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:
- Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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?