Your tutor has just given you the materials you will be using for your next assessed lesson along with some notes.
Usually, it will be a section of a coursebook unit along with some suggestions.
How do you start preparing? How can you be sure that you won’t be wasting countless hours over a plan which will work AND get good comments?
How do most CELTA trainees approach this task?
A less effective approach to planning lessons:
The least effective approach would be to look at the coursebook first and then start thinking how to plan a lesson around it.
With experience and training, this is what you will probably be doing in your daily classroom practice. But while on the CELTA course, while you are finding your feet, so to speak, it’s best to avoid starting from the material which might, in fact, confuse you.
So, what do you include in your lesson? How do you start preparing?
A 5-stage approach to planning a lesson:
In this post, I want to try to show you a simpler 5-step guide as to what you can do to make the most of the otherwise painstaking process of lesson planning.
This process does not start with the material but from what you already know about lesson planning, something which your tutors will have covered during input sessions.
I also hope it will highlight the importance of a good plan and why it is basically considered to be a ‘thinking process’ rather than merely putting words on paper because you simply need to be assessed by your course tutor.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, don’t worry about the coursebook yet. If you are not in a position to evaluate each activity’s aim at a glance, and ergo its importance to achieving your lesson aim, it will not help at all. Instead, work the other way round:
1.Ensure you know the type of lesson you are teaching, i.e. skills (listening, etc.), language (grammar, etc.) and come up with the main aim if it’s not explicitly mentioned in your notes. (see images below)
2. Write down the stages of the particular type of lesson, i. e. Listening skills. Therefore: pre-listening, while- listening, post-listening (see image below)
3. Write down the procedure aims for each stage, i.e. Pre-listening stage: to engage the Ls, to create the need for the text, to raise the Ls’ awareness of language/content/genre, (see image below)
4. List some problems learners have with listening in general that prevent them from listening successfully,e. not understanding what the topic of the dialogue is, not being able to understand details because of accent, not being able to interpret intonation indicating attitude, etc. (see pic below)
Now, it’s time to look at the actual coursebook. You need to decide on:
- each activity’s aim, the stage it would fall under in your lesson plan, and which procedure aim it matches. (see image below)
2. After you have done that, you can evaluate the materials much more efficiently and check which procedure aims have not been addressed at all so that you add, skip, or modify as you see fit depending on the lesson aim(s) and the learners’ needs and interests. At this point, you can show your creativity and your ability to adapt the materials in a meaningful, imaginative manner.
3. Last but not least, revisit the anticipated problems and evaluate them according to their relevance to the specific materials and your learners, i.e. “I mentioned that the Ls will not be familiar with the topic. Is it true or possible? I mentioned the difficulty of the accent of the speakers; so, let me listen to the actual recording and check.”
4. Come up with suitable and practical solutions in case the difficulties occur during the lesson.
Now, we can start completing the remaining parts of the plan which, by no means, should be considered less important!
Let’s look at the two basic ones: the description of the procedure and time allocation; in other words, what the teacher and the learners will be doing during the lesson and how much time each stage/activity is likely to take.
When completing this section of the plan, we need to think of the amount of detail we should include to describe the procedure so that it is clear to both you and the reader (aka the course tutor). We sometimes feel that this is not an important bit of the plan; but if we take time allocation into consideration, the level of its significance changes dramatically. For example, let’s look at the following extract taken from a random lesson procedure and take a minute to estimate how much time it would take.
There are two problems here: first, the teacher has not included sufficient detail as to how he/she would do feedback, how many times he/she is going to play the recording, and a number of other things as well. So, this particular description is bound to lead to unrealistic time allocation – something along the lines of 5’ minutes, which is too little. This is one of the main reasons why trainee teachers usually end up having no time for half the things they have thought of doing in their lessons.
Once you have completed all sections in sufficient detail, it’s time to review and evaluate your lesson plan and make sure that it actually reflects the lesson aim(s). You can ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the procedure reflect the type of lesson I am supposed to teach? Do the stages indicate a listening lesson, a grammar lesson, etc.?
- Do the procedure aims help me achieve the main aim of the lesson in a relatively coherent manner?
- Have I allocated time realistically? Have I allowed enough time for feedback / learner questions if need be?
- Have I varied interaction by including appropriate interaction patterns, i.e. pairwork/groupwork, etc. so that the lesson in not monotonous?
- What can I do if activity X does not go the way I have planned? (see anticipated difficulties and problems and revise/add)
This is the final stage where you try to incorporate feedback form previous lessons to show progress and improvement. At this point, you can set some personal teaching aims for your own development. For example, if your tutor has told you that you need to work on your monitoring, then you can go back to the procedure of the lesson and decide what you can do in each stage to work on that aspect of your teaching, and so on.
In this way, you can actually transform your lesson plan from a mere guiding tool to a developmental one.
Lesson planning can be unquestionably a time-consuming and, at times, exasperating process; however, it is one of the means of organising our thoughts, ideas, and the knowledge we have accumulated during our training (and beyond, of course!).
Once you get into the habit of approaching a lesson in this manner, you will be much better able to prepare efficiently for individual lessons and will become much more experienced in the long term – up to the point that your experience will be an even greater tool!
 The coursebook page has been taken and adapted from “New Cutting Edge”, Intermediate S’s book. Pearson Longman. 2005.
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