I recently took a CELTA extension course for teaching young learners. The course went well and I quite enjoyed writing formal lesson plans again. Tutors said that planning was my strength, which probably meant my teaching wasn’t that good!
I’ve looked back at the positive comments from my tutors and shared some tips below for anyone who needs to write a formal lesson plan. These are a little random, and most are specifically aimed at those teaching young learners.
- Class profiles
A few standard things to write in the class profile are: number of students in the class, genders, ages, learners’ first languages, reasons for learning English, notes on stronger/weaker students etc.
For a more comprehensive class profile, which you can expand as you get to know your class, consider including things like:
Class dynamic – do the class get on well? What’s the atmosphere like? Do they respond well to certain interaction patterns? Do certain students make good pairings?
Behaviour management – any troublesome pairings? Any ongoing behavioural issues (things like kids using inappropriate language, low-level disruption)? What rewards/sanctions are used?
Routines – how are instructions delivered (e.g. with students at their tables, on the floor, etc)? Do you have entrance/exit routines? How/When is homework checked? Do you have a points system (links to behaviour management)? Do you give students jobs in class? Is there a seating plan?
Other info – anything relevant… for YLs, it’s worth noting down what games they know and like.
Why be so thorough? Because if someone is covering your class this information could be useful.
- Differentiating objectives
When you write your lesson objectives, try to go beyond the ‘By the end of the lesson, students will be able to…’ It makes your objectives more measurable if you outline the ‘success criteria’. Add three bullet points to your objective, with a comment on what students need to demonstrate in order to be at each level:
- Working towards (the lesson objective) – these learners haven’t fully achieved the objective yet, they might need a bit more support
- Working at – these learners have achieved the lesson objective
- Working beyond – these learners have achieved the objective and require greater challenge or extension.
This approach has numerous benefits for the learners and teachers. From a teaching perspective, it helps to differentiate tasks when planning, and it makes formative assessment easier.
- Action points
When you take a training course like the CELTA, tutors will highlight ‘action points’ – things you could improve on or work on for the next lesson. We had to list these on our plans. If you’re being observed at work, why not include some action points on your plan? You may not be training anymore, but there must be some things you could improve on. Action points will give your observer a particular focus for the observation, and you could get some really useful feedback.
I’m always missing out parts of my language analysis – it’s the most common part of my plan that gets commented on. Here are a few mistakes I make (specifically on the plan), so I hope you won’t:
- Meaning, Form, Pronunciation, APPROPRIACY – don’t forget to consider whether certain phrases are inappropriate in a certain context (i.e. are they formal/informal, slang, etc)
- Mark the phonemic script next to target language, INCLUDING STRESS. Phonemicchart.com might help.
- Don’t forget collocations where necessary
- Mark whether verb forms are regular or irregular. Provide V1, V2 and V3 forms if they are irregular. It’s a small thing but it’s better to be thorough…
On a CELTA-style language analysis sheet there may be a section like ‘I will convey/check meaning by…’. Use this in your own plan. Write down your concept checking questions (CCQs). Have a copy of your plan available when teaching – refer to it so you remember to use the CCQs! Oh yeah, and because this is more specifically about young learners, think carefully about the methods you use to convey and check the meaning of target language. Total Physical Response (TPR), visuals and realia were popular methods on our course, but it depends what’s relevant I guess.
One more thing – CELTA templates often have the ‘what my whiteboard will look like…’ section. Include this in your plan too – it’s good to visualise what you want to achieve.
This counts for all plans, not just YL ones. I have a tendency to write far too much detail for stages and procedures. Scrivener (2011:135) says do not use:
- long prose descriptions
- detailed descriptions of routine actions
- word-for-word texts of all your instructions and explanations
I found it useful for my tutor to glance over my plan before I handed it in. They commented on how wordy it was, suggesting it would make it hard for them (and me) to follow during the lesson. It’s a fair point!
If you’re teaching YLs, it’s important that activities ‘draw on a range of sensory modalities’ (Simmons and Paul, CELTYL, 2016). Whilst the VAK neuromyth perpetuates (as I mentioned last month) it is undoubtedly good for learner motivation and engagement if you mix things up in class, including a range of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic tasks. Once you put your plan together it might be worth skim reading your procedures and assessing how varied your tasks are – that means not only the task design, but the interaction patterns too. It’s all about variety!
Geeky tip coming up… I separate this into two sections: ‘the students will bring’ and ‘I need to bring/make’. That means I can look back at the plan and note down all the resources I need to prepare. Did that sound a bit pedantic?
- Developing the whole child
Life skills and whole child development are often overlooked in ELT. On a CELTA lesson plan there is normally space to describe the lesson type – skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) or systems (vocab, grammar, pronunciation). Don’t forget, with YL classes you are doing more than just teach a language. Think about whole child development – there might be activities in class that help learners with their overall development (emotional, social, cognitive, etc). These are worth listing in your lesson plan. Whether it’s ‘encouraging collaboration’, ‘developing ICT literacy’, ‘understanding emotional responses’, etc. These are equally as important as learning a set of new words. Put them in your plan.
- Anticipated problems
Don’t just think about the difficulties learners might have with the linguistic aspect of your class. Our CELTA YL lesson template included the following categories of ‘demands’:
- Linguistic (language and metalanguage)
- Involvement and Interactional
- ‘Lesson fit’
During our CELTA YL course we were teaching in a group. The aim was for us to create a cohesive set of lessons across the day and throughout the module, meaning collaboration was important. You might be teaching your YL class on your own, but think about the bigger picture. Where does your lesson ‘fit’ in with the syllabus or the module you’re teaching? Is it a one off, or are you building towards something in later lessons? This could be important for the observer to know.
- Plan for fast finishers
This goes back to the earlier point I was making about differentiating objectives. Remember to plan additional activities or materials for fast finishers, so they are always engaged and challenged. Mark these on your plan – even if you don’t end up using the extension tasks it’s good for an observer to know you prepared them.
I sense myself veering more towards lesson content rather than the general aspects of writing a plan. I guess it’s pretty important (!!!) so I’ll share some words of wisdom from our course. Here are some general things to consider when planning for YLs, which I’ve adapted from one of our workshops on the course:
- Are my activities suitably challenging, interesting and motivating for my learners?
- Are there ample opportunities in the lesson for learners to share their own ideas, and to practice using the target language?
- Is the target language actually meaningful?
- What will students learn (or do) at each stage of the lesson, and how does this fit into the lesson as a whole? Make sure you write stage aims and purpose for each part of the lesson.
One of the most useful workshops on our course highlighted the ‘Key conditions for language learning’. It’s a good idea to keep these in mind when planning. In brief, they are…
- Exposure to rich but comprehensible input
- Opportunities for real use of language
- Motivation to process language input, and desire to use the language
- Focus on language to provide a challenge
I hope you found one of the tips useful. If you’ve read this whilst preparing for an observation then good luck and happy planning J
P.s. for tips with structuring lessons, you might find these frameworks useful.
Update: In response to this post, Lyn Quilty shared this interesting tip on lesson planning via the British Council Facebook page:
‘make sure your content is culturally appropriate. I teach English in Cambodia in a small village and before that in Vietnam in isolated towns, including Sapa. So many texts contain inappropriate content’.