how to block my activities, how to make photocopies in advance, how to get ready with all the equipment etc. I followed her advice and once again, started being a ‘good boy’ – and kept my promises for about two weeks. While I still recognize the benefits of tidying the classroom and being ready with the right CD track numbers before a lesson, I don’t do any morning planning as I was advised.

    I realized that there are some deeper reasons for me not to plan than simply being lazy or disorganized. Whenever I follow the book, I don’t have to write a plan, because it’s always more-less obvious what to do. However, whenever I deviate and go creative, this is almost always either being invented ‘here and now’, in collaboration with the learners, or is one of many pre-planned activities that I have up my sleeve, without knowing when exactly these will be appropriate. In fact, I now think that any of the following activities are more beneficial for my learners than lesson plan writing:

    * Sleeping well and having regular hot meals (sorry it does sound funny).
    * Taking part in online seminars and workshops.
    * Reading blogs.
    * Reading Delta Publishing DTDS books.
    * Having an #eltchat with Sandy and other great people every Wednesday.
    * Strolling around thinking about my learners. Occasionally making notes or short audio recordings of some ideas.
    * Marking writing thoroughly. Using Jason’s WriteWays templates to give feedback.
    * Trying to write up lesson plans after and not before the lessons. I have a document titled ‘Mr. Postplanner’ where I keep these.
    * Taking pictures of the board and voice-recording one-to-one classes.

    Whenever I can choose between planning and doing some of these things, I go for the latter option. As you might guess, I don’t plan that often nowadays 🙂

    What do you think? Could it be reasonable not to plan at all? Or am I simply trying to disguise my laziness here? 😛



    1. Hi Mike,
      I agree that those things are all important, and I don’t think everybody needs a plan to produce a good lesson. For me, my plans started as a security blanket, but the length of them now definitely reflects how much easier I find it to adapt my lessons to the students. I don’t think you’re lazy – planning is something that different people do in different ways (as Cecilia’s challenge reflects), and if it’s a method that works for you and your students, there’s nothing wrong with it. Long may it continue!


  3. Hi Sandy,
    It was really interesting to see your plans shrink over the four years, and even more interesting to see how you’ve digitalised it all. I love the idea that you can carry everything around with you on your computer. I take my digital plans into class with me too these days and the mountains of paper to recycle have certainly reduced dramatically.

    And my paper ones are all written in my diary and I add notes about how I want to follow up in the next lesson on the appropriate date. I think teaching becomes more and more a question of systems and interconnections and routines and habits, and so the lesson plans shrink and become reminders and records and signposts for possible directions to take.

    I looked back at some of my paper ones from when I started teaching (I found one dated 1989!) and they were so long and so detailed, because almost every lesson shape was being created fresh and new, with very little previous experience to draw on. And as we automatize and learn and experience, we need fewer words, less scaffolding, and the shrinkage is shrinkage in the visible planning, while the invisible, internal planning is growing and growing.
    I find now that my paper plans kind of act like a computer filing and retrieval system – a shorthand reference to a lesson template stored away in my memory – automatized over time – and reading that shorthand helps me recall and recreate the lesson stages . just as you say reading through your plans helps you see the lessons, even years later.
    What a great challenge from Ceci, and what a great response. Thanks toyou both for the stimulation!


    1. Hi Ceri,
      Automization (is that a word?) could be the biggest factor in lesson planning changes for a lot of teachers – first plans are all about processing every possible thing that could happen in the lesson (and perhaps worrying about it too), then as you relax into the job it becomes easier to factor in these differences without including them in the plan.
      Thanks for the great reply!


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