Planning is the number one key to successful teaching.
Get a notebook and jot down how you see your lesson going in your head, from the warmer to the presentation to the summary. This doesn’t mean you’re teaching by numbers; it just gives you a basic framework and fixes in your head the things that you want students to learn from this lesson.
Once you’re in the classroom, lessons rarely follow the notes exactly, but that’s fine. If you don’t have a plan and simply follow the exercises laid out in the book before you, you won’t know where you’re going and, more importantly, the students won’t know what they’re meant to be learning. Simple things like giving each lesson a basic goal (such as ‘name the days of the week’) and writing this on the board helps the students know what is expected and helps you keep on track.
So, take an hour each week to think about your lessons, go through them in your head and see how they could be improved, and you’ll have a far greater chance of making those students listen to what you are saying.
Planning does not only involve what you are going to teach. Also think about where your students are going to sit. There are two things to consider: how are you going to arrange the tables and chairs and who is going to sit where.
Classroom layout is clearly influenced by the size of your classroom. If you have 40 students in a small room, then your options are limited, but even here you can decide if you want students in rows, pairs or with an aisle down the middle so you can walk around.
With smaller classes and larger rooms, the options are more varied. Traditionally, students face the teacher, but if you’re doing a group activity, why does everyone need to be facing the front? If you have students who try and hide away at the back, why not create a horseshoe formation so there is no back?
When it comes to where students sit, teachers often take a back seat. When students are allowed to sit where they please, there is one simple rule – take the ones at the back and place them at the front, and vice versa. More able learners will be good wherever they sit, while those that seek a seat as far from the teacher as possible probably need to be much closer.
A teacher’s voice
Something as simple as the teacher’s voice can be an important factor but it’s often overlooked. If you speak at your normal pace and use your normal vocabulary, your students will not have a clue what you are going on about. If you speak at 10 words a minute and only use nouns and verbs, your students will think you a simpleton.
You need to speak in a manner that is as natural as possible, while stressing the key words that will allow students to understand your central message. How you speak can help too: if you’re disciplining a student, just the tone of your voice can be enough to illustrate your displeasure. Plenty of teachers have strong accents, and that’s no impediment to teaching, but they often try to mellow their sounds so students have a better chance of understanding.
With low-level students, it’s wise to write instructions on the board as well, along with several examples of what is required. Sometimes you really cannot go too slowly. Students will generally go along with what you’re asking as long as they understand what’s expected. If your class doesn’t begin working after you finish explaining what’s required, there’s a good chance they simply haven’t understand what you want them to do.
Non-verbal communication can also speed things along. If you want them to listen, cup your hand to your ear, if you want them to write, wave an imaginary pen through the air, if you want them to work in pairs, hold your forefingers out in front of you and bring them together. You get the picture.
Writing a lesson plan
That piece of paper with lots of boxes to be filled looks daunting. What's a learning objective, what's the learning outcome, what the heck does plenary mean? It’s really not that bad, it’s just that schools love to have forms. They can wave them under the inspectors’ noses when they come to visit.
Some teachers believe lesson plans are primarily for inspectors rather than teachers, and simply go through the motions when writing them. Lesson plans really are valuable though, and the longer you spend on one, the better your lesson will be. That isn’t to say that once completed these plans are firmly set out; this isn’t teaching-by-numbers.
One of the real skills of teaching is being able to adapt; if a class gets it, move on; if it doesn’t, how can you explain it differently? If students seem restless, what activity will get them focused? The best lesson plan is an invaluable tool, but it also needs a good teacher to deliver it.
Most lesson plans will have some or all of the following:
Learning objective: This states at the start exactly what the point of your lesson is. This could be ‘learning to say the time’. It’s a good idea to write this in a box on your whiteboard too, so students have a clear idea of what they’re learning. If you want to be fancy you could write WALT (we are learning to…) and WILF (what I’m looking for) before your objective.
Have a look at this learning objective and see if you can spot what’s wrong:
‘Explain to students how to tell the time’.
The problem here is that this only says what the teacher aims to do. If the teacher explains how to tell the time but the students haven’t a clue what he or she is talking about, we can’t judge that to be a great lesson.
Better to have an objective that states ‘students will be able to say the time using ‘quarter part/to’ and ‘half past’. This is good as it’s easy to see if learning has occurred. Keep objectives simple, focused on what students will learn, and make them specific.
- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)
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