Do I Really Have To Plan My Lessons?

Posted on July 30, 2012 by

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I know from experience that it’s very tempting to let lesson planning fall by the wayside – it’s time-consuming, sometimes we don’t have the materials in advance of the lesson, and it involves lots of communication and face time with your coteachers, which can sometimes be hard to come by.

Worst of all, there are a bunch of easy excuses that we can make for not planning our lessons. After all, we are working from a book, so our lessons are basically planned for us by Macmillan. Also, some of us are pretty good at giving lessons without a real plan – we’ve just got that talent of making lessons come alive when flying by the seat of our pants. Plus, it’s really up to our coteachers to plan the lessons – they’re trained professionals and we’re not, and they probably already have lessons planned because a) it’s their job and b) they’ve been teaching English for decades. And if we do give a thought to lesson planning, surely a cursory five minute chat with the coteacher in the chaos of the teachers’ lounge is more than enough to get everything sorted.

Well, if I haven’t already sold you on the importance of lesson planning, hopefully this post will do the trick.

The book is not a lesson plan

English World is a wonderful series of books – it’s colorful, it’s silly, and it presents top-notch grammar instruction. One of the books has a song called “Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam”. Every child in Georgia will learn this song.

How many of them will have tasted peanut butter?

The English World book is not perfectly tailored to Georgian students. It does not address common problems that Georgian students have when learning English – the particular difficulties presented by first language interference and the trouble that Georgians will have with features that English has but Georgian lacks – like articles and gendered pronouns – and it also does not necessarily present cultural topics that Georgian students will be familiar with.

As teachers we have the ability – and the duty – to compensate for the things the Macmillan books lack. Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam is a perfect example of an area where the book teaches something that Georgian students have no context and no reference point for.

It’s also a perfect opportunity to provide Georgian students with an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise had. We can bring peanut butter and strawberry jam to class and have the kids make sandwiches. It’s such a simple thing to do, but it introduces the class to a little bit of our culture, and the kids will never forget it. Of course, getting a hold of peanut butter requires some advance preparation – and possibly a trip out to Didi Dighomi for the good peanut butter – which is why we can’t just do this with a quick five-minute chat in the teachers’ lounge. It’s a perfect opportunity to use realia to create an unforgettable lesson for our students, and all it requires is that we get ahead of the material and devote genuine forethought to our lesson planning.

The school year will be filled with opportunities like this – opportunities that we will miss if we don’t go over our teaching materials in advance and plan out our lessons.

And of course there are other reasons why the book is not a lesson plan. It doesn’t contain most of the basic elements of a lesson plan – time allotments, activities, supplementary materials for topics that your class finds difficult, division of labor between yourself and your coteacher, etc. The book doesn’t contain warmers to get your students ready for their lessons or games to keep them interested.

Finally, the English World books are mostly about presentation and practice. To get students to really engage with the language you will need to supplement the book with activities geared toward production.

If you are good at teaching unplanned lessons, you’ll be great at teaching planned lessons

This one is mostly self-explanatory. Maybe you are at your best when you have unstructured time to work with. That’s fine – one of the great things about planning your own lessons is that you can craft them to your own style. You can easily incorporate unstructured time into your lesson plans, with the added benefits of having something to refer to and fall back on in case something goes awry. Maybe you want to spend 20 minutes talking about a story the students read but you want to leave it up to the kids to decide how the conversation goes. No problem, but if the kids come up empty it might help to just note a few potential prompts or topics.

It’s important to come up with examples in advance. Maybe you are good at spontaneously making up sentences for a given grammatical structure or vocabulary word – again, that’s great, but there’s nothing to stop you from doing that the day before the lesson, and then you get the added bonus that you can proofread them, reuse them, and share them with your coteacher in advance so that she also knows what’s up. Your coteacher might even be able to clue you in on whether the examples are at an appropriate difficulty level for the students.

Working with your coteachers makes working with your coteachers easier

Maybe it’s hard to track them down outside class. Maybe they never learned conversational English so verbal communication is tough. Maybe they have no idea what to do with you in their class so you end up doing nothing. All of these challenges get easier over time if you plan lessons together – and what’s even better, any issues that come up get sorted outside class, rather than in front of the students.

Planning lessons with your coteachers means that you will both know, in advance, what you will each be doing with your time in class. It allows you to work out any disagreements over the target language. It allows you to help your coteachers with pronunciation before they teach vocabulary in class. It builds your sense of collaboration and trust in each other which in turn aids in the often difficult process of team teaching.

Great lesson planning takes a long time

This is inconvenient but unavoidable. For me to create a great lesson plan, from scratch, takes at least twice as long as the time allotted for the actual lesson. To plan a one hour lesson for young learners takes me two hours.

Why? Well, ideally you should read over everything the students are going to do. You should check any exercises you assign them so that you know what the directions are, whether there are any mistakes, what the objective of the exercises is, and what the answers are. Unless you’re assigning material of above-average difficulty, that should take almost as long for you as it will take for the students. If you’re creating the exercises yourself, it will take you longer to make them than it will take the students to do them.

You also have to list each step in the lesson and what you will be doing and what your coteacher will be doing. You have to find or create materials. You have to come up with supplementary activities. You have to consider the specific needs of your class with respect to the material you are trying to teach. You have to make sure you have extra stuff to do in case you get through your planned material early, or in case the students get bored and need something fun to do. You have to go over everything with your coteacher.

So yes, this takes time, and lots of it. The good news is that lessons for Georgian public school students are short – usually 35-40 minutes – and if you have four classes using English World 3, you can use your English World 3 lesson plans four times. You will also get better and more efficient at planning lessons with practice, and you and your coteachers will establish a routine that will make everything easier.

Still, in our 30 hour workweeks, it would not be unreasonable to have an average of 20 contact hours and 10 lesson planning hours – although in the first two weeks it might be more like 15-20 lesson planning hours, since you should familiarize yourself with the books and try to plan lessons a week or two in advance.

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Next: How To Plan A Great Lesson, Part I: Target Language

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