Archive | January, 2013

What really goes into your lesson plan?

21 Jan

Getting learners to think about their writing BEFORE they put pen to paper is a thankless task.  Most seem to prefer the “stream of consciousness” approach, where the words flow ceaselessly out of the brain, down the arm and out, via the pen, onto the page.  I have, in the past, spent months hammering home the point and process of planning a piece of writing – even to the point of insisting my classes include a plan with every piece of writing they submit.  No plan – no grade.

I gave up on that approach after a student came up to me at the end of one lesson and handed me his essay.  “Teacher, I’m really sorry but I didn’t have much time for my homework.  I wrote the essay for you, but is it OK if I write the plan later?”

Now, on reflection, what I think is interesting about that comment is that the learner clearly didn’t associate planning with the creation of a successful text.  The final product to be assessed was, in his view, more important than the process of getting there.

What I’m beginning to wonder is whether the same view might be more prevalent amongst teachers than it is with learners?  When it comes to lesson planning, do we practice what we preach?

Confession time.  You might find this hard to believe, but not every lesson plan I write includes aims, assumptions, anticipated problems and solutions, timetable fit, stages, stage aims, timings, procedures, interaction patterns and material references.  In fact I think the last time I did any of that was on 6th June 2007, which – not entirely uncoincidentally – was the last time I was observed.

These days, my planning process goes a bit more like this:

  1. What should the learners be better at doing by the end of the lesson?
  2. How will I know if they are better at doing it?
  3. What do they need to know to get better at it?
  4. How can I make the whole process interesting for them?

And then after I’ve spent 45 minutes swearing at the course book for not helping with any aspect of this process, I scribble about six stages down on the back of a discarded handout, do some photocopying and we’re done.  Sound familiar?

So here’s my question – am I alone?  How does everybody else do their planning?  Let me know!


What does your course bibliography say about you?

17 Jan

I’ve recently just finished teaching an Elementary business group, as part of which some extensive record keeping was required, and for the first time I actually kept a bibliography for the course.  It makes interesting reading and what struck me most was the sheer number of supplementary works referred to.  Is that normal?  Am I over-reliant on materials?  Why so many?

I’ve had to stop and think and go back to some of my other lesson records to check, but it does look like I supplement a lot.  Now in this case, the course book I was using was possibly not designed for a course of this length or heft, and wasn’t helped by the fact that the group was mixed ability, so there are two very pragmatic reasons for supplementing right there – to keep the challenge going for the stronger members of the group and basically to make sure there’s enough going on in the lessons (and I’m aware of the in-drawn hiss of breath coming from certain members of the audience as I write that…).

Fundamentally however, I think what I see when I look at that list is that I have a real problem with course books.  Put simply, they aren’t up to the job.  Two of the course books I’m using at the moment are WOE-ful.  WOE-ful in the sense that (a) they cause me sorrow and misery on a regular basis and (b) every time I open their pages I’m struck by the feeling of What On Earth (WOE) am I meant to do with this?  Actually, that’s not quite the expression I use but this is a family friendly blog…

So what do I supplement for?

Most of the time it’s to give the learners something to do with the language.  It is shocking how few productive activities or tasks are included in course books.  Obviously some books are better than others, but by and large if you open any course book to a double page spread there’s not much there to prompt the learners to actually use any of the language they’ve theoretically been learning.  Not that I  have high expectations of learner production anyway, but if you don’t even give learners the chance?  It does rather beg the question what you’re doing in the classroom in the first place.

The other reason I supplement is to find engaging ways of helping the learners get to grips with the target language in the first place.  There is a course book I’m using at the moment (not listed below), which I find is terrible for language work.  It’s the same approach every time and employs a watered down, dull and un-motivating version of guided discovery which does little in the way of guiding and presents rather than allowing for discovery.  It is not a book that deserves space on anyone’s shelf and would frankly be better used as kindling.  So given that, I supplement to find more interesting, useful and memorable ways of introducing the target language.

What does it say about my teaching?

Well, that’s quite a difficult one to answer and I think what it says about my teaching is that I use PPP a lot more than I think I do.  I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing – detractors of PPP are invariably trying to promote their own next big thing at the expense of PPP and I have yet to see any evidence, other than anecdotal, that any particular methodology is superior to any other methodology.  Nonetheless, I’m slightly uncomfortable with finding  that out about myself.  I thought my teaching range was broader.

Maybe it’s time to do some more experimenting…

Ultimately though, and as Richards points out in “The Language Teaching Matrix”:  “Studies of the effectiveness of specific methods have had a hard time demonstrating that the method itself, rather than other factors, such as the teacher’s enthusiasm or the novelty of the new method, was the crucial variable” and I think that what this course bibliography really says is that I spend a lot of time trying to find interesting and engaging ways to help learners learn.  Which is probably more important than “slavish adherence to a method” anyway.  Right?

Course Bibliography:
  • Clarke, Simon. (2010). “In Company Elementary Student’s Book – 2nd Edition”. Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Oxford
  • Cotton, David; Falvey, David and Kent, Simon. (2007). “New Edition Market Leader Elementary Course Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
  • Cunningham, Sarah; Moor, Peter and Eales, Francis. (2005). “New Cutting Edge Elementary Student’s Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
  • Eales, Francis; Cunningham, Sarah; Moor, Peter and Redston, Chris. (2005). “New Cutting Edge Elementary Teacher’s Resource Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
  • Emmerson, Paul. (2002). “Business English Frameworks”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Gerngross, Günter, Puchta, Herbert and Thornbury, Scott. (2006). “Teaching Grammar Creatively”. Helbling Languages: Cambridge.
  • Grant, David; Hughes, John and Turner, Rebecca. (2009). “Business Result Elementary Student’s Book”. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • Kay, Susan. (1997). “Reward Elementary Resource Pack”. Heinemann ELT: Oxford
  • Kay, Susan. (1997). “Reward Pre-Intermediate Resource Pack”. Heinemann ELT: Oxford
  • Lloyd, Angela & Preier, Anne. (1996). “Business Communication Games”. Oxford University Press: Oxford
  • Maggs, Peter & Hird, John. (2002). “Timesaver Speaking Activities”. Mary Glasgow Magazines: London.
  • O’Dell, Felicity & Head, Katie. (2003). “Games for Vocabulary Practice”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Thornbury, Scott. (2001). “Uncovering Grammar”. Macmillan Heinemann: Oxford.
  • Ur, Penny. (1988). “Grammar Practice Activities”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Viney, Brigit; Walker, Elaine and Elsworth, Steve. (2007). “Grammar Practice for Elementary Students”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
  • Wallwork, Adrian. (1997). “Discussions A-Z Intermediate”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.


2012 in review

2 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 81,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.