WHY WE WRITE LESSON PLANS
Given that there are a variety of reasons for writing a lesson plan, it should be a non-contentious view that there should be different kinds of lesson plan for different contexts. It is very difficult to come up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ for every situation. With this in mind, let’s start by looking at who lesson plans are for, and why we might want to write one in the first place.
WHO IS THE LESSON PLAN FOR?
Here are a few categories of people for whom you might want to write a lesson plan:
1. For Yourself
If you are a relatively new or inexperienced teacher, writing a lesson plan can help you think through your lesson with greater clarity. It can act as a kind of practical checklist of things to consider. In particular, it can help you to:
- Organise your preparation (handouts, writing-up instructions, setting up equipment, arranging the space).
- Make explicit and foreground any desired learning outcomes.
- Incorporate a variety of activity types to vary the flow and pace, and to sustain interest.
- Structure and order the phases of your lesson in a logical way.
- Plan the flow and pacing of your lesson so that valuable learning time isn’t wasted.
- Think about practical considerations, such as how you transition between different activities.
- Identify potential problems and opportunities – and have contingency plans in place to deal with these.
- Plan extension work or scaffold learning for your students, depending on how easy or difficult they find a particular task.
- Walkthrough the lesson in your head.
People sometimes think about a lesson plan in terms of a comfort blanket or a set of training wheels, but I find these kinds of metaphors rather patronising. It suggests that the teacher is somehow deficient or lacking in capability. Instead, teachers who plan in this way should be congratulated on being thorough and professional in their approach.
Of course, as teachers become more experienced, they will find it easier to work from brief notes or to carry a plan in their heads. Over time, all teachers hone their skills, learn to adapt to circumstances and events with confidence and improvise judiciously, sometimes going ‘off plan’ completely, when the occasion calls for it. However, even experienced teachers sometimes find it useful to put together a detailed written plan – particularly if they are finding a particular group of learners challenging or if they want to think through a lesson in more detail.
2. For your Academic Manager
You may also be asked for a lesson plan by your Academic Manager. This could be because they want to ensure that your content and methods are appropriate – either to the age and level of the students, to the syllabus or the ethos, approach and methodology of the school. But there may be other reasons too. For example, they may encourage you to use it as a tool for self-reflection, or they may want to keep copies on file with the class’s record of work so that they can evidence if required, that a lesson is purposeful and has been well-planned and thought through. This may be partly as a Quality Assurance (QA) measure but may also be a good thing for you as a teacher – for example, in the unlikely event of a complaint from a student or parent.
3. For Another Teacher
Sometimes you may want to write a lesson plan that can be used by another teacher. For example:
- You may need another teacher to stand in for you in the case of illness. Some institutions (and some teachers) like to have one or two lesson plans on file so that if a class needs to be covered by another teacher, the replacement can walk into the class at short notice and deliver a lesson that is well-planned and organised, and that will fit into the learning scheme for the students, rather than being a ‘one off’ class.
- If you are responsible for the development of in-house materials, or if you share lesson ideas with colleagues, you will want to supply a generic lesson plan and resources that can be picked up by any member of the teaching staff, adapted and delivered in a way that addresses the main learning outcomes.
- If you do peer observations, it can sometimes be interesting to do a ‘lesson swap’ with another teacher. This is where a colleague delivers a lesson you have prepared and vice-versa. This can be a great exercise, as it can highlight any strengths and weaknesses in the planning - and it can be really interesting to see how someone else approaches, delivers and adapts the various elements of the lesson.
4. For An Observer
Finally, you will at some stage have your teaching observed. This may be by your TEFL tutor, your Academic Manager, or by an external assessor (for example, a British Council or EAQUALS inspector)
With a TEFL tutor, you may need to evidence your preparation in detail, as it is likely to form part of what you will need to submit in order to pass your course. Also, the additional detail will help them understand and assess the choices that you make when teaching.
Lesson plans for external observers also tend to need more detail. This is simply because someone external is unlikely to know the institution or the class. Also, since it is the role of such observers to assess the quality of the teaching, they will benefit from having a full picture. If they are observing a large number of classes, observers may not be able to stay for a full lesson and may need to understand the portion of the lesson they observe in a wider context.
Observations by an academic manager will usually be for one of three reasons:
- As a Quality Assurance measure
- To provide you with feedback and support
- To provide the focus for CPD
We do all three kinds of observation and, for each, we expect different levels of planning. It is worth noting that the way each type of observation is conducted and the kind of feedback for each is quite different too.
SO, WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE?
In short, decisions about how to write a lesson plan and its contents need to be guided by its purpose. As a teacher these decisions are sometimes taken out of your hands – dictated by your tutor, by the institution where you work, by your Academic Manager or by the inspecting body.
However, where you are in control, you need to think about what information is useful. I have attached a template you can use and that can be adapted to your own context. The template and example provided are relatively detailed. However, because it has been produced in the form of a Word table, it should be relatively easy to delete any rows or sections that are not relevant to you. For example, if you work at a small school and the lesson plan is for your Academic Manager, you will probably not need the contextual notes on the class.
Any section can be expanded if required. In particular, you may want to extend the ‘phases of teaching’ boxes to include more detail. This is down to personal preference and may depend on how experienced you are as a teacher.
A FINAL WORD
Just before I sign off, there is one other thing I should say: remember that a lesson plan is just a document. Do not fetishise it – what is important is the learning that takes place in the classroom. Don’t let the document become more important than the lesson itself.
By way of warning, I have listed below some things to look out for and avoid when you are planning your lesson:
- Is your plan too detailed and does it contain irrelevant or duplicated information?
- Is it too ‘tight’ and inflexible (ordering, timings)? Remember, a good teacher needs to be able to respond to events in real-time, address the needs of the learners and take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. Never stick to plan ‘A’ if it is not working.
- Is there is too much of a focus on you as a teacher (techniques, strategies, management), rather than on the learning? As you teach, watch and respond to your students’ reactions, listen to what they say and check their learning regularly.
- Has writing the plan taken too much time? Try not to use a template that makes your job too admin-heavy and stressful. If in doubt, discuss with your TEFL tutor or Academic Manager.
Written by Mike Turner