Musings on lesson planning

I am a slow planner.

I had accepted this as a fact, and when I read an article a few months ago suggesting writing lesson plans on post-it notes, I was internally opposed.

Photo from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @ij64, CC 3.0

One fateful day

But then a few weeks ago I had to cover a 9am teenage class with less than 1 hour’s notice. And I was still at home when I got the call.

I was very, very stressed.

Luckily, there was an IWB flipchart for the lesson on the shared drive at work and colleagues sprung to my rescue and armed me with some supplementary resources which I quickly photocopied and dashed to class.

For the first three quarters of the lesson, I was barely a step ahead of the students. While they were doing the reading, I was scanning the grammar section of the book and the flipchart, trying to figure out what I would be doing next.

The leftover materials
The aftermath. A photocopiable, an error correction made in the break and notes I took as we went along.

I think I did overlook a couple of things and didn’t present the language as clearly or as well as I could have. However in informal feedback before and after the grammar point, students showed an increased confidence level.

In that sense I met the main lesson aim.

It was rather stressful and that’s not a feeling I would like to experience again anytime soon. And as I said, there were shortfalls in how clearly the language was presented. But sometimes there is anyway, even when I think I’ve properly planned a lesson. Sometimes even for observed lessons, where I spend hours typing the whole thing into the required template and preparing a cover sheet with anticipated problems. We’re human, we miss things.

So, what are my takeaway points from this?

Well to be honest at times this term, I’ve been so busy (particularly with the CAM course) that I’ve ended up doing something similar to the cover situation above. I’ve prepared materials or an IWB flipchart but walked into class with the stages still in my head or briefly written on a post-it note. I usually did this with a lovely class who I knew would ask me questions. If I did overlook anything, it would most likely come out. Those lessons probably weren’t my best lessons, but they also weren’t my worst.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for every class. I’ve taught groups who were struggling at their level and needed things breaking down. I’ve taught groups who needed​ so much behaviour management that I must have a firm plan in place so that I can devote my attention appropriately. (And if I don’t, I have a hard time trying to keep the lesson going and my energy gets zapped.) I’ve also taught groups that are so chatty a whole lesson can fly by without making much progress.

And, unless you find a way to keep and organise your post-it notes, the next time you teach the same course, you’ll have to go through your thought process of (micro) planning all over again.

a lesson plan on a post-it
Hmm this is about 80% of a full plan, squashed onto a post-it. I can’t find any shorter ones right now.

But sometimes, maybe there is something to be said for walking in with materials you’ve looked at or made, and a loose plan on a post-it note.

And I can’t help thinking about what I could do with the time saved. I could give more detailed and timely feedback on some writing. I could set up a speaking task that I can use for continuous assessment. Wouldn’t my students benefit from this?

Over to you: Do you ever outline instead of plan? What do you do with the time you save?