We had a plan... and we followed it
Planning lessons - for teachers; Planning studies - for students; Personal Experience - Marina Maliar.
Some teachers spend hours planning for their lessons while others spend no time at all. And while the latter may have wonderful creative lessons full of fun and practice it leaves a lot to pure chance. On the other hand following the plan word for word can be restrictive, boring and will not always cater to your students’ specific needs. So, we believe that it is important to have a plan but allow room for the unexpected.
To begin with, every lesson is a part of a curriculum, a course or a series of lessons. So we cannot think of it as a separate unit, but a link in the chain.
When you think of what you will teach, these are the things you should consider:
What you covered in the previous lessons
What you are going to study next
What your students’ short-term and long-term goals are
What your students’ current needs and problems are
Taking all of these into account will allow you to create relevant lessons cohesive with the program on the whole.
For example, imagine you studied modal verbs and finances in the previous week. Think of how you can incorporate revision and further activation into your lesson. It can also be a good idea to create a communication bridge between the last topic and the next, to allow smooth transition. Think how can you connect the topic of finances and, for instance, health? You could talk about the cost of medicine, of private hospitals, whether the government should provide free healthcare and other things like that. Logic and consistency establish and reinforce the rapport between you and your students.
Planning a series of lessons
When planning a sequence of lessons remember to maintain a balance of the skills your students will practice and activities you are going to use to do that. The skills are also intertwined with language exponents - vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, which should also be balanced.
What you can do is distribute the study of skills and exponents throughout the series of lessons (a week or two weeks) to maintain a well-balanced improvement. Thus, when you plan for a week or two, think of what kind of skills you will practice in every lesson to create a balance. There are 5 clear skills we can single out:
All five of them make up our level, so lacking in one will affect your overall performance. Today opinions divide on how many skills you can include in the lesson. Some say that two, others that all five, so we suggest thinking about what your students would prefer and how fast-paced your lessons tend to be.
Here is an example of what a plan for series of lessons should look like:
Consider your students
The next step is to consider who your students are. Is it an individual, a pair, a small group or a large group? This will define the range of tasks you can use like pairwork and groupwork, mingling activities, debates and roleplays.
After that, you should think what kind of dinamic you usually have on the lessons. Are your students slow-paced or fast-paced? Are they talkative, quiet or mixed? What kind of activities have worked best in the past? All of these things will allow you to attune the lesson to your students and their learning styles.
Finally think of the learning objectives: “What are my students going to be able to do at the end of the class that there were not able to do at the beginning?” Almost every activity you are planning for the lesson should be aimed at achieving those specific objectives. Remember that not every lesson must have a specific objective and those objectives do not always have to dictate what is happening on the lesson. Sometimes the students get excited about a topic or a specific activity and have a major break-through and it important that you allow these things to happen. If your previously reluctant to speak group is suddenly having a heated debate (that you hadn’t planned) put your plan aside and start noting down their ideas, mistakes and points to review.
So now let’s look at how you should organise the lesson. After establishing the objective of the lesson note how much time you have to achieve it, how many activities you can squeeze in the time-frame available to you.
It is a good idea to start every lesson with a little warm-up, it can take from 5 to around 10 minutes. Here are some ideas for you:
discuss students’ plans for the weekend or what they did last weekend
discuss latest news and current affairs
play a revision game
set the objectives for the lesson
After the warm-up is planned consider what approach you are going to take. The most classic approach is what is known as PPP - presentation - practice - production.
Presentation - you generate the context, elicit the model sentence and after that focus on form and meaning.
Practice - this is guided practice usually in the form of a speaking activity, like making examples, answering questions, playing a game.
Production - learners have an opportunity to use the model more freely, as in a discussion, debate, roleplay.
This type of the lesson has a communication activity only at the end of the lesson, but it is possible to use it at the beginning, not only with higher levels but also with false beginners and elementary level students.
Starting your lesson with a communication task will make it more student centered, will draw on their existing knowledge and language capacity and may create or reinforce the desired need for specific language items, which will make the following presentation more meaningful.
However, such activity may give you less time for guided and freer practice at the end of the lesson, more mistakes or problems may surface that the teacher will not be able to adequately address straightaway. Consider using the topic of the lesson for such speaking activity and then build up your plan from there.
Plan for problems
Here is a tip you: plan for problems and mistakes. If you anticipate what kind of difficulties your students may encounter or what questions may emerge you will be armed to the teeth and almost nothing will be able surprise you. If you are going to do a reading task, look through the text and think what lexical units are unfamiliar to your students, what may hinder understanding. It can be a good idea to pre-teach some of these or ask your students to read for gist and ignore the things they do not understand. Same goes for listening activities. As for speaking, think of what your students might want to say based on their unique backgrounds, language 1 interference and interests. If you come from the same country as your students this will be not so difficult to predict.
So let’s summarise with a simplified lesson structure:
Communication, topic introduction, eliciting
Model presentation or reading/listening for gist
Model guided practice or reading/listening for details
Free practice or discussion
Do you plan for all your lessons? Do your plans look similar to our suggestions? What do you differently?
5 Steps for Planning a Productive and Successful Language Learning Week
The weekend is a great time to spend an hour looking to the week ahead by mapping out goals and intentions.
Many people plan ahead for business goals, upcoming deadlines, events, meetings at work, fitness or meals. But did you know that making a language learning plan can actually help you learn a language faster?
When you plan, set goals, and know what’s coming up, it’s like winding up a little engine so you can hit “GO” and learn in the most effective, productive way.
Step 1: Set Path Goals for your Language Learning Week
To start your plan, focus on what’s right in front of you and answer the question “What should I do next?”. Look for Path Goals: specific, achievable, relevant actions that will help you learn a language right now.
With Path Goals, smaller is better. It’s better to meet all your “not so difficult” goals than to aim high and miss the target.
For example, in a week my Language Learning Goals might include
Completing 2 pages in my grammar book
Watching an episode of a TV show in my new language
Writing 10 texts or sentences in my target language
Don’t overload the week. Keep it simple and focus on your system.
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Step 2: Check Your Schedule
After you have set your initial goals, it’s helpful to look ahead at what’s on your schedule every day. Have you been realistic? Will you be able to fit in all the sessions you are hoping to complete?
Sometimes, you may find that your list of goals and tasks feels like it might give you a heart attack. Remember that it is okay to aim for what you know you can do, and move some goals to the “not this week” zone.
Productivity does not mean having to do everything all at once.
When I’m thinking about running, it can be hard to motivate myself because doing less than 5k feels lazy. But then I remember this line:
Even when you run 10 steps, you are still faster than everyone on the couch.
It is ABSOLUTELY OKAY to aim for the minimum, because everything you do builds on each other. In the next step, you’ll learn how to make progress even when you don’t have a massive goal in mind.
Step 3: Ensure Daily Contact with Your Target Language
In the Language Habit method, it is not critical to count how many minutes or hours you spend with your language learning materials each day. The first aim should be contact with your target language on a daily basis.
The Golden Rules of Daily Language Learning:
Aim for contact with your target language on a daily basis
You have to find a convenient way of finding contact - the easier, the better.
You should prioritise fun and find something you enjoy in your target language
For example, here are a few easy ways that I incorporate Welsh language into my daily routine:
• Following Welsh language accounts on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, so all I need to do is scroll through my feed
• Watching a new TV series or subscribing to a podcast, so I always have a next episode queued up
• Downloading different language learning apps, so I can follow my mood and spend a few minutes doing Duolingo, Clozemaster, Memrise, etc
• Leaving a magazine or book open on my breakfast table or setting the Welsh news website as my browser homepage
None of these activities are designed to take many hours of study, but they all do their part and keep my brain engaged with what Welsh looks and sounds like.
Step 4: Choose a Reward
Try writing down how you will reward yourself at the end of the week.
No matter how many minutes or hours you study, you will be working hard (even procrastination is work, right?).
Great rewards can be small and low-cost like borrowing a new book from the library, enjoying a drink with friends, or going to a concert. It’s your call whether you want to make these related to your target language. Just make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy, and that you know you earned it with a great week of study.
Step 5: Raise the Bar with Bigger Language Sessions
Every day, you have the opportunity to grow your language learning routine through bigger study sessions. These are focused, dedicated times when your focus shifts to improving your language skills.
Take speaking practice for example: These are usually around an hour long and challenge you to be 100% engaged, think on your feet, speak the language, understand native speakers, and get over the mistakes you’re making. A session like that is an intense learning experience, doing wonders for your level.
Sometimes you may not have a chance to practice speaking, but your big sessions might involve working through a textbook chapter or listening and summarising a piece of audio.
Remember: You are Building a Habit
Habits have to be built over time, little by little. Just like you don’t train for a marathon by running one marathon once a month, your brain will adjust to your new language learning practice and help you get better with time.
Try to banish perfectionism, especially when you are working with the perspective of setting a weekly goal. You don’t have to be the best in order to be good.
For me, it’s rare to find time and focus for more than three big sessions in an average week. When I’m in a phase where I work on more languages, I may vary the contact days or determine that Thursdays are for French, for example.
Finally, remember that you can do this! Every day spent in contact with your target language is helping you learn it.
Do you plan for studying? Do you think these tips are helpful? Which ones are you going to use?
My name’s Marina. I’ve been an English teacher for about 5 years. I enjoy teaching General English to adults, who have no specific purposes of learning the language. My students enjoy being in classes, communicating with each other in English, setting new goals for themselves and achieving them. I do my best to support them in their way and make my lessons educational and entertaining at the same time.
Planning is important. I see planning a lesson, or a curriculum, as drawing a map, choosing a destination and finding a path towards it. There are plenty of materials, coursebooks, authentic articles and videos that could be used in a classroom, and the process of choosing the right ones can be frustrating. That is why it is important to start planning a lesson with the objective. Then I would think of a line of activities that would help me achieve it. I don’t write a very detailed plan, and I’m quite flexible with the procedure - the most important thing is to achieve the objectives, and it might be hard to predict the problems students will encounter on that way, so I believe a teacher should adjust the plan they have prepared beforehand to the situation in the classroom. Our curriculum is not carved in stone, so if necessary, we can vary it and make it achievable for our students. They are the center of our environment, not the materials or lesson plans.
I plan every lesson. It might have been more productive to plan sequences of lessons, choose the lexical and grammatical topic I want to cover with my students and spend 3-4 lessons on it. But more often than not I end up planning just one lesson, and when the next one comes up, I struggle to remember where we were last time and connect two lessons together. On the other hand, planning a sequence and then not being able to follow this plan due to students’ pace or some unforeseen circumstances might be disappointing. It would probably be a good idea to brainstorm for ideas and materials before planning a sequence of lessons, choose the ones you would use, and then address the list for planning single lessons.