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Parts and stages of a lesson

LESSON PLANNING APPENDIX

Lesson planning is the art of combining a number of different elements into a coherent whole so that a lesson has an identity which students can recognise, work within, and react to -whatever metaphor teachers may use to visualise and create that identity. But plans -which help teachers identify aims and anticipate potential problems -are proposals for action rather than scripts to be followed slavishly, whether they are detailed documents or hastily scribbled notes.

Pre-planning

Before we start to make a lesson plan we need to consider a number of crucial factors such as the language level of our students, their educational and cultural background, their likely levels of motivation, and their different learning styles. Such knowledge is, of course, more easily available when we have spent time with a group than it is at the beginning of a course. When we are not yet familiar with the character of a group, we need to do our best to gain as much understanding of them as we can before starting to make decisions about what to teach.

We also need knowledge of the content and organisation of the syllabus or curriculum we are working with, and the requirements of any exams which the students are working towards.

Armed now with our knowledge of the students and of the syllabus we can go on to consider the four main planning elements:

i. Activities

When planning, it is vital to consider what students will be doing in the classroom; we have to consider the way they will be grouped, whether they are to move around the class, whether they will work quietly side-by-side researching on the Internet or whether they will be involved in a boisterous group-writing activity.

We should make decisions about activities almost independently of what language or skills we have to teach. Our first planning thought should centre round what kind of activity would be best for a particular group of students at a particular point in a lesson, or on a particular date. By deciding what kind of activity to offer them -in the most general sense -we have a chance to balance the exercises in our lessons in order to offer the best possible chance of engaging and motivating the class.

The best lessons offer a variety of activities within a class period. Students may find themselves standing up and working with each other for five minutes before returning to their seats and working for a time on their own. The same lesson may end with a whole-class discussion or with pairs writing dialogues to practise a language function or grammar point.

ii. Skills

We need to make a decision about which language skills we wish our students to develop. This choice is sometimes determined by the syllabus or the course book. However, we still need to plan exactly how students are going to work with the skill and what sub-skills we wish to practise. Planning decisions about language skills and sub-skills are co-dependent with the content of the lesson and with the activities which the teachers will get students to take part in.

iii. Language

We need to decide what language to introduce and have the students learn, practise, research or use. One of the dangers of planning is that, where language is the main focus, it is the first and only planning decision that teachers make. Once the decision has been taken to teach the present continuous, for example, it is sometimes tempting to slip back into a drill-dominated teaching session which lacks variety and which may not be the best way to achieve our aims. But language is only one area that we need to consider when planning lessons.

iv. Content

Lesson planners have to select content which has a good chance of provoking interest and involvement. Since they know their students personally they are well-placed to select appropriate content. Even where the choice of subject and content is to some extent dependent on a course book, we can still judge when and if to use the course book's topics, or whether to replace them with something else. We can predict, with some accuracy, which topics will work and which will not. However, the most interesting content can be made bland if the activities and tasks that go with it are unimaginative. Similarly, subjects that are not especially fascinating can be used extremely successfully if the good planner takes time to think about how students can best work with them.

When thinking about the elements we have discussed above we carry with us not only the knowledge of the students, but also our belief in the need to create an appropriate balance between variety and coherence. With all of these features in mind we can finally pass all our thinking through the filter of practical reality, where our knowledge of the classrooms we work in, the equipment we can use, the time we have available, and the attitude of the institution we work in all combine to focus our planning on what we are actually going to do. Now, as the figure below shows, we are in a position to move from pre-planning to the plan itself.

Pre-Planning and the Plan

The Plan

Having done some pre-planning and made decisions about the kind of lesson we want to teach, we can make the lesson plan. This may take a number of different forms, depending upon the circumstances of the lesson and depending also, on our attitude to planning in general.

The planning continuum

The way that teachers plan lessons depends upon the circumstances in which the lesson is to take place and on the teacher's experience. Near one end of a 'planning continuum', teachers may do all the (vague) pre-planning in their head and make actual decisions about what to include in the lesson as they hurry along the corridor to the class. Those with experience can get away with this some of the time because they have a number of familiar routines to fall back on.

Another scenario near the same end of the continuum occurs when teachers are following a course book and they do exactly what the book says, letting the course book writers, in effect, do their planning for them. This is especially attractive for teachers under extreme time pressure, though if we do not spend time thinking about how to use the course book activities (and what happens when we do) we may run into difficulties later. Effective coursebook use is more complex than this.

At the very end of the planning continuum is the kind of lesson described by one writer as the 'jungle path', where teachers walk into class with no real idea of what they are going to do (Scrivener 1994b: 34-37); thus they might say 'What did you do last weekend?' and base the class on what replies they get. They might ask the students what they want to do that day, or take in an activity to start the class with no real idea of where it will lead them and their students. Such an approach is favoured by Mario Rinvolucri, who has suggested that instead of working to a pre-arranged plan, a teacher should be more like a doctor, basing treatment upon accurate diagnosis. All classes and students are different, he argued, so to decide beforehand what they should learn on a given day (especially when this is done some days before) is to confine them to a mental structure and ignore the 'flesh-and-blood here-and-now learners' (Rinvolucri 1996).

Experienced teachers may well be able to run effective lessons in this way, without making a plan at all. When such lessons are successful they can be immensely rewarding for all concerned. But more often they run the risk of being muddled and aimless. There is a real danger that if teachers do not have a clear idea of their aims and, crucially, if the students cannot or will not help to give the lesson shape, "then nothing useful or meaningful can be achieved at all" (Malamah- Thomas 1987: 3). And though some students may enjoy the adventure of the jungle path, the majority will benefit both linguistically and psychologically from the forethought the teacher has given to the lesson.

At the other end of the continuum teachers write formal plans for their classes which detail what they are going to do and why, perhaps because they are about to be observed or because they are required to do so by some authority.

The vast majority of lesson planning probably takes place between these two extremes. Teachers may scribble things in their notebooks, sometimes only noting the page of a book or the name of an activity. Other teachers may write something more complex. Perhaps they list the words they are going to need, or write down questions they wish to ask. They may make a list of the web sites they want students to visit together with the information they have to look for online.

We can represent this planning continuum diagrammatically in the following way:

The actual form a plan takes is less important than the thought that has gone into it; the overriding principle is that we should have an idea of what we hope our students will achieve in the class, and that this should guide our decisions about how to bring it about. However, written plans (both sketchy and more detailed) do have a secondary function as a record of what has gone on, and in the lesson itself they help to remind teachers of what they had decided to do, what materials they need, and how long they had planned to spend on certain activities.

Making a plan

The following example of making a plan exemplifies how a teacher might proceed from pre-planning to a final plan.

Pre-planning background For this lesson, some of the facts that feed into pre-planning decisions are as follows:

  • The class is at intermediate level. There are 31 students. They are between the ages of 18 and 31.
  • They are enthusiastic and participate well when not overtired.
  • The students need 'waking up' at the beginning of a lesson.
  • They are quite prepared to 'have a go' with creative activities.
  • Lessons take place in a light classroom equipped with a whiteboard and an overhead projector.
  • The overall topic thread into which the lesson fits involves forms of transport and different traveling
  • environments. In the course book this will change next week to the topic of 'avoidable disasters'.
  • The next item on the grammar syllabus is the construction should have + DONE.
  • The students have not had any reading skills work recently.
  • The students need more oral fluency work.

Pre-planning decisions

As a result of the background information listed above the teacher makes the following decisions:

  • The lesson should include an oral fluency activity.
  • The lesson should include the introduction of should have + DONE.
  • It would be nice to have some reading in the lesson.
  • The lesson should continue with the transport theme - but make it significantly different in some way.

The plan

On the basis of our pre-planning decisions we now make our plan.

It should be emphasised that the following lists are not examples of any planning format since that is a matter of style unless we are planning formally (see below).

The teacher has made the decision to have the students read the text about a space station, and build activities around this. The text does not come from their course book, but is one the teacher has used before.

The probable sequence of the lesson will be:

  1. An oral fluency activity with 'changing groups' in which students have to reach a decision about what
  2. five personal possessions they would take into space.
  3. Reading for prediction and then gist, in which students are asked to say what they expect to be in a
  4. text about a space station, before reading to check their predictions and then reading again for detailed understanding.
  5. Ending the story, in which students quickly devise an ending for the story.
  6. New language introduction in which the teacher elicits 'should have' sentences and has students say them successfully.
  7. Language practice in which students talk about things they did or did not do, and which they should not or should have done
  8. A space job interview in which students plan and role-play an interview for a job in a space station.

However, the teacher makes (or thinks of) a list of additional task possibilities, for example:

  • Interview Cathy years later to find out what happened to her.
  • Students write a 'newsflash' programme based on what happened.
  • A short extract from a video on future space exploration.
  • Students discuss the three things they would miss most if they were on a space station.

The Formal Plan

Formal plans are sometimes required, especially when, for example, teachers are to be observed and/or assessed as part of a training scheme or for reasons of internal quality control. A formal plan should contain some or all of the following elements:

Class description and timetable fit: a class description tells us who the students are, and what can be expected of them. It can give information about how the group and how the individuals in it behave, as in the following example:

CLASS DESCRIPTION

The students in this upper intermediate class are between the ages of 18-31. There are 21 women and 10 men. There are PAs/secretaries, 5 housewives, 10 university students (3 of these are postgraduates), teachers, 2 businessmen, a musician, a scientist, a chef, a shop assistant and a waiter.

Because the class starts at 7:45 in the evening, students are often quite tired after a long day at work (or at their studies). They can switch off quite easily, especially if they are involved in a long and not especially interesting piece of reading, for example. However, if they get involved they can be noisy and enthusiastic. Sometimes this enthusiasm gets a little out of control and they start using their first language a lot.

Depending on the circumstances of the plan, the teacher may want to detail more information about individual students, e.g. Hiromi has a sound knowledge of English and is very confident in her reading and writing abilities. However, she tends to be rather too quiet in group-work, since she is not especially comfortable at 'putting herself forward'. This tends to get in the way of the development of her oral fluency. Such detailed description will be especially appropriate with smaller groups, but becomes increasingly difficult to do accurately with larger classes.

However, a record of knowledge of individual students gained through such means as observation, homework, and test scores is invaluable if we are to meet individual needs.

We also need to say where the lesson fits in a sequence of classes (the before and after) as in the following example:

TIMETABLE FIT

The lesson takes place from 7:45 to 9pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. In the past three lessons the students have been discussing the issues of journeys and travelling - how people adapt to different travelling environments. They have listened to an interview with someone who lives in a bus and travels around the country looking for places to park it. They have been looking at vocabulary and expressions related to travelling. They have revisited a number of past tenses, including hypothetical past (third) conditionals ('If he hadn't lost his job, he wouldn't have sold his house'). Next week the class will start working on a 'crime and punishment' unit with includes a courtroom role-play with work on crime-related lexis, and passive constructions.

We will also include information about how the class has been feeling and what kind of activities they have been involved in (eg: controlled or communicative, pair-work or group-work). All these factors should have influenced our planning choices for this lesson.

Lesson aims

The best classroom aims are specific and directed towards an outcome which can be measured. If we say My aim is that my students should/can... by the end of the class, we will be able to tell, after the lesson, whether that aim has been met or not. Aims should reflect what we hope the students will be able to do, not what the teacher is going to do. An aim such as to teach the present perfect is not really an aim at all- except for the teacher.

A lesson will often have more than one aim. We might well say, for example, that our overall objective is to improve our students' reading ability, but that our specific aims are to encourage them to predict content, to use guessing strategies to overcome lexical problems, and to develop an imaginative response to what they encounter.

Aims can be written in plans as in the following example:

AIMS

  1. To allow students to practise speaking spontaneously and fluently about something that may provoke the use of words and phrases they have been learning recently.
  2. To give students practise in reading both for gist and for detail.
  3. To enable students to talk about what people have 'done wrong' in the past, using the 'should (not) have' + 'done' construction.
  4. To have students think of the interview genre and list the kinds of questions which are asked in such a situation.

Activities, procedures, and timing

The main body of a formal plan lists the activities and procedures in that lesson, together with the times we expect each of them to take. We will include the aids we are going to use, and show the different interactions which will take place in the class.

When detailing procedure, 'symbol' shorthand is an efficient tool to describe the interactions that are taking place: T=teacher; S=an individual student; T→C=the teacher working with the whole class; S,S,S=students working on their own; S↔S=students working in pairs; SS↔SS=students in discussion with other pairs; GG=students working in groups, and so on. The following example shows how the procedure of an activity can be described:

Activity/Aids Interaction Procedure Time
1 Group decision making a T→C T tells students to list five things they would take into space with them 1’
B S,S,S SS make their lists individually 2’
c S↔S In pairs students have to negotiate their items to come up with a shared list of only five items to take to a space station 4’
Pen and paper d SS ↔SS

(GG)

Pairs join with other pairs. The new groups have to negotiate their items to come up with a shared list of only five items to take to a space station 4’
e T ↔GG The T encourages groups to compare their own lists 3’

Specific language that is to be focused on should also be included, as in this example:

Activity/Aids Interaction Procedure Time
4 Language study a T→C T elicits sentences based on the previous ‘problem identification’ session e.g. ‘She shouldn’t have been rude to Cathy.’ 1’
Space station ‘She should have looked at the record book.’
Text/board b T↔S,S,S T has students say the sentences, and may do individual/class work on the pronunciation of the shortened form

e.g.

should’ve, and

shouldn’t have.

10’

Problems and possibilities: a good plan tries to predict potential pitfalls and suggests ways of dealing with them. It also includes alternative activities in case we find it necessary to divert from the lesson sequence we had hoped to follow. When listing anticipated problems it is a good idea to think ahead to possible solutions we might adopt to resolve them, as in the following example:

Anticipated problems Possible solutions
Students may not be able to think of items to take to a space station with them for activity 1 I will keepmy eyes open and go to prompt any individuals who look ‘vacant’ or puzzled with questions about what music, books, pictures, etc. they might take
Students may have trouble contracting ‘should not have’ in activity 4 I will do some isolation and distortion work until they can say

Where we need to modify our lesson dramatically, we may choose to abandon what we are doing and use different activities altogether. If our lesson proceeds faster than we had anticipated, on the other hand, we may need additional material anyway. It is therefore sensible, especially in formal planning, to list additional possibilities, as in the following example:

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES

Extra speaking: If some groups finish first they can quickly discuss what three things from home they would most miss if they were on a space station.

News broadcast: Students could write an earth 'newsflash' giving news of what happened at the space station starting 'We interrupt this programme to bring you news of...

Video clip: If there's time I can show the class an extract from the 'Future of Space Exploration' programme.

Interview plus: Interview Cathy years later to find out what happened to her.

Planning a sequence of lessons

Planning a sequence of lessons is based on the same principles as planning a single lesson, but there are number of additional issues which we need to pay special attention to: Before and during

However carefully we plan, in practice unforeseen things are likely to bare themselves during the course of a lesson, and so our plans are continually modified in the light of these. Even more than a plan for an individual lesson, a scheme of work for weeks or months of lessons is only a proposal of what we hope to achieve in that time. We will need to revisit this scheme constantly to update it.

Short and long-term goals

However motivated a student may be at the beginning of a course, the level of that motivation may fall dramatically if the student is not engaged or if they cannot see where they are going -or know when they have got there. In order for students to stay motivated, they need goals and rewards. While a satisfactory long-term goal may be 'to master the English language', it can seem only a dim and distant possibility at various stages of the learning cycle. In such circumstances students need short-term goals too, such as the completion of some piece of work (or some part of the programme), and rewards such as success on small, staged lesson tests, or taking part in activities designed to recycle knowledge and demonstrate acquisition.

When we plan a sequence of lessons, we need to build in goals for both students and ourselves to aim at, whether they are end-of-week tests, or major revision lessons. That way we can hope to give our students a staged progression of successfully met challenges.

Thematic strands

One way to approach a sequence of lessons is to focus on different content in each individual lesson. This will certainly provide variety. It might be better, however, for themes to carry over for more than one lesson, or at least to reappear, so that students perceive some coherent topic strands as the course progresses. With such thematic threads we and our students can refer backwards and forwards both in terms of language - especially the vocabulary that certain topics generate -and also in terms of the topics we ask them to invest time in considering.

Language planning

When we plan language input over a sequence of lessons we want to propose a sensible progression of syllabus elements such as grammar, lexis, and functions. We also want to build in sufficient opportunities for recycling or remembering language, and for using language in productive skill work. If we are following a course book closely, many of these decisions may already have been taken, but even in such circumstances we need to keep a constant eye on how things are going, and with the knowledge of 'before and after' modify the programme we are working from when necessary.

Language does not exist in a vacuum, however. Our decisions about how to weave it through the lesson sequence will be heavily influenced by the need for a balance of activities.

Activity balance

The balance of activities over a sequence of lessons is one of the features which will determine the overall level of student involvement in the course. If we get it right, it will also provide the widest range of experience to meet the different learning styles of the students in the class.

Over a period of weeks or months we would expect students to have received a varied diet of activities; they should not have to role-play every day, nor would we expect every lesson to be devoted exclusively to language study (in the ways we described it in Chapter 11). There is a danger, too, that they might become bored if every Friday was the reading class, every Monday the presentation class, every Wednesday was speaking and writing. In such a scenario the level of predictability may have gone beyond the sufficient to the exaggerated. What we are looking for, instead, is a blend of the familiar and the new.

Planning a successful sequence of lessons means taking all these factors into consideration and weaving them together into a colourful but coherent tapestry.

Using lesson plans

However carefully we plan and whatever form our plan takes we will still have to use that plan in the classroom and use our plans as records of learning for reference.

Action and reaction

Planning a lesson is not the same as scripting a lesson. Wherever our preparations fit on the planning continuum, what we take into the lesson is a proposal for action, rather than a lesson blueprint to be followed slavishly. And our proposal for action, transformed into action in the classroom, is bound to 'evoke some sort of student reaction' (Malamah- Thomas 1987: 5). We then have to decide how to cope with that reaction and whether, in the light of it, we can continue with our plan or whether we need to modify it as we go along.

There are a number of reasons why we may need to modify our proposal for action once a lesson is taking place:

Magic moments

Some of the most affecting moments in language lessons happen when a conversation develops unexpectedly, or when a topic produces a level of interest in our students which we had not predicted. The occurrence of such magic moments helps to provide and sustain a group's motivation. We have to recognise them when they come along and then take a judgment about whether to allow them to develop, rather than denying them life because they do not fit into our plan.

Sensible diversion: another reason for diversion from our original plan is when something happens which we simply cannot ignore, whether this is a surprising student reaction to a reading text, or the sudden announcement that someone is getting married! In the case of opportunistic teaching, we take the opportunity to teach language that has suddenly come up. Similarly, something might occur to us in terms of topic or in terms of a language connection which we suddenly want to develop on the spot.

Unforeseen problems: however well we plan, unforeseen problems often crop up. Some students may find an activity that we thought interesting incredibly boring; an activity may take more or less time than we anticipated. It is possible that something we thought would be fairly simple for our students turns out to be very difficult (or vice versa). We may have planned an activity based on the number of students we expected to turn up, only to find that some of them are absent. Occasionally we find that students have already come across material or topics we take into class, and our common sense tells us that it would be unwise to carry on.

In any of the above scenarios it would be almost impossible to carry on with our plan as if nothing had happened; if an activity finishes quickly we have to find something else to fill the time. If students cannot do what we are asking of them, we will have to modify what we are asking of them. If some students (but not all) have already finished an activity we cannot just leave those students to get bored

It is possible to anticipate potential problems in the class and to plan strategies to deal with them. But however well we do this, things will still happen that surprise us, and which, therefore, cause us to move away from our plan, whether this is a temporary or permanent state of affairs.

However well we plan, our plan is just a suggestion of what we might do in class. Everything depends upon how our students respond and relate to it. In Jim Scrivener's words, 'prepare thoroughly. But in class, teach the learners -not the plan' (Scrivener 1994b: 44).

Plans as records and research tools

Written plans are not just proposals for future action; they are also records of what has taken place. Thus, when we are in the middle of a sequence of lessons, we can look back at what we have done in order to decide what to do next.

Since we may have to modify our lessons depending on student reactions we need to keep a record of how successful certain activities were to aid our memory.

A record of lessons can also help colleagues if and when they have to teach for us when we are absent.

Our original written plans will, therefore, have to be modified in the light of what actually happened in the classes we taught. This may simply mean crossing out the original activity title or course book page number, and replacing it with what we used in reality. However, if we have time to record how we and the students experienced the lesson, reflecting carefully on successful and less successful activities, not only will this help us to make changes if and when we want to use the same activities again, but it will also lead us to think about how we teach and consider changes in both activities and approach. Lesson planning in this way allows us to act as our own observers and aids us in our own development.

Вадим Бондарь
Вадим Бондарь
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Ирина Суханова
Ирина Суханова
здравствуйте! я прохожу курс учитель англ. языка. я отправила тест №1, как долго его будут проверять.