Lesson PlanningYou’re 30 minutes in to a 45 minute lesson; the students have finished their final activity and are looking up at you expectantly. What’s a teacher to do? The well-prepared teacher anticipated this moment and came up with a back-up activity when she was writing out her lesson plan the day before. A word search, a game of hangman, a discussion of a story in today’s newspaper: all great ideas for keeping student talk time high and using up unexpected extra time.
There’s nothing worse for a student than watching the teacher flounder for ideas on how to keep her students occupied when she’s run out of material. Writing out a lesson plan prior to the class is one of the easiest ways a teacher can be successful in the classroom. Lesson plans not only keep the teacher organized and efficient during the lesson, but they allow the teacher the opportunity to review the lesson beforehand so she can anticipate any potential problems the students might have with the new language and consider how she will address them. By writing down the lesson plan, the teacher has a record of what was taught on that day. Most importantly, the teacher has an outline for the format of the day’s lesson, with a list of the necessary materials, expected times for each activity, and at least one back up activity.
Good lesson plan writing starts with well thought out engage, study and activate stages that fit into the context of the syllabus. The engage stage is arguably the most important part of the lesson; it’s the hook that will get students interested and excited about the lesson. It’s critical for teachers to know their students so they can develop engaging discussions and games for this stage of the lesson. The study stage functions to reinforce new language learned and pre-teach any necessary language before moving onto the activate stage. Because this is the stage when most board work and worksheets will be done, it has the most potential for causing boredom. Therefore, teachers should plan to put students into pairs or groups to do worksheets, and to break up overly long study stages with activities that allow students to practice what they’ve learned.
When I think about my middle school french classes, I remember a lot of games, plenty of pair work, and much movement around the class. This kept things interesting and entertaining, and students tended to really enjoy the class. Skip to college-level italian class, which was almost always 45 minutes of worksheets and board work, and I’m sure that it was purely a love of the language that kept me going for 2 years, and not any real love for the professor. It’s important to remember that both kids
and adults want to enjoy themselves; nobody learns much in a dull environment.
When planning out the activate stage, it’s important to remember that the goal is to keep student talk time high: activities should give the students an opportunity to practice their newly acquired language. Here, again, it’s important for the teacher to know her students. Knowing who works well together and who doesn’t, which students are strong and which are weak, ensures everyone will feel comfortable participating and will benefit from the exercise.
Another critical aspect of planning the lesson is knowing what materials are needed, and preparing them in advance. I remember one professor who, after 15 minutes of trying to make the overhead projector work, went to make photocopies of the sheet so the students could look on. At the time it was humorous, but now that I am about to be a teacher and could end up in that very position someday, I realize how important it is to be prepared. Making sure your equipment works saves time, as does preparing a board plan, OHTs, noting DVD times, etc.
While these tactics all go a long way towards keeping a teacher organized and efficient in the classroom, there will always be unexpected situations and problems you never considered. Ask any experienced teacher, and they’ll tell you that as you continue to teach, you’ll be less dependent on a detailed lesson plan because you’ll gain a better sense of what works in the classroom and what doesn’t. While flexibility and an ability to adapt are some of the most important qualities in a teacher, I believe that lesson plans provide teachers the support they need and are one of the keys to great teaching.