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

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.


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The essentials of lesson planning

female teacher lesson planningPhilip 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.  In this post he introduces his upcoming webinar on 20th and 21st June entitled “The essentials of lesson planning”.

If you type ‘lesson plan’ into your favorite search engine, you will find literally hundreds of different lesson plan formats. Such a wide range of formats illustrates that there is no fixed or perfect way to plan a lesson.

In our day-to-day teaching, most of us will not produce an extensive and detailed lesson plan. We know that by writing out a full plan we can address problems and inconsistencies that we would not otherwise see. However, in most cases this simply is not practical. Having said this, the lack of a physical plan does not mean that we avoid the process of lesson planning.

Considering the importance of lesson planning and the frequent time constraints which compromise the process, the question is, how can we create effective lessons under these conditions?

Generic lesson templates

When I am under pressure to produce a lesson I have a number of generic lesson templates which enable me to create a functioning lesson very quickly. An example of a reading comprehension lesson template is:

  • pre-teach vocabulary
  • predicting answers to comprehension questions
  • read aloud in groups
  • students discuss and check answers – then as whole class
  • students write comprehension questions for others to answer
  • activity on grammar/lexis in text

Such a lesson might not be very original, but from this I can start to adapt and improve.

Regular beats

I have so often seen lesson from in-service teacher training course where there is a good rhythm at the beginning but the rest of the lesson becomes a long string of activities with nothing to hold the students’ attention. The trick is to make sure there are ‘beats’ spaced evenly throughout the lesson every 10 minutes or so where students have to change the mode of working. This could be through moving in some way, interacting differently or a friendly challenge.

Plan from the middle or the end

A common approach that teachers take is to plan the lesson in a linear manner starting at the beginning. A more effective way is to start maybe with a text or a speaking activity that might come in the middle or end of the lesson and then build backwards from that. This tends to create a more coherent lesson.

Build in flexibility at the end of the lesson

This is something I had to learn the hard way. The fear of running out of activities at the end of class meant that I would spend longer on the earlier activities and then rush through the later ones. One solution to this is to design the last two activities in such a way that they can be expanded out to 20 minutes or squashed down to three or four minutes without any sense of compromise. This means that you can spend the necessary time on the earlier activities without that nagging fear of being left with dead time at the end.

These are just some of the tips and strategies we will be exploring in this webinar. We’ll also be looking at anticipating problems, getting your procedures and instructions right, dealing with fast finishers, among other things.


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Perspectives on Lesson Planning

lessonplanELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes, looks at different approaches to lesson planning and their effectiveness as teaching tools ahead of his webinar on the subject on the 19th and 22nd of January.

Here’s a photograph of a colleague’s lesson plan. It’s written on a piece of note paper taken from a hotel room and was used with a class of students at a business college. In many ways it breaks the rules of what we might call ‘lesson planning’. After all, where are the aims, the timings, the class profile, the anticipated problems and all those other things we expect of a formally written lesson plan? The only thing we can really tell from it is that the lesson had something to do with CV writing.

The lack of detail in this particular lesson is of course because the teacher in question didn’t write it for anyone else to read. As she explains, it was for her own personal use: “I treat lesson plans like shopping lists – I write them at home in preparation for the task ahead and then don’t look at them after that. The helpful part for me is writing it down, not sticking to it.”

I think her ‘shopping list’ approach to planning is probably true for most teachers at a day-to-day level. We don’t have time to write long detailed documents with every step described in detail and – especially if we’re experienced – we don’t need to. As she says above, the ‘writing it down’ is not an end in itself, it’s just part of a longer thought process.

Because most teachers tend to plan in this less formalised way, there is often debate about – and sometimes criticism of – the more formalised type of planning that is expected on teacher training courses or when teachers are formally observed and assessed. Teachers sometimes wonder if the long hours spent writing detailed documents which predict what they might (or might not) do at every stage is time well spent.

I’d argue that on training courses it can be time well spent – especially for new and inexperienced teachers – because it’s a way to develop your thought process. However, I’d question whether a formally prepared lesson plan always has to take the shape of a page with rows and columns that a teacher is expected to fill in and rigidly follow.

In my webinar on this topic, I’ll propose that we take some fresh perspectives on lesson planning by varying our approaches and thought processes at the planning stage. I’ll present some alternative ways to develop lesson planning skills and I’ll demonstrate how visual thinking can help to aid your planning. Participants will also be invited to give their own perspective(s) on lesson planning.

If you’d like to sign up to join John Hughes’ free webinar on the 19th or 22nd of January, please follow the link below. We hope to see you there!

register-for-webinar


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10 free apps for teachers to use for planning and classroom management

We know teachers can find it hard to make time to plan their lessons, or to manage their classes both in and out of the classroom, so Shaun Wilden has compiled a list of his top 10 free apps to help make your planning more productive and time-efficient. You may also find some of our apps for learning English useful.

Over the last year there has been a large growth in the number of apps aimed at educators. There are now apps that can do everything from helping you plan your lesson to helping you take attendance. Though your school might not yet be ready to move into a paperless world; given you are likely to be carrying your mobile device with you to and from school there are a number that can make your life easier.

The apps I have chosen are ones you can use with a class on your own device. While you might not want to use all of the apps suggested, I hope the ones I have chosen will provide you with some useful tools as well as whet your appetite to discover others for yourself. The apps have been chosen to highlight the range of possibilities for a teacher. Some, like ‘Too nNisy’ provide a simple classroom management tool while others, like the ‘Evernote’ and ‘Dropbox’ help you keep track of notes and plans by synching with your computer or cloud. Apps like ‘Skitch’ allow you to write on photos, while an app like ‘iBolt’ can be a life saver when you want to use an online video but find yourself in a classroom without a connection.

ClassDojo app iconClassDojo

Available on iOS and Android.

ClassDojo is a classroom tool designed to help teachers improve student behaviour. It is particularly effective in young learner classes and is, essentially, the 21st-century version of a reward system. A teacher sets up their class, giving each student an avatar. Using your mobile device you can easily reward student behaviour, task completion and homework.  ClassDojo allows you to save, analyse and print reports on the class.

Dropbox app iconDropbox

Available on iOS and Android.

Dropbox is an example of cloud-based storage. If you use dropbox then rather than have your documents scattered over many devices, you can store them online and access them anywhere. It is also a great way to share files, photos and so on with students.

Edmodo app iconEdmodo

Available on iOS and Android.

Edmodo is becoming increasingly popular with teachers who want to collaborate with their students outside of the classroom. Edmodo provides a secure network for teachers and their students to collaborate and share content. Though also accessible from a computer, the Edmodo app allows you to access the network from anywhere.

Evernote app iconEvernote

Available on iOS and Android.

Many teachers have turned to this app as an effective way to lesson plan.  It is a note taking app that allows you to create notes that include text, photos, video and audio. Once created, Evernote synchs the note between your devices and your computer.  This makes it ideal for a teacher to plan their lessons, create to-do-lists and even store copies of documents that can be accessed anywhere.

iBolt app iconiBolt Video Downloader & Manager

Available on iOS.

This app is the solution to no Wi-Fi in the classroom when wanting to watch a video online. Ibolt allows you to download a video from a webpage. It is easy to use; simply type the URL into the Ibolt browser and press the download link.

Screen Chomp app iconScreenchomp

Available on iOS.

Screenchomp is an example of a screen recorder. You can find a number of examples of screen recorders on iTunes and each teacher has their favourite. Screenchomp is made by the same people who created Jing. I prefer it as there is no need to create an account and after recording you are given a link to your recording, which you can share with your students.  By recording your screen you can create personalised tutorials for your students or video explanations of language points. Screen recording is popular at the moment due to the interest in the ‘flipped classroom’ approach to teaching.

Skitch app iconSkitch

Available on iOS and Android.

A stand-alone app that is part of the Evernote suite of tools. Skitch allows you to annotate photographs, charts and PDF. This makes the app useful for highlighting, explaining, and for creating language practice activities. For example, the students can use the app to illustrate both grammar and vocabulary.

TeacherKit app iconTeacherKit

Available on iOS.

TeacherKit is an app that covers most teachers’ classroom administration. TeacherKit manages everything from attendance records and grades through to seating charts. It also allows importing and exporting your files and synchs with dropbox. It’s an excellent way to keep track of all your students and reduce paperwork.

Too Noisy app iconToo Noisy

Available on iOS.

Too Noisy is an app to control noise levels in the classroom. Particularly affective for young learner classes, this app shows if there is too much noise. The app is simply a display of the noise level in a room. When there is a smiley face the levels are acceptable but if the noise becomes too loud the smile turned to a frown. However, in speaking activities, the teacher can encourage noise by asking the class to make sure the smile disappears.

Stop Go app iconStop Go! / Traffic Light Timer

Available on iOS and Android.

An app such as traffic light gives the teacher a different way to control and time activities. Setting the timer and the colour of lights shows to students if and how long they should be doing an activity. The red light is also useful for controlling when things can and can’t be used in the classroom. For example, putting the light on red when a student is not allowed to use their mobile phone. This can be particularly effective if the tablet is being projected.

Have you found other apps that have helped your lesson planning or classroom management? Let us know what they are in the comments below.


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“What do I spy?” classroom activity

Girl Examining FlowersThis activity has been taken from Vocabulary Activities , part of the Oxford Basics for Children series, and is intended for young learners age 7-12. The vocabulary activities in the book are based on the idea that children apply many of the same skills they used for acquiring their first language when they are learning a second language.

Activity (10-15 mins)

  1. Tell your class that you’re going to describe six different items in the classroom. Tell them the shape, colour and size of each item. They have to guess what you’re describing. Say this short rhyme before you describe each item:

    What do I spy? What do I spy?
    Way down low or way up high.
    Can you tell me what I see?
    It’s near you and it’s near me.

    It’s in this room.
    It’s small and round and red.
    What is it?

  2. When your learners want to answer, they should raise their hands.

    OK… Do you know what I’m describing… Yes, you have your hand up… The pencil sharpener on my desk?… Yes, that’s right!… Well done.

  3. When your learners have guessed all six items, ask them to get into small groups. Tell them to pick four things and prepare to answer questions from the other groups, as well as to guess what the other group’s objects are.
  4. When they are ready, tell them that:
    • each group has to say the rhyme before they give the clues
    • the group that guesses the correct object goes next
    • if no-one guesses the object from the size, shape, or colour, the group can give extra clues.

Variations

Ask your learners to give more clues in their first description. For example, they could say:

  • what something is made of: It’s made of wool, It’s made of plastic, etc.
  • what it is used for: You drink water from it, You cut paper with them, etc.
  • what sound the name in English starts with: It starts with ‘sh’.

Pronunciation

Practise the stress pattern in the rhyme:

WHAT do I SPY?
WAY down LOW
Or WAY up HIGH

And in descriptive phrases, such as:

It’s ROUND and YELLow.
It’s BIG and SQUARE and BROWN.

Follow-Up Suggestion

Let your learners draw something they like and keep their drawings for the next time you do this activity. You can then ask learners to describe the objects in the pictures for the class to guess.

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