On Lesson Plans

Lesson plans are a very individual aspect of teaching. There is nothing set in stone about them. Depends on the occasion, the teacher, the lesson content, the administration’s demands and more … . Some teachers swear by them and others think they are a big bother and if not asked, don’t do ’em.

That said, I have a few comments from the perspective of a materials writer and lesson designer. Also prompted by a few emails recently asking why there aren’t any attached lesson plans to the 50 or 60 lessons or materials we publish weekly. So let me respond.

Firstly, maybe teachers expect a lesson plan with a material. It’s a kind of “given” and it looks strange not to be supplied. Maybe some teachers also like to have it – it saves them from writing one up as part of their requirements. On both counts, I’m not onboard.

On some occasions, it is good and necessary to have a lesson plan written down, in stone, so to speak. For example when the lesson is a good length, complex and covering a lot of different aspects of language. I’ll support that. But as a designer, I follow the “materials lite” philosophy when it comes to materials and teaching. The material itself should make self – evident what the teacher should do with it. That’s the goal. With a few sentences of instruction, the writer should be able to convey the intention and use of the lesson materials.

Now, I will say that many brand new or in-training teachers might benefit from an explicit, paint by numbers, spend 10 minutes on this, turn the page, write this on the board, walk over there, make a sign of X and review a list of Y – kind of lesson plan. However, many teachers might also NOT benefit from this and I see it as a kind of detraining of teachers – just like a textbook or teacher guides might deskill a teacher and not allow them to be creative, to adapt the material and to really make the content fit their context (and most importantly students).

If the materials are designed “lightly”, they allow maximum teacher flexibility on how to use and deliver the lesson objective implicit in the material itself. Say for example you have a video you’ll be using as the core of a lesson – like this one for advanced listening, about orangatans. It is pretty obvious that students watch the video and fill in the information. Next, use the same template, research with the template and present their findings to the class. Is there a need to say … `1. Ask the class about what they know about orangutans. Bring in a poster of one or a picture to show the class. Discuss what students know. 2. etc …

I don’t think there is a need. Teachers should know to do this. If they don’t, they should be sorted out by staff and given training so they are competently delivering the content.

Further, I like just a few instructions because as I hinted at above, teachers deserve the freedom to teach. Give them a malleable material (key) and let them make it their own. This freedom is central to quality teaching and student learning I strongly believe.

I will qualify what I’m saying. There are times when other stakeholders will require the teacher to produce lesson plans for each lesson, each day, each week. You just have to do this and supply. It’s part of the job. Also, if teachers do need templates for making a lesson plan – I’ve designed many. Here is one. Find others with a search on ELT Buzz Teaching Resources.

But I’d love to hear from other teachers and their views. How far should you go with instructions to the teacher? I know my Teach – Learn coursebook has very short “notes” for each lesson in the book. Nothing substantial, just some hints and points on how to use the material.

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