More than five approaches to planning lessons

Lesson Planning

image: Fuschia Foot

I’ve been out of town, so am just now getting caught up on the last round of posts on the iTDi blog about working with difficult students. If life happened to interfere with your chance to read those posts, please do. They’re as inspiring as always.

This week’s topic is lesson planning, and there was quite a range in the way the iTDi bloggers approach their planning.

Anna Loseva believes that teachers have to come up with an individual approach to lesson planning that works for them. She has come up with a unique approach that works perfectly for her. Anna’s lesson plans look like ‘to do’ lists, but always focus on creating meaningful connections. A successfully planned lesson results in students having a clear idea of what their lesson’s objectives were and a sense of how any particular lesson fits into the greater context of a course.

We should all aim to be SLOW teaches, according to Steven Herder, and he’s not talking about the pace of teaching. SLOW is an acronym for Spontaneous Learning Opportunity Windows, which are moments when everyone in class is focused on the same thing. Clever teachers can exploit opportunities to increase interaction in class. Steven’s examples of SLOW moments and how to exploit them reminded me that he’s a very clever teacher!

Cecilia Lemos believes that our approach to lesson planning is evolutionary. The way we plan our lessons changes because we change, our students change, and our teaching situation changes over time. It would be odd if our approach didn’t change over time. For Cecilia, the process of thinking through a lesson is more important than the form the planning itself takes. I also like the way she uses her lesson plans as a self-improvement tool. The example she gives is clear enough that any of us could follow her model.

For Yitzha Sarwono, planning a lesson is a step for teachers toward owning their lesson and classroom. She makes a great analogy of planning a birthday party to parallel planning a lesson. We want to make sure that there’s something for everyone at a party, and we want to make sure that there’s something in our lesson plan to ‘feed’ everyone in our classroom. Yitzha also explains how planning in details allows her to be flexible when plans go awry, or when we just have one of those days. Even if we aren’t teaching kindergarten, it never hurts to have extra activities to fall back on.

You might expect Scott “Mr. Dogme” Thornbury to say “Throw your lesson plan out the window!” If so, you’ll be surprised by his post. In Scott’s view, lesson plans are very important if you’re a new teacher navigating the perils of the classroom, or if you’re going to be observed. The plan isn’t as important if you’re following a coursebook, because the plan is built in — although it’s still important to use plans to adapt and supplement since no coursebook is perfect for your unique class. Lesson plans are also not as important if you’re a substitute teacher or if you’ve become so experienced that you can essentially create your plan as you go.

The last post is my own. I liken lesson planning to using a car navigator. It’s important to know your intended destination before you begin your journey. That way, even if you are distracted by the lovely attractions along the side of your road, you know how to redirect your course toward a goal. I think lesson plans keep teachers honest and accountable, regardless of the form they take, and as we become more experienced the planning becomes more internalized and we feel more comfortable moving off route to explore new territory.

How about you? What’s your approach? Do you plan the details or improvise? select a post that sounds similar to your approach (or one that sounds very different from your approach) and head over to the iTDi blog to read and add your thoughts to the comments. I look forward to reading about they approach you bring to lesson planning!


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3 Responses

  1. Thanks, Barb. I’ve begun to look forward to your synopsis of the blog posts just as much as the blog posts themselves. You have an uncanny way of summarizing the posts just enough to pull me in. The English teacher who taught you the art of summarizing would be proud. Did you have any favorite English teachers when you were in school?

    Thanks for all of your never-ending work.


  2. I’d definitely go the Scott “Mr. Dogme” Thornbury way. I have been teaching for more than 20 years and currently teaching EAP. We have created our own materials based on a needs analysis study. Here’s what I do -quite briefly:
    1. Check out content day before (the class).
    2. Add some new activities not found in this material (to spice up a bit what I do and provide new opportunities for my students to learn)…Generally inspired on books I read, tweets and post from like-minded people…Also from own experiences as an EFL learner (I believe this has great value in the EFL classroom).
    3. Evaluate, check out students’s reactions to these activities. If they sort of successfully work in more than one group, I add it to my repertoire of activities for my EAP courses.

  3. Thanks for sharing Barbara!
    Great food for thought as I’m in the middle of lesson planning!