One way to approach lesson planning for CELTA

I often see trainees who spend hours and hours producing beautiful materials, then have so little detail in their plan that they end up teaching a pretty poor lesson, sometimes even below standard. Another problem with organising planning time is failing to complete the language analysis sheet, normally a required part of planning from TP3 (teaching practice) onwards.

One trainee on my current course was having particular trouble with approaching their planning, so today we came up with this step-by-step approach to prioritising when doing lesson planning for CELTA:

  1. Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
    If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
  2. Complete the (relevant) language analysis sheet.
    For many trainees, this is left to the end, and becomes a big scary thing that is just there to be put off and/or rushed at the end. By getting it out of the way right at the start, you know what you’re dealing with. The LA is designed to help you feel more confident in the lesson, and be able to deal with whatever the students throw at you related to those particular language points. It’s also the grounding for the language focus in your lesson, as it helps you to find out what you need to cover. Do include any CCQs you plan to use, because there’s nothing worse than writing ‘ask CCQs’ on your language analysis, then in the lesson wondering how on earth to phrase them! This is the best time to think about them, not in the middle of TP!

    Procrastination cartoon from
    Sometimes the language analysis can be a bit like this. (Cartoon by Dave Walker, found via We Blog Cartoons.)

  3. Based on the aims of your lesson, decide what kind of lesson it is, and check what the main stages of that type of lesson should be.
    For example, if you’re teaching vocabulary, will it be text-based? Situational? Test-teach-test? Does the lesson include speaking skills? What are the stages of a speaking lesson? etc Don’t write procedure at this point, just the stage names.
  4. Decide which of the stages is the most important, and should therefore account for the longest activity(ies) in your lesson.
    In a writing lesson, this would be the writing stage, for example.
  5. Allocate the remaining time you have available to the rest of the stages you listed at step 3.
    If you’re teaching elementary and you need help, see here. You might still find some useful tips there if you’re teaching other levels.
  6. Now you know how long you have for each stage, it’s time to add the procedural detail.
    Exactly what will you do at each stage? How will you set up the activities? How will you give feedback? Do you need a peer check? And will you realistically be able to do all of this in the time you allocated to that stage during step 5? Can you make it more efficient? If you’ve allocated too much time, do you need to rethink step 5? And do you really, really have time to do that amazing activity you’ve just read about and really want to have a go at, even though it doesn’t really help you achieve your aims? Is there anything else you need to remind yourself to do?
    As a tutor, I’ve noticed that until it’s second nature, if it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the lesson, so if you want to do it, write it down. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but you’re more likely to manage it if it’s in the plan!
  7. Fill in the rest of the planning document, e.g. assumptions, anticipated problems/solutions, materials etc.
    By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what to write for all of these, since you’ve had plenty of time to think the lesson through.
  8. Finally, the fun bit! Prepare your materials.
    Now that you’ve completed all of the important paperwork you need to do, you know how long you have left to be able to dedicate to creating/adapting/cutting up those all important materials. Go nuts!

If you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank when you look at a computer screen (oddly enough, not when blogging, but I digress!) and you think much better with paper. I’d therefore recommended plotting out steps 1-5 roughly on paper before you go anywhere near the computer, and possibly 6 too if it helps.

The following four steps are optional extras, to be added if you have time to do them, or a particular problem with these areas:

  • Script your instructions.
    A great tip I got from my main course tutor in Sevastopol was to aim for instructions of three sentences of three words each. While this can sometimes be impossible, it helps you to avoid long embedded sentences of the “What I’d like you to do now is I’d like you to…” variety. Use imperatives. Something like: “Read this. Answer the questions. Work alone.” accompanied by pointing at the handout is good. It might sound harsh because there are no politeness markers in there, but it’s efficient and to the point.
  • Script ICQs.
    Seeing ‘Ask ICQs’ in a lesson plan without them being followed by said ICQs is one of my personal bugbears. As with CCQs in the language analysis, if you’re going to use them, script them. Make sure they only deal with potential problem areas, as otherwise they may well confuse the students more than if you hadn’t asked them. And remember that doing a clear example/demonstration can often negate the need for ICQs, and sometimes instructions too!
  • Create a skeleton plan of your lesson.
    If you get overwhelmed by looking at your complete plan during TP, this can be a useful way to give yourself a reminder without having to spend hours working out where you’re up to while the students are staring at you. A skeleton plan is a brief outline of the stages of the lesson, perhaps with one or two useful reminders.
  • Rehearse the lesson.
    If confidence is a problem, going through your plan one more time before the lesson, either alone or with someone else, can really help you to feel more confident, and more sure about what’s coming next.

This was a system I came up with off the top of my head today, so I’d be interested to hear whether it works for you. And trainers, do you use anything similar?

20 thoughts on “One way to approach lesson planning for CELTA

  1. Thanks so much for this post Sandy! Even in advance of starting my CELTA I have printed it out and added it into my Useful folder I’m going to take to the Berlin School of English with me (where I’m studying in April.)
    Like you, I suffer from fairly severe verbal keyboard diarrhoea in front of my blog (still in development!) but for planning purposes I’m generally always a pen and paper girl, so that sounds like excellent advice to me 🙂
    Thanks again – I’ll let you know how I get on!


  2. This is where a 4-week course has its limits – on the one hand, this level of detail is necessary to get new teachers thinking carefully about the stages of a lesson and the purpose of each activity so they are not left floundering; on the other hand, they also need to become efficient planners when they are teaching 5 or 6 hours a day but the time frame of the CELTA/Trinity Cert is not enough to wean them off the detailed plan…

    Still, scripting of instructions, questions, and explanations is vital for beginning teachers (or teachers who have experience but still struggle with those areas). I always stress to trainees/workshop attendees that this is not something they will always have to do but it is something they have to do now in order to develop and ultimately master it later on.

    Just me being (possibly) pedantic here but I would disagree with the idea that the most important phase of the lesson should be the longest. For me, the most important stage of the lesson is often after the main activity when I give feedback on errors that popped up. It’s often short but it is the most important learning/noticing/reflecting moment.


    1. What you said about the limits of a four-week course is true, but I agree that the point of planning in so much depth is to help people realise just how many things there are to think about when you’re a teacher. For some people, it can definitely be overwhelming, but it means you’re more aware of a whole range of factors when it comes to having to plan more efficiently later. Hopefully at least one or two of those things have been internalised during the course, like how to give instructions or manage the classroom, so they don’t have to be planned so carefully later. And as we all know, we develop through experience too, and we deal with having less time to plan because we have to.
      I think feedback is important too, but one of the things I didn’t say above is that feedback is an integral part of each of those stages – at least, that’s what I try to get across to the trainees. So by saying that the most important stage should be the longest, that would be (for example) practice (+peer check) + feedback =one stage. Sorry if that wasn’t clear!
      Thanks for the comment Dave,


    1. Hi Mahmoud,
      There’s no ‘formula’ for getting a pass B. You need to fulfil the criteria listed at the back of the CELTA 5 above the standard of a pass, showing that you can do them consistently and aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.
      The important thing on a CELTA is to show progress, and to aim for a pass. There’s no point aiming for higher grades, as all you’ll do is stress yourself out. In the real world, it’s unusual for anyone to ask about your grade on a CELTA – the important thing is to have the certificate.
      Good luck!


    2. Where I did my CELTA anything above a pass was a wholly arbitrary popularity contest. You want a B? Become friends with the trainer and you’ll probably get one. Fifteen years later and this _still_ annoys me….


      1. I’d like to clarify that all of the CELTA courses are externally assessed, and final grades are approved by the assessor based on them looking at the candidates’ portfolios, so it shouldn’t be a popularity contest. I’m sorry to hear you felt that way.


  3. Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to share this!!! I will study it closely before beginning the course. It helps on a practical level but also psychologically to have a road map like this going in… makes it a lot less scary! Generous and charitable people like you are the true treasures of the world! I feel inspired to share information more freely with others!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Sandy I find your blog so interesting and I start my Celta next monday, any chance to see an example of a celta Lesson plan? and a ice breaker LP? thank you Monica


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