12 tiny tips for writing lesson plans

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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Language analysis… attention to detail!planning2

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.

 

  1. Don’t go overboard with procedural informationplanning3

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

Ooops…

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!

 

  1. Multisensory approachplanning

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!

 

  1. Materials/resources

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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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)
  • Cognitive
  • Involvement and Interactional
  • Physical

 

  1. ‘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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Lesson contentplanning1

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

 

Phew!

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’.

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19 comments

  1. Thank you Pete for sharing your ideas about lesson planning and the key points you learnt from your YL course. Reflection is a great tool for learning and you are honest and frank about areas which need developing. Well done for being so honest. I’m not sure I could be.

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  2. I’m assuming you don’t do this for every lesson, right? 😉

    I’ve just carried out 2 YL observations and would love to share this post with the teachers if you don’t mind?

    I really like the thinking about the whole child section – something I don’t always properly think about but so important.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Helen! Interesting question for you – how do you plan on a daily basis? I mean, not for formal observations… What does your ‘plan’ look like? Mines just a load of bullet points reminding me of the stages, then some notes to remind me of certain things – very sparse. I’d be interested to hear what you do, and what other teachers do for that matter!
      Please feel free to share the post, that’s a real compliment!
      Re: whole child development and on differentiation – these were pretty big things in our Primary Plus training.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My usual ‘plan’ is a kind of flow chart with text, diagrams and lots of squiggles. I don’t really think I look at it in class, it’s more a process to go through beforehand.
        I will definitely share your post because it’s the range of considerations which matters to me, not because I think people should plan like that very day! Thanks!

        Like

    1. Hi Judith. I currently work for the British Council in Bangkok. This course is offered to teachers as part of our professional development programme. I understand that the CELTA YL extension is being phased out, but you can take a similar course with Trinity College London (the TYLEC course). I’ve heard great things about it. If you want a bloggers view on that course, contact Martin Sketchley (www.eltexperiences.com), he took it a few years ago. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  3. Some great tips. My teacher training days seem like an age ago (because they are!) but it’ s always good to get a fresh perspective on things. We tend to get into our own way of doing things and it becomes difficult to change our ways… My lesson plans basically include a list of stages, activities and timings. All the rest (which was written down in teacher training days) stays in my head (but it is there!) I just wouldn’t have time to write a comprehensive lesson plan for each class. The “developing the whole child” section of your post interests me, as I work at a Spanish secondary school and the educational law here defines 7 key competencies that students must work on across all subject areas:
    Linguistic competence
    Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology
    Digital competence
    Learning to learn
    Social and civic competencies
    Initiative and entrepreneurship
    Cultural awareness and expression
    At the end of the day we are preparing our students for life outside of school and teaching only subject content would see them extremely ill-prepared!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Lisa, thanks for commenting. Know what you mean about helping learners develop these real world skills (competencies). It’s a big part of the UK curriculum too, and in my current context there are such competencies addressed in the Thai curriculum. I feel from a TEFL standpoint that these are overlooked a bit. We’ve just launched a new product at the British Council for primary level learners, and I was pleased to see that it covers whole child development. The topics aren’t too dissimilar to the ones you’ve mentioned.
      I could be wrong, but weren’t you a state school teacher in the UK before moving to Spain? Do you feel the UK and Spanish education systems focus on whole child development to a fairly similar extent?

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      1. To be honest it’s been such a long time since I taught in Britain (1999!) things are quite different now; at least that’s what I hear on the radio and from ex colleagues over there. When I did my teacher training for MFL in 1996, the emphasis on similar key competencies wasn’t so obvious (maybe interpersonal skills and cooeration, collaboration in group work) and I certainly don’t remember much about them on the CELTA course back in 1999 (mine wasn’t a YL course, although that shouldn’t make a difference; some adult learners equally benefit from working on life skills as well as content) From what I hear there is a much greater emphasis in the UK now on similar competencies, however I can’t speak on the matter with much authority as I’m not that familiar any more withthe curriculum. Certainly in Spain (on paper), there is a definite push towards working on these key competencies. I would be interested to hear from anyone who does more about the situation in the UK.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Just a word on ‘Action Points’.

    If you set a manageable number- I think you suggested 3, this is really helpful and probably achievable. But it doesn’t help you, or any observer if they are just general things. Like a wish list. For example, ‘improve my instructions’.

    Instead, say how.
    So with ‘improve my instructions’, you could list:
    1.make sure I stand where everyone can see me.
    2.Instructions BEFORE I circulate he handout.
    3.Monitor immediately to check everyone is on task.

    These are things that you and an observer can easily observe for and assess the effectiveness of.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Pete.

    Some great ideas here and I hope you don’t mind if I steal your ‘Success Criteria’ for my own Lesson Plan templates! Using a 3-point system (working towards, at, beyond) is a simple and elegant way to get trainee teachers assessing to what extent learning aims were met.

    Cheers,

    Like

    1. Hey! Cheers for the comment. Feel free – if I knew where I got the idea from I’d have referenced it but certainly not mine! Granada, wow, sounds lovely. I’m jealous!

      Like

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