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!



15 Responses to “What really goes into your lesson plan?”

  1. Stephen Greene Monday 21 January 2013 at 14:14 #

    I rarely write a plan at all anymore. I have two ways of planning at the moment.

    1. It’s all in my head. I spend a few minutes more or less thinking about the questions you wrote and then go and teach.

    2. I plan as I write. A lot of the time I use material that I have written myself. This process of writing the material is also the plan, especially as I know the material inside out by the time I have finished it.

    • David Petrie Friday 25 January 2013 at 10:16 #

      Hi Stephen,

      Your first point is right – I don’t always write down everything and sometimes I go in with a mental plan rather than something written down, but I think I prefer the support of something on paper, just so that is something bombs spectacularly, I can refer to it and move on to the next thing instead of sitting there being discombobulated!

      I think if you’re designing material for a specific class then clearly you have some sort of aim in mind – or at least you know why you want to use that material. Do you think of general (or specific) aims for the lesson first, or do they arise out of the material? Also, how do you decide what material to use in any given lesson?

      Cheers for the comment,

  2. Chiew Monday 21 January 2013 at 16:19 #

    I spend days on planning, David. Really. Honestly. But, I don’t even have a lesson aim – not written anyway. I have a long-term aim. The short-term aim varies dogmetically. I have a list of “activities” and their estimated timings (which are usually under-timed) so that I don’t run out of things to do midway through class. Yes, I sometimes use coursebooks but they act as supplementary material rather than the other way around. I wish I had time to plan anticipated problems and all that, but who has the time in real life? I try to do my best, and if I can’t help them with emergent problems in one class, I’ll do it in the next class.

    Regarding your essay plan, have you ever thought of setting them just the plan and not the essay? Alternatively, do the planning in class.

    • David Petrie Friday 25 January 2013 at 10:23 #

      Hi Chiew,
      Days? Hmm. I think I’ve spotted why you don’t have much time…..! When you say the short term aim varies dogmetically, presumably you mean that when you notice the learners have a problem with something in one lesson you try to make it a feature of subsequent lessons?
      But do you never go in with the idea of “by the end of the lesson the learners will be better able to….”

      As far as the essay plan, I’ve moved away from that a bit now, certainly for exam classes I take a slightly different approach and I’m encouraging learners to a more analytical approach…

      really days though?

  3. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus Monday 21 January 2013 at 17:42 #

    At the moment, I seem to have two approaches (excepting specialist classes, coaching for specific objectives, etc.) and the student’s learning style comes a lot into play here.

    For example, some students are happy to go completely Dogme (i.e. no planning other than a topic of conversation and working on language as it comes up and either they have questions about it or I see that it needs some pinpointed work). They may request to look at a specific topic the following lesson, in which case I’ll oblige. That being said, they often tell me not to plan too much, just bring in an article or something on the lesson to get the ball rolling.

    For other students who may take less initiative, I generally write out a sequence of activities on a post-it note that I take into class and post on the table so I can see it. I don’t generally note timings, because it depends on how things go and how well (or not) an activity takes off, if something language-related comes up, etc.

    In both cases, I like to take a few minutes at the end of a lesson to find out what the student wants to work on in the next lesson (or what I can suggest we work on if something needs to be addressed).

    Just for info, I mainly teach one-to-one and small groups of professionals, but I’ve also used both of these approaches with university classes ranging from 10 to 35 students.

  4. Mark Monday 21 January 2013 at 22:13 #

    I confess to using the course book as the basis of my lessons. (using a book seems to be no-no nowadays.). The students have spent good money on them and so seems fair to use them. But, It’s not slavishly using the book, it’s using it as a guide. if the book is good for the particular grammar/vocab point, great. If not, I’m happy to ditch the book and then properly plan something from scratch myself. In the ideal world all classes are individually planned, with clear objectives, but there’s only so many hours in a day.

    • David Petrie Friday 25 January 2013 at 10:30 #

      Hi Mark,

      Well, whether to use course books or not is a whole other argument! You could say that students only spend money on them because they’re required to do so and I think with some of my classes the book isn’t particularly meeting anyone’s needs and I’d rather not bother with it – but as you say they’ve spent good money on it and I feel somewhat obliged to use it.

      I suppose books do act as a sort of course guide and they make sure everything gets “covered” but that doesn’t mean anything gets learnt and if you had proper curriculum and syllabus documents, you wouldn’t need it as a guide either…

      Thanks for commenting,

  5. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) Wednesday 23 January 2013 at 20:05 #

    I believe the longer we have been teaching, the less a detailed plan needs to be made. This point is discussed and demonstrated by a blog challenge Cecilia Lemos implemented here (http://cecilialemos.com/2011/02/24/whats-your-plan-my-first-challenge/) and subsequent posts, like mine here (http://fourc.ca/the-lesson-plan-transformation/). As a result, mine tend to be presentations and handouts rather than details about how I’m going to do them or objectives they aim to achieve. Those things now seem implicit.

    I’m not sure this lack of detailed planning (or lack thereof) we do completely correlates to the need for our students to practice the planning stages. We all did it to our lessons at one time, and students just haven’t had the hours of practice doing it to jump to nothing yet.

    • David Petrie Friday 25 January 2013 at 11:25 #

      Hi Tyson,

      Both Cecilia’s and your posts were published before I started blogging! So thank you for pointing them out to me – it’s interesting how lesson planning evolves – or in your case cycles round!

      You’re right that a lot of the things I mention become implicit considerations as you become more experienced – an automatic process develops so that when you look at the material you immediately start mentally manipulating it to best meet the needs of the class. But I wonder whether actually articulating these thoughts might not also be beneficial?

      I think trying to get that thought out on paper introduces a drafting process – you might have the idea in your head, but actually producing a written statement that expresses this idea is more complicated and I think it is that process that leads to a more considered, coherent plan. Not that I do this all the time, but there we go…

      Thanks for commenting,

      • Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) Friday 25 January 2013 at 13:31 #

        That is absolutely true, David. I’d argue that this type of drafting process is what occurs when creating the materials for the class i.e. things are moved around on the paper when you realise something works better in one place than another, the volume of text helps determine length on each activity, objectives are clearer as you go, etc.

        Writing out a detailed lesson plan is just not economical for we who have too little time as it is–one reason teacher trainees nearly kill themselves with burnout during their practicum. :O

  6. englishteachingnotes Thursday 25 April 2013 at 09:58 #

    That’s a very interesting question, and your student raised quite a controversial issue here, I think. But actually, if I remember my school years, when we had to write essays or compositions, first we HAD to write a plan, so that was how our teachers made us plan what we were going to write about. On the other hand, when now I ask my students to think and plan before they speak or write, very often they opt for the “free flow”. I try to convince them otherwise and to show that when they plan, they sound much better. Well, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t..
    ..As for me, usually the plan is more or less in my head (though in many cases something fresh and good occurs to me just at the lesson already), and if the lesson seems to have too many points, I scribble down just the sequence on a post-it or in a notebook…Though in most of the cases I don’t use these notes as I usually remember it:) or sometimes I just put the materials for the lesson in a particular order and that’s it!) and in many-many cases with many students Dogme still works best!)


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