Plan more than you do

As I try to improve the quality of my lesson planning — having better plans for each lesson, as well as between lessons — I’ve learned the value of planning to do more than I can actually get done in the lesson.

Lessons in tempo

Here’s a fun fact about me: I hate teaching kids. I do it. Apparently, I do it sufficiently well (parents ask for me), but I do not enjoy it. But, all of my non-enjoyment is worth it because it was kids’ lessons that taught me the importance of tempo in lessons.

Kids are unforgiving. If they get even a tiny bit bored, they get distracted. The lesson has to keep moving, has to catch and hold their attention. And, the thing that works best for that — in my lessons — is to never stick with one activity for very long.

And the thing is this: just because adults are more polite — and better trained — it’s not like they don’t get distracted. Learning to make higher-tempo lessons helped me make my adult lessons more engaging. (And makes it easier to prevent the ‘I have to say this in German’ moments I mentioned in my post on L1 use.)

Write down more than you think you have time to do

As a result of this, I’ve learned that there’s a value to planning more than you think you have time to do. That means that, as the teacher, I have to keep an eye on the time and where we are in the plan because I want to successfully end with correcting the previous week’s homework and assigning the next homework. It’s on me to know if we’re going to skip an activity or rush a conversation. (Fun fact: a rushed conversation is better than one that goes on too long.)

If I leave out a grammar point, nobody is upset (as long as grammar is still in most lessons — Germans seem to expect grammar, even if they tell you they don’t want it). And, if a routine activity gets skipped, there’s a good chance they won’t notice.

However, if a conversation has to be stretched in order to make the time, they will notice and think that the teacher came to the lesson unprepared. Even more, a series of short activities makes the lesson seem to go faster and students who walk out thinking “was that ninety minutes? Are we finished already?” are participants who will like their lessons. (And that’s more important than you might think.)

Be a teaching ninja – activities you can include

Most of the language schools I have taught for suggest — or command — a pretty similar course structure: warmup, conversation, grammar. You’d think your lesson plan will include three points. (Or, that’s what a younger version of me thought.)

Sometimes, though, I plan well enough that I finish the lesson feeling like a teaching ninja. The trick is breaking each point down into separate activities.

I’m a big fan of student-led activities (post on them coming soon!) and planning one of them as a ritual ending of the conversation part gives me something I can drop, if the conversation is great (or, just as likely, is derailed into a discussion of something else which is better than what I planned).

Where my old three-point lesson plans might have just said “prepositions of place” under grammar, I now try to have a review activity planned for the previous lesson’s grammar as well as some way of including new grammar (tag “prepositions of time review” onto that “prepositions of place” lesson). I don’t want to pretend that I’m always able to do this, but my best lessons then have both the old and the new grammars being reviewed at once. (Put lists of places and times on the board and have them form sentences: “On the weekend I want to have a coffee in the city.”)

In most of my groups, I have an EFL reading worksheet from New Spork City that I pass out as ‘voluntary homework.’ In my lesson plans, I make a note of what happened in the last worksheet to include a quick “Who read the last story? Is that how your family plans meals? Do you make your meal plans day-by-day or once for the whole week?” It’s not something I’d include in each lesson — it’s voluntary homework — but it keeps the tempo going and adds an extra conversation point. (I wouldn’t plan twenty minutes on meal planning, but five minutes is perfect.)

Practice makes perfect

The whole point of this blog is to help me improve as a teacher. I can’t pretend that I do these things well in every lesson. However, the more I try to do it, the better I get at it.

The same way that you get better at teaching the present perfect and present progressive each time you do it, you’ll find that the more you try to think of extra activities you can pack into a lesson, the more activities you’ll have in your toolbox.

What are the kinds of things that you do to keep your lessons moving along? Are there any activities that you use to fill your classroom?

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