The basics of lesson planning
Something every teacher should know
Last month, a columnist wrote on the importance of lesson planning. This month, I would like to expand on that importance by explaining some of the basics in lesson planning. These basics include overview, purpose, and objectives of lessons; information transference; activity planning; and knowledge/skill acquisition verification. So let us start at the beginning and examine what is useful in planning lessons.
The first step in planning a lesson is to have an overview of exactly what will be learned in that lesson (or group of lessons). For example, if you are teaching verb use, you need to determine what you want students to learn. Are you including future, present, and past tenses? Active and/or passive uses of verbs? Regular and/or irregular verbs? In the overview, you can block out each step of verb use you want to teach, and this helps in estimating exactly how many classroom hours you will spend teaching this particular topic. Tied in with the lesson overview is the lesson purpose. The purpose is the justification of the overview; that is, why is what you are teaching useful? To go back to the verb example, many people would argue that teaching the passive tense of verbs is no longer important in either speaking or writing English (please refer to current issues of the MLA Writing Style Guide for further information regarding the fazing out of passive voice). Therefore, if you are teaching the passive voice, state why it is learning is important. An easy way to do this is to answer this question: "What benefit will the students gain in learning this information?" The answer to this question is your lesson's purpose. Once the overview and purpose of a lesson is established, individual lesson objectives can now be determined. Lessons objectives are nothing more than listing the specific skills or information that you hope the students will learn on that particular day. Objectives should be kept short, simple, and easily achievable. Teachers who expect that "students will be able to master verb use" in one lesson are dreaming. Students will not be able to master verb use, even after five lessons. Break that objective down into several small chunks; for example, "students will be introduced to, and orally practice, simple present tense." This type of objective is more realistic and much easier to accomplish.
Now that you have mapped out your overview, purpose, and objectives of your lesson, now it is time to plan how you will disseminate knowledge. This is the second step in lesson planning, planning how to give and demonstrate your information. This is the easy part of lesson planning, for all you have to do is make a list of what you will need on teaching day. List the worksheets you plan to use, the pages of a textbook you plan to cover, audio and/or video equipment you plan to use, etc. By doing this, you can plan for any equipment you will need, copies you need made, or supplementary material you might need to obtain.
Now for step three - the class activity! What will you have the students do? Is it time for group work? An individual project? A game? Reading and writing? Worksheets? Simple lecture and discussion? A combination of one or more of these? What ever you do, write it down and be ready for it! Plan your class activities carefully, and always have a backup activity ready, just in case the original activity does not go over well. Additionally, list what supplies you might need for your activity and make sure you can obtain them. Class activities are a great way to learn, but only if the activity is well planned.
We now come to verification - how will you determine what (if anything) the students learned? Verification takes many forms, including oral checking (question and answer), short quizzes, tests, and oral explanations of what was discussed in class. Verification should take place at every class session. In this way, you can pre-determine what material needs to be reviewed for the next session OR if you can move at a quicker pace because the students learn fast.
Finally, every lesson plan should have a summary column - a place where you can make notes during the class. Write down what activities were successful (or not successful). Keep track of material that needs to be reviewed or highlighted. Finally, take detailed notes if the class took a different track than what was originally planned (especially if that different track encouraged greater student learning).
Lesson planning can be difficult, especially if you have never done it before. To make planning easier, here is a template to help you organize your thoughts. After a few tries at planning, a good lesson plan can be written in a short time. Additionally, once a lesson is written KEEP IT! Lessons can be used many times! Save all worksheets, activity plans, and lesson plans, for they can be used when you re-teach the course during another term.
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