Creating a Powerful Lesson Plan part 4: Be Generous with Options

Today’s post is the fourth in a series about creating powerful lesson plans. We’ve had three so far:

Remember Chekhov’s Gun 

Get the Ingredients Ready before Baking the Cake

Use Direct Speech.

I’ve written one actual coursebook, an in-house one. After it went out around the block a few times I tried to coax some feedback from the teachers who were using it, and I just didn’t receive a lot. All polite, positive, not very detailed things.

The one negative item of feedback, which I heard several times, was that some of the lesson plans are too long and so it’s hard to fit them into one lesson (normally 45-50 minutes).

This is true, but I’m not even a tiny bit sorry.

If certain classes can cause a lesson to expand and to take longer than normal – a big class, talkative class, enthusiastic class, low level class, rowdy class – the opposite is also true. And the longer the lesson is, the more chance that the timings go awry.

I hate gaps at the end of lessons. Those annoying 7-minute gaps where you haven’t time to start anything new but it’s a bit long to cover with chit-chat. Or longer ones, where you just haven’t got anything new to start and have to Dogme it out for twenty minutes.

My ultimate teaching nightmare is a tired, cranky, monosyllabic one-to-one student who gets through everything quickly and waits for more. A robust 150-minute lesson plan can easily shrink to about 90 under the determined glare of this type of student.

So, Florian, tell me everything you did at the weekend. And I mean everything. Please? (Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

I plan always to avoid such a scenario. If it ends up overlong? Pah. Cut some bits out. Easy.

I think the longest lesson on this site is ‘TRAFFIC‘. Depending on the student(s), I can see it taking two hours or more.

One option to cut down the length would be to stop after part 12 and not do the final listening or the reading exercise. I deliberately made it possible to stop here, although I didn’t directly say so in the instructions as it’s a simple cut to make.

Here’s a challenge. Can you shorten the lesson further still? Can you also cut out some parts earlier on in the lesson? How would you do this?

Even better than a long plan is a generous plan. Follow up tasks? Extra resources? A sheet of questions for discussion? A few suggestions tacked on at the end of the page? They’re all useful for the odd emergency with timings. Also great for revision, or extra practice if the students need it.

Bonus points if there’s bonus material that isn’t officially included in the plan – this is the real serious emergency stuff.

The way activities are set up can benefit from options too. Suppose we have a role-play with four roles: it can work with four students, eight (in two groups), twelve and so on. However, make one of the roles optional, and we can do it with three, four, six (3+3), seven (3+4), and – if my maths is right – any number above that. With two students and a teacher, it’s an option too.

Nowadays, there’s a great benefit in lessons that adapt to being used offline or online, and with different sizes of class. In some school situations, teachers need to have plenty of options as well for days when the photocopier breaks down. Just providing a list of questions based on the topic or the language point will help a lot here. I’d also advocate making sure that some of the suggested games and activities can be done without any photocopying, even if a majority (60-70%) have some resources.

This is not to say ‘ditch any activities that can’t be tailored’, but rather ‘try to set the lesson up so that most of it can be changed and some of it can be easily omitted‘. Try running the lesson a few times using your plan. If you find you don’t usually need everything that you’ve written into the plan (instructions, options, extra actvities), then you can be sure this plan is generous enough to be called complete.

Generosity: making sure everything can be covered. Photo by idalingi on Flickr.

Cover Image by snowpea&bokchoi on Flickr.

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