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TEFL Lesson Planning

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Careful planning pays off.

A Lesson Plan is the outline of what will be taught in a single lesson. It is, if you like, a road map for the hour or 90 minutes or so you will spend with the class.

Creating a good lesson plan is vitally important for a successful lesson and good teachers invariably prepare good lesson plans. In fact, one of the easiest mistakes a new teacher can fall into is not preparing a lesson well enough.

This article looks at some general principles behind preparing a lesson. Once you have these off pat then it’s time to expand and develop your own methods to suit the way you work. But if you follow the plans below you won’t go far wrong.

When you first prepare a lesson it can take a long time, longer than the lesson itself. But as time goes by and you become more used to preparing lessons it becomes much easier and much quicker but still as useful. Experienced teachers prepare lessons too!

Hierarchy

At the top is the language the student needs to know: in our case it’s English. But obviously your students don’t need to learn all English, but just a subset whether that it General English‏‎ or Business English‏‎ or English for Academic Purposes‏‎, etc.

To find out what your students need to know you will do a Needs Analysis‏‎. Once you have this you know what the student needs to learn and the next step is to organise that into syllabus or the overall plan of action for teaching.

A syllabus will roughly be the language a student will be taught over the period of, say, a semester or term.

Then the syllabus is divided into lesson sized chunks, each of which will have a lesson target and each of which will need a lesson plan. Finally each lesson plan will consist of one or more lesson elements. These are the exercises and activities which go to make up the lesson.

TEFL Lesson Planning Overview

A good lesson plan contains plenty of detail – the materials, the procedures for each activity, the questions and examples you’d use, definitions, feedback methods and so on, each presented in a step-by-step manner.

Basically you should imagine this scenario: you prepare a lesson plan but 5 minutes before the start of the lesson you get sick and have to hand over the lesson to another teacher. They need to be able to read through the lesson plan you’ve prepared and take the lesson. If your lesson plan is good enough, another teacher should have no problem taking over.

But a lesson plan is also about spotting potential problems and removing them before they even arise. This might mean rewriting a text to remove potential grammar‏‎ problems or making sure that you have a couple of extra activities ready in the wings in case the lesson goes faster than usual. It can also mean you revising the use of a particular grammar point to make sure you can understand and explain it fully if needs be; or perhaps looking up several awkward words so you have the explanations on hand should you need them. And of course it could also mean organizing an activity so that certain students can be moved to avoid disruption and suchlike!

Preparing a TEFL Lesson Plan

First be sure of the lesson target. This can usually be summed up in one sentence or phrase, e.g. talk about the past or tell the time. Some teachers even write this on the board when they first come into the classroom. Remember that the activities and exercises should all focus on this target.

Following this write down the expected outcomes. For example, you could complete this sentence: By the end of the lesson my students will be able to… This is all about clarifying in your mind what you want the lesson to be about.

Once you have this clear in your mind the next step is to prepare the elements of the lesson. As a general rule they should follow this pattern:

  1. Introduction – introduce the language item with plenty of examples
  2. Controlled Practice – different controlled activities so the students can practice the language item; these should go from very simple to more complex
  3. Free Practice – freer activities so the students can practice using the language item

For each lesson element work out how you’re going to present the material, what specific preparations you’ll need (e.g. preparing flashcards‏‎ or realia‏‎). Then go over the exercises and activities and make sure you understand exactly what is going to happen and you know the material backwards and can answer any question on it.

Finally, run through the lesson in your mind, covering every singe angle and trying to see what problems can arise so you can prepare for them beforehand so you’ll be familiar with all the grammar and vocabulary explanations you might have to give.

Then make a backup plan in case some students have forgotten their books and so on.

Teaching TEFL Lesson Elements

For each language element in the lesson you need to work out how to teach it. Although you can vary the method, you cannot go wrong if you follow this simple pattern:

  • Presentation – students meet the language element for the first time and see it used
  • Perusal – students study the language element and work out how and when it’s used
  • Practice – students use the language element in very confined situations to get used to it
  • Production – students use the language element in freer contexts

So, for example, suppose the lesson was talking about the past. As a teacher you would first present the language:

Yesterday I walked to school.

Last night I watched television.

and so on. How you present it would be up to you but you’ll need to keep this simple with plenty of examples.

The second step is to peruse, or analyze, the language. You could work with your class, for example, in identifying when the actions took place and how the verb‏‎ changes to show an action in the past. You might then draw a timeline‏‎ on the board to illustrate this. A good teacher will help the class work this out for themselves rather than simply tell them!

The third step is to give your students controlled practice in using the past simple. Maybe this could be an exercise where the students simply have to convert present simple‏‎ statements into past simple‏‎ statements or perhaps give them a handout with some annotated drawings of activities where the verb is missing and asking them to complete the sentences‏‎. This could be done in small groups‏‎ or pairs. The trick here (and elsewhere in teaching) is to take small steps and not throw the class in at the deep end!

Finally there is production or freer practice. Here the students are less restricted; perhaps they can write what they did last weekend or tell the class about their last holiday, etc.

Problems in TEFL Lesson Planning

Some teachers get bogged down in their lesson planning. They can spend hours on each one and find it frustrating when the lesson strays from their plan or something doesn’t quite work out. The key here is to be flexible.

Remember that a lesson plan is a guide, it’s not written in stone. In the classroom play it by ear and be prepared to move off your plan if the situation calls for it.

The first time you write out a lesson plan it might take you an hour or longer for each class. Don’t be put off! The next time you prepare a lesson it will be quicker until finally you will find that a lesson may literally take just a few minutes to prepare.

Remember, the more lessons you plan, the easier the planning becomes and less time it takes.

Useful Links

Example Lesson Plan‏‎ – a typical lesson plan showing layout and ideas

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