Richard McCully

Lesson planning

Can I make it a really enjoyable part of my teaching?


As teachers we often get stuck in routines. This could be by using the same warmers, role-plays or games. I’ve found myself in the habit of using a lot of materials multiple times, year after year. 

It’s not that I’m lazy but I know what works with students, especially Thai students. However,  I want to try and use a wider range of resources and materials in 2019. A huge part of this will come down to my lesson planning.

I was taught how to lesson plan during my CELTA but, with many of my colleagues holding higher level qualifications, I think I can improve by learning from them. With a wide range of experience in my staff room and a few spare hours on Saturday I sat down and had a chat with a few of them.

I’m lucky that one of my colleagues, Pete, runs the excellent site ELTPlanning.com and he has a passion towards materials writing and development. He shared with me his lesson planning techniques and gave feedback on my own planning process. 

Pete will spend an equal amount of time planning a class as he does teaching it. My own planning process take roughly half the lesson time. It’s one of my aims to increase my planning time per class in order to develop myself as a teacher.  However, what is it I should do in that extra planning time?

Whiteboard

Something which I really need to focus on during planning is how I’ll use the whiteboard. I also have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom but feel the technology takes over the class sometimes, especially with young learners.

My board work is very messy at the moment and this isn’t good for me or my learners. I want to work with a format which I could use and develop over time and which my learners would be used to as well.  I was suggested the following format would be a good option.


AIMS               VOCABULARY


       WORKING SPACE


ERRORS


The idea during planning would be to imagine how the whiteboard would look at the end of the class. It will then help work out how to reach that point. I would be more focused when it came to vocabulary and prepared for collocations or other useful language points.

Differentiation

Differentiation is a word often banded around during observations. I’ll admit that I probably don’t provide alternative tasks or scaffolded versions of activities often enough. This will change in 2019. Speaking with some other teachers at my school I’ve seen that their planning time often involves editing materials for weaker students or those who breeze through activities. 

I would say that 90% of activities I do are suitable for all of my students. I want to put in more effort though to provide a challenge to gifted students and also to allow weaker students to complete activities.

I’m currently going through a Special Educational Needs (SEN) course with a teacher at my center and it’s really opened my eyes to how I need to adapt materials and lessons. We recently looked at a module on challenging gifted students and I will plan based on a few techniques I learned. One of these was by creating roles and tasks for gifted students in the classroom. I will look at activities and see how gifted students could be used to help other students more or take on extra responsibility. I’ll also have to spend more time whilst planning on adapting materials.

One of the key resources I have in every class is my interactive whiteboard. I’ll adapt more of the materials used on it next year to give support to students who need it. There will also be the opportunity for me to create multiple versions of worksheets to take into account the differing abilities of my students.

Supporting young learners

I spoke to one of my colleagues, the other day who is a fantastic young learner teacher. She teaches students aged 5-6 and I take the next age group, 6-7. We were discussing handwriting and phonology. She spends a lot of time planning how activities can help develop handwriting and pronunciation rather than just being a simple worksheet or gap fill activity.

As I only see my students two hours a week, I often focus on vocabulary and speaking as an aim. However, following advice, I will be supporting my young learners more in terms of their handwriting too. I’ll incorporate handwriting tasks into lessons which can help with other skills too. This might be through encouraging students to write more in their books and challenge them to take their time and make their work neat. 

For students who do really struggle with handwriting I will provide them with handwriting sheets in class and speak with their parents to see if they are happy to do extra homework to practice this skill.

In terms of pronunciation I will admit it takes a back seat in the class with my young learners. Whilst I drill language with them I don’t go into detail too much. This is something I want to change. In my planning stage I’ll take more time to assess any language which might cause problems, especially for Thai learners. One thing, for young learners which I liked is this toy snake which helps re-enforce the use of “s” for plurals or verbs with he / she / it. I think this will work great with my young learners.

Focus on planning

One of my biggest concerns is that I don’t find planning to be fun. I mean I know it’s important but ever since my CELTA it’s always felt like a bit of a drag. From speaking to other teachers in my school, I can see the joy they get when something they’ve planned in detail goes well. 

I’m hoping that I can reach that point next year where I can see the time and effort spent on planning improves me and takes my teaching to the next level. 


 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  


Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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Comments

"Pete will spend an equal amount of time planning a class as he does teaching it."

I spent the first three years at my school working at least twice as many hours out of the classroom as I did in it. It was time well spent. Now, every hour and week and term of my school year is essentially the same and there's no planning required. I know exactly what I'm going to do before my students roll in.

Not that my new, extra free time is wasted. The lessons are continually tweaked, new ideas are constantly introduced but my stress factor is zero.

"...but feel the technology takes over the class sometimes..."

Good. Allow this to happen and embrace it.

"As I only see my students two hours a week, I often focus on vocabulary and speaking as an aim."

You're doing the right thing. If you're the only native English speaker that your kids see, scrap everything else and focus all your time on conversation. The 'non-native' teachers can literally do everything else as well as you can... but they can NOT teach the spoken word like you. Forget teaching handwriting and grammar. Leave it to others.

"One of my biggest concerns is that I don’t find planning to be fun."

If you do it right the first year, then you'll never have to do it again!

By Mark, The Land of Barely Concealed Rage. (20th December 2018)

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