The purpose and value of lesson planning

Any institution you work for will probably require you to do some kind of lesson planning before you go into class. Some find it to be a very useful framework to guide their classes; others see it as unnecessary paperwork. Regardless of whether or not you like to make lesson plans, the value of proper lesson planning should not be overlooked. Why? Without getting too philosophical, the main reasons are:

  • You have a structure to your lessons. Even if you only loosely follow your plan and diverge from it at times, you still have a document which sets out your aims, how you will achieve them and after the class tells you whether or not you have succeeded in your task.
  • You have something to fall back on. Both new and experienced teachers, no matter how confident and knowledgeable they are going into the class, have mental blocks. One minute you are in the swing of a great game and then the student’s attention levels suddenly start to drop. It’s time to move swiftly onto the next activity. Suddenly you can’t think what to do next, even though you have hundreds of ideas on different things that work in class. If you have a lesson plan it will take you 10 seconds to have a quick glance and equip yourself with an idea of what to do next.
  • If you build a collection of your plans for each of your different classes/groups, you can keep an eye on progress, what is going well, what needs to be covered or reviewed. When you’ve finished your class, don’t throw your lesson plans away, keep them in a file so that you can look at them again before you have to plan your next lesson with that group. Observing your progress over time can also be a rewarding experience.
  • Cover your back. Different schools have different ways of assessing how well their staff members are performing. It’s highly unlikely that your manager will ask to see every single lesson plan you have ever done, but they may ask you to provide some insight into what you have been doing in your classes. Nobody can remember every single detail of every single class, but if you can show something that proves you are at least intending to use good techniques, it will be assumed that some of them are actually being put into practice.
  • Organise your mind. You will have a piece of paper to tell what to do step by step and it will create a mental picture in your mind. The process of writing up a lesson planning will get you thinking about how your lesson will play out, how student orientated it is, how the pace will change throughout, how you will cover different aspects and how to cater for different learning styles. The physical plan is a reminder and helps you to fill in the blanks.

There are of course many other reasons why lesson planning is important but we will leave that to your employers to discuss.

How to structure the plan

Whilst there is a difference between a good and a not so good lesson plan, there isn’t one particularly perfect structure. There are, however, some basic principles that if you follow, you won’t usually go far wrong.

The 4 Ps: No matter what training provider and course you choose to learn with, they will and should probably encourage you to adopt this method of planning. The 4 Ps are:

  • Prepare: assemble any relevant materials for your class. Make any gimmicks and get your stationary, text books, reading material, audio equipment together before you go into the class.
  • Present: think about how you will present the new grammar points, vocabulary and concepts to your students before you start trying to drill it into their heads. How can you put it across in a way that switches the mental light bulbs on and makes the coins drop inside their minds? Will you use visual material, TPR or role play to portray the use of this grammar or vocabulary in everyday life?
  • Practice: come up with ways to get your students producing the new language whether it is done by speaking, writing or a combination of both. Think about ways to get them pronouncing it properly and applying it in conjunction with the other English they have learnt previously. Get them to use this new language in a way that is meaningful. Focus on improving the fluency and accuracy of their English in conjunction with each other. For a grammar point, how will you get them to practice it in a way that they can apply it to a situation and context, or for individual vocabulary- what sentences can they apply it to? Here you can use techniques such as pair work, role plays, creative writing and a whole range of others to get them practicing the new language without losing the will to live.
  • Play: Decide on what kind of games you will play, after you’ve got them to practice the new language that will hopefully drill it into their heads. The key is to trick students into continuously repeat the new language without them realising they are doing it. This doesn’t mean you need to be David Blaine to teach these kids, it means that you find ways to distract them from the fact that they are repeatedly using the same piece of language. If you play basketball, football, tennis or any other sport, you can be enjoying yourself but as a by-product of the game you are also becoming fitter and healthier. The same principle applies to ESL games. Students are having the time of their lives playing games in class but when you strip away the gimmicks, quizzes, spelling contests or whatever else you are doing, they are actually just drilling themselves on a piece of English language. This site has the best online games and activities catalogue in the world, so check out our practical, tried and tested range of ideas by clicking here!

Using this general structure to your lesson plans will help you to organise your thoughts and ensure that all the components of a good lesson are in place. Of course the content of each individual section is your choice and will vary greatly depending on what the aims of the lesson are. You should also look at ways to include other procedures and administrative tasks such as taking attendance, doing homework checks, reviewing previous material, spelling tests and getting them warmed up before you start the lesson.

What should my plan look like?

Different people and different schools have their own ideas and formats that they expect their staff to follow. As mentioned earlier, there is no perfect format for how a lesson is to be planned but there is a difference between a good and a not so good plan. The best way to illustrate this is to show you a couple of examples:

Good lesson plan

Not so good plan