What’s the Use of Lesson Aims?

I have a confession to make.

Lesson aims scare me. Just a bit, not a lot, but they do scare me. My first exposure to them was during the miserable 6 months I spent training as a state-school teacher in the UK: not only were there aims, but there were objectives, which apparently were slightly different, and there had to be one aim and three objectives – or was it one objective and three aims? – differentiated by level to divide the students neatly into high, medium and low achievers. Oh, and they couldn’t contain any reference to what students would be doing, only what they’d be learning. But they couldn’t be too vague either. My aims were never good enough. I was told this often.

When I did the CELTA, I got into trouble again! The tutor actually laughed at one of my aims, saying that it didn’t require students to learn anything – if I remember correctly, this one had been phrased ‘Students will practise…’.

Fast-forward a sheaf of years, and I was on the academic team of a mid-sized teaching organisation, working with upwards of thirty existing workbooks and taking a lead in designing new ones. I found that my lesson aims were not alone in being variously vague, tentative, or contorted in order to try and fit around what the lessons were actually ‘about’. We already had plenty of aims that sounded a bit odd, or else didn’t quite match the lesson content, and yet rewording them took a lot longer, and caused more disagreement, than almost any other intricacies of course planning.

So here’s a blog post about aims, and why on earth we torture ourselves (or the educational establishment tortures me, anyhow) with the requirement to state them in lesson plans.

Continue reading “What’s the Use of Lesson Aims?”

The Lies of the Lesson Observation Process

1. “This is to help you become a better teacher” While I don’t deny that a well-handled observation can help a teacher to improve, is this really the primary purpose of most observations? In my experience of being observed, most of the time the process ended with a grade or report which was briefly shown to me and then went up into the higher echelons … Continue reading The Lies of the Lesson Observation Process

Five ‘dark horse’ topics to get students talking

a dark horse (n) a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds – Google Not all interesting dinner-table discussions translate to the English classroom. Controversial subjects like politics and romance might work brilliantly with some students, but won’t with others. A lot of ‘safe’, worthy themes – the environment, healthy eating – are a bit overused in textbooks. … Continue reading Five ‘dark horse’ topics to get students talking

Why should(n’t) we teach British culture?

I’ve recently been producing a series of lessons on various aspects of life and culture in the UK. While writing these, I’ve also been thinking about the teaching of British culture and I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfy with it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s necessarily imperialistic; the lessons I’m writing are in response to students and particularly … Continue reading Why should(n’t) we teach British culture?

Why don’t my students know what they want to do in class, and what can I do about it?

I remember it well, as it was the opening of my first lesson as a CELTA-qualified teacher. The student was a manager in a public utility company. I walked in, introduced myself, started on the lesson the Director of Studies had suggested. The student’s words exploded on the desk between us: ‘I hate this topic’. A great start! The rest of the lesson hasn’t stuck … Continue reading Why don’t my students know what they want to do in class, and what can I do about it?