Lesson Planning 101

Posted on July 27, 2012 by


There’s no universally agreed-on structure for a lesson plan (or for a lesson, for that matter) but this post will list the bare bones of what you’ll need to put on paper to make a decent lesson plan. Subsequent posts will explore how to make this decent lesson plan into a great lesson plan – and a great lesson.

The Basic Elements of a Lesson Plan:

1. Bookkeeping info – stuff like the lesson name, the date, the book you’re using and what unit/page you’re working with, the age/level of students, the class name or number, etc. None of this really helps with the lesson itself, but it will help you organize your lesson plans and it also will help you easily identify who and what the lesson is for when you look at it later/next year/etc. This also makes lessons much clearer when you share them with others.

2. Target Language – this is the specific language you want to teach in this lesson. This can be a grammatical structure, a list of vocabulary words, a particular sound, etc. If you’re planning along with a book, it should be easy to figure out what the target language is – but you still want to include it in your lesson plan because the lesson should be designed around the target language, not the book.

(Most lesson plans also include an objective – the goal or aim of the lesson. 98% of the time, my objective is “to teach the target language”, so I don’t consider this strictly necessary.)

3. Materials – because it is easy to overlook something, you should list the materials you will need for your lesson and then make sure in advance that you will have these ready. This includes books, handouts, flash cards, realia (real-world objects that you use as demonstrations in your lesson), arts and crafts supplies, and anything else you will need for the lesson besides yourself and your students. You might even go so far as to include “chalk” because you can’t always take it for granted that classrooms will have some, and you may need to bring your own or make special arrangements to have chalk – rather than waiting for the lesson to start and having to send a kid running down the halls in search of a classroom with extra chalk that you can take some of.

4. A step-by-step, chronological list of things to do in class. This includes taking attendance, the warmer/warmers, your actual presentation of the material, drills with the students, activities the students will do, assessments of student understanding, assignment of homework, etc. If you’re teaching with a co-teacher, this list should specify what you should be doing and what your co-teacher should be doing at any given time.

Each stage of the lesson should include:
– a description of what you will do and what the students should do
– a classification: is this presentation, practice, or production?
– a time estimate: how long should this stage take?
– is the class working as a whole, individually, in pairs, or in groups?
– does the stage include students talking to each other, talking to the teacher, or not talking at all?

5. Extras: Some lesson plans include lots of other stuff. You can include a list of potential problems with the lesson and some solutions you’ve come up with in case they occur. You can include advanced exercises for students who get the material quickly, and/or remedial help for students who fall behind. You can specify the background knowledge students will need to complete the lesson. You can include extra activities to do if the lesson finishes early. I don’t consider these things integral to a good lesson plan, but they can be helpful.

The Basic Structure of a Lesson:

1. Review (British English: Revision) – this can be going over homework together, talking about what you did in class the day before, taking questions from students about past material, etc.

2. Warmers/Lead-ins – these are short activities designed to get students ready for the main lesson. Warmers should mentally orient students toward working in English, and lead-ins should point towards or prepare for the content of the lesson.

3. Presentation – this is the part where the target language is first presented to the students. This does not have to mean that the teacher lectures and the students listen silently – the students can and should be actively engaged in the presentation stage.

4. Practice – at this stage the students practice the target language with structured exercises under the guidance of the teacher(s). Practice can include drills – repetitions of specific words, phrases, or sentences – and written exercises such as fill in the blank, multiple choice, matching, etc.

5. Production – production is when students use the target language to communicate. It is less structured than practice, and should involve students producing their own uses of the target language, either written or spoken.

6. Assessment – the students are tested on what they know. Teachers should of course assess students’ progress during all stages the lesson but a specific assessment stage can help confirm that all students are on the same page.

Final Thoughts for Lesson Planning 101

Aim for variety. Use different types of activities and engage different skills. Make sure your lessons include reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Include activities for the different learning styles and speeds you will see in your classes.

Use the structure to help you, not restrict you. Identifying an activity as practice or production should help you – since practice prepares students for production, practice activities should go first. However, a phonics lesson (for example) might not lend itself to a production stage; some lessons (like group projects) might not need a presentation or practice stage and can go straight to production. Play around with the order and with the balance of different lesson stages.

One interesting approach to lessons is “Test-teach-test” – this is a variation in which there is an assessment before and after the target language is presented. Test-teach-test might be a good strategy for a fifth grade class doing a unit on the past simple tense – the initial assessment lets you see how much they remember from last year and gives them a guide to what to focus on during the lesson. The downside is that it can discourage students who don’t remember the material.

Ultimately, you can experiment with the order of the elements of the lesson and customize each lesson according to the needs of your class and the capabilities of yourself and your coteacher. Having a way to classify the elements of your lesson, and a written record of those classifications, will only enhance your creative capacity.

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