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The essentials of lesson planning: a Q&A session with Philip Haines

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shutterstock_323995139Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP. Earlier this month, he delivered a webinar on ‘The essentials of lesson planning’, and today we bring you the question and answer section of the session.

Sharing aims with students

Is it a good idea to communicate the lesson aims to the students?

This is generally considered good practice and has the following benefits:

1. When used well it can involve students more in the learning process.

2. It forces us as teachers to be clear about what we want to achieve, how we hope to achieve it, and to state this as clearly as possible.

Writing detailed lesson plans

I find that writing in detail makes me distracted reading the plan in class. And I found that with detailed plans I would still forget a step.
But, doesn’t over-detailing procedure lessen the scope of emergent language?

There are two reasons for writing a very detailed lesson plan:

1. To help you be aware of all the features of as lesson that you need to take into consideration. This is a good exercise to help you develop the skill of lesson planning.

2. To enable you to prove your lesson planning abilities to another person.

In our everyday practice going into a lot of detail is often not very practical. The best plans I find are the ones that I can access quickly at a glance to get the main points. The main things I want to know are: What am I doing next?’, ‘How much time do I have for this?’ and ‘How should I do it?’

The process of writing the lesson plan forces me to do the thinking process before the class, but then when teaching, the lesson plan acts as a guide from which I can move away and return, as needed. Once I have a solid plan I can move away from it, but know it is still there acting as a safety net.

Avoiding lesson planning mistakes

What mistakes in lesson planning should I avoid as a beginner at teaching?

I hope that the suggestions above can help you with your lesson planning process. However, I would give two other pieces of advice for new teachers.

1. Go back to your lesson plan after each lesson and make a few simple notes about things that worked and things that didn’t work. Also note down the reasons why in each case. If you can, make suggestions of what you would change.

2. Try to identify any possible thing that might go wrong and think of a practical solution for each of these. This will help you remain calm when things don’t go as you expected, and there is always something that doesn’t go as planned, even for the most experienced of teachers.

Checking instructions

Even when I have checked and it seems everyone understands, if a student doesn’t perform according to what I’ve check then there’s an issue with language ability.

Instruction giving and checking is somethings that particularly interests me at the moment. I believe that if my students have misunderstood my instruction, than it is probably my fault, not theirs. I can think of four reasons why students don’t understand instructions:

1. The task might be badly constructed. No matter how good the instructions are, it will never make sense to some students because of some inherent flaw at the level of the task.

2. Your instructions might be incoherent. I have observed classed where there inconsistencies in the instructions. This is why the practice of occasionally taking an activity and writing out in full yours instructions and instruction checking questions (or ICQs) is such a powerful exercise.

3. The level of the language in the instructions or task might be too high for students. We need to make sure the language is carefully graded.

4. Students might not be paying attention because they were distracted or not interested.

If we have addressed these four points than we can assume that most students will know what to do, but we should then immediately monitor to make sure everyone is on task.

Lesson plans for dyslexic students

Can you give an example of a lesson plan/type of activity for students with dyslexia? Any sources we can use?

This question asks about lesson plans for dyslexic students. Being dyslexic myself, I feel I can give some advice about this. It is important not to expose a dyslexic student’s weaknesses but to provide them with a range of ways to process information. In two previous blog posts I gave suggestions for using audio scripts and for doing while-reading activities. The suggestions in these posts go some way to address the two points mentioned above.

• 25 alternatives to reading aloud around the class: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2017/01/17/25-alternatives-to-reading-aloud-around-the-class/
• 25 ideas for using audio scripts in the ELT classroom: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2016/09/20/25-ideas-for-using-audio-scripts-in-the-elt-classroom/

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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2 thoughts on “The essentials of lesson planning: a Q&A session with Philip Haines

  1. This is one of those “yes” and “no” issues. Basically, the compilation of a very detailed lesson plan can take you to ideas tangential to the original lesson and the level of the students you are teaching. You can effectively go on forever thinking of new ideas and approaches on both the material/s you want to cover and the method/s you wish to employ to convey them.

    Reflection is always good and any teacher should do this as a matter of routine. What worked and why did it work is good, what didn’t work and why it didn’t work is better.

    For me the central question is, “Who is the lesson plan for?”

    If it is for you, the individual instructor, you have to be confident and comfortable with the material you are going to deliver to a specific audience. If that is the case and you have prepped properly, why do you need a lesson plan? If the lesson plan is a standby document for another teacher in case of emergency the question becomes clouded. If we assume (I am well aware of the caveat that assumption is the, etc, etc, etc, etc.) that a replacement teacher has at least some degree of competence in the subject to be taught, should not that teacher be free to teach the subject as they see fit and not try to mirror your approach which may well be unnatural and unrealistic according to their own teaching style preferences?

    I mention this for two reasons: 1) as far as possible, I do not use a scripted lesson plan. This does not mean there has been no planning, rather that I choose not to codify it. 2) I currently work in a country where teachers are encouraged to literally script there lessons resulting in 13-14 pages of a lesson plan per one hour of class contact. Once – thankfully only once – I actually had a teacher verbatim read the lesson plan to the class she was cover teaching. This included instructions in the body of the lesson plan for her to conduct such as, “Put the CD into the computer”, “Play the CD once and ask the students if they understood the meaning of the audio”, “Play the CD a second time and ask questions from the tapescript in the teacher’s book about the content”, and “select specific students to ask questions to to demonstrate reading comprehension and listening understanding.”

    For me, lesson plans have always been an unnecessary evil. If I do make one up it is only one page long (A4) and covers the subject, the level of the student’s/book, the learning objectives, and some suggested activities that, a) follow the course text, and b) include some extension materials that I feel are appropriate to my audience.

    I understand the logical approach to developing lesson plans as you go through teacher training. Once qualified and practicing however, the process is far more internalized to individual behaviours and teaching styles – you know what you want to do and how you are going to do it (based on experience and adjustment over time). Codifying a lesson into a lesson plan that guides your actions to the same lesson in the same fashion to everybody is a major disservice to your audience – your students and presumably the reason you are teaching!

    Thanks and TTFN,

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