Once you’ve prepared your target language, it’s time to make your lesson schedule – a detailed, chronological, step-by-step list of things to do in your lesson. This is important for three reasons. The first is the most obvious – the plan tells you what to do during class. The other reasons are less obvious but no less important: one, scheduling a lesson helps you plan a better lesson, and two, scheduling a lesson helps you evaluate the lesson once you’ve given it. This guide will tell you how to get the most out of your lesson schedule before, during, and after your lesson.
1. Make a step-by-step plan with time estimates. This plan needs to cover what you, your coteacher, and your students will be doing during every minute of your lesson. Do not underestimate this task. In practice, every minute in which you do not know what you will be doing will be a minute in which nothing will get done.
The time estimates are important because they’ll help you plan the right number of activities. You will get better at making time estimates as you get to know your classes (and your own teaching style). Don’t stress about this too much, but remember to note down during your lesson which things took a radically different amount of time than you guessed – this will help you plan future lessons or adjust the lesson plan for other classes.
For younger kids (which is who every TLG volunteer primarily teaches, barring special circumstances) attention spans are small. If your time estimates are much more than 3-5 minutes for most steps in your plan, you may encounter problems during your lesson – kids will get bored or lose track of where they are and start talking to each other. You have to move quickly from one thing to the next to keep everyone’s attention.
When you have a 40 minute lesson that you have to plan in 3-5 minute chunks, you start to realize how much work lesson planning actually is – that’s between 8 and 13 distinct stages/activities for your relatively short lesson! Beleive it or not, for little kids 8-13 is a great estimate of how many activities per lesson they’ll need. Resist the temptation to pad activities out by adding to time estimates. If you run out of ideas of things to do, research short games, warmers, activities, songs, or whatever and sprinkle them in where appropriate. Not every activity has to address your target language.
Also keep in mind that if an activity is very complicated, and the explanation takes more than a minute or two, you will lose kids before you even start your activity. In this case you might consider a simpler activity, or a show rather than tell approach to instructions.
The 8-13 number is useful because it encourages you to think about the many different types of skills you can teach. There’s phonics, spelling, handwriting, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, tones, rhythms, and stress patterns, etc. You don’t necessarily need to label every activity based on what it is teaching, but it’s something to keep in mind for creating diverse, comprehensive, and engaging lessons.
It’s better to overplan at this stage than to underplan. I’m much happier crossing out extra activities at the end of a lesson than I am trying to keep 30 8-year-olds occupied for an extra 5 minutes with no advance preparation. Plus, anything you don’t get to do can be postponed and kept under your belt for review or to fill unplanned time in the future.
Remember to allot time to give out homework! Also keep in mind that it often takes up to 5 minutes for a lesson to actually begin in Georgian schools.
2. Label each stage of the lesson appropriately. Warmers get students ready to learn English. Lead-ins engage the students’ interest in the target language. Presentation is the introduction of the target language. Practice is the use of the target language in rote or fixed activities, and Production is the use of the target language in more free and unguided activities and/or in novel ways. Energizers are activities designed to break up long periods of inactivity and are appropriate for longer lessons. Review is going over material from previous lessons, and assessment is checking students’ knowledge or understanding of the material. Using these labels helps you create focused and balanced lessons, and they are appropriate whether you are using Task-Based Learning, PPP, TTT, or other lesson planning paradigms.
You might also include information on who is talking to whom – is this stage all teacher talking time? Does the teacher talk and have the class repeat or respond as a group? Do students talk to each other in pairs? Balancing teacher talking time with student talking time helps ensure that your students maintain interest and that they use their class time to best effect. Remember, students have to speak a language to learn it and often their only chance to do that is in class.
Finally, you could include information about which skill or skills each stage of the lesson teaches. Is this a reading and listening activity? A pronunciation drill?
3. Be detailed and specific. Do not write the following: “Stage 3: Presentation. Introduce Target Language.” Think in advance about how you will introduce the target language, and note it down. You don’t have to write yourself a script but you have to have some idea how the presentation is going to go. Think about how you will give instructions for games and activities. Think about what you will be doing and what your coteacher will be doing at any given moment.
You should have plenty of examples of your target language – make sure they’re included somewhere in your lesson plan. Make sure your lesson plan clearly indicates which exercises you will use at each stage, and make sure you understand and can explain those exercises clearly.
Note down exactly what materials you will need. Think about how you’re going to get or make your materials. In Georgia sometimes getting something printed is a logistical problem that you may need up to a week in advance to solve. Make sure your plans match up to what your school and community can provide. I have given up on taking lesson plans off the internet because none of them work when limited to the materials my students had access to at my former school in Tbilisi. In the villages this situation is even more pronounced. In any case your lesson plan isn’t really done until you actually have the materials you will need for your lesson.
4. Take notes and learn from them. During the lesson, you won’t have much time to write notes and check the clock, but time management is important. Keep a clock, watch, or cell phone on your desk. Note the time when you start a new stage in the lesson. Write down important notes when you get a chance, including while your coteacher has the attention of the class or when the bell rings and the children run screaming from the classroom.
Pay attention to what worked and didn’t work. Develop a shorthand – maybe a plus next to a stage that went well and a minus next to a stage that went poorly, and an X next to a stage that you skipped, or whatever works for you. Reuse activities that worked. Think about why activities that failed went wrong.
Pay attention to when stages run significantly over or under the time you expected for them. Think about why and you’ll learn not only how to make better time estimates, but also how to streamline activities and get the most out of your short lesson time.
5. Talk to you coteacher. Talk before, during, and after the lesson. If possible you should plan lessons together before class. During class make sure you communicate when you are transitioning from one activity to another or whenever one of you seems unsure of what is happening. After class talk about how the lesson went, if there were any problems that need addressing, and so forth. This of course goes a little bit beyond the scope of lesson planning but it is just as important for planning good lessons as it is for maintaining good classroom management or creating good assessments.