Creating a Lesson Plan That Gets You to Your Destination Every Time
Learn the five basic components of an effective language lesson.
Lesson plans. Those dreaded words we all hated to hear in teacher training, when everything that we were going to speak, think, and breathe in the classroom had to be tediously documented, down to who passed out the pencils and where the smiles were to be inserted. But if you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you’ve probably had more than one day where lesson plans went out the window and creative, on-your-feet thinking went into full play. Or for some teachers, lesson plans may officially be a thing of the past, nothing more than a distant memory.
It’s been said that most battles are won before they are fought. When one teacher-emeritus was asked the key to a successful teaching career, her answer was summed up in three words: preparation, preparation, preparation! While going back to a written lesson plan is a really good thing, more important is that the key concepts of a productive lesson are evident—and planned!—every time we hit the lectern of our language classroom.
So what are the five essentials for a productive language lesson? Let’s review:
1 The Goal
Every lesson must, must, must have a goal. Think of the goal as the destination, the classroom as the car that takes us to the destination, and the lesson plans as the directions ensuring we get there safe and sound. The goal is typically one sentence that clearly states what your students will be able to say and, more importantly, what they will be able to do with the new language they’ve acquired (the function). So what if your student can say, as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “I believe you are in league with the butcher!” by the last bell? What are they going to be able to do with it outside of the classroom? Is it functional? Can it help them in their everyday communication? If not, go back to the drawing board. A functional lesson is, after all, what essentially keeps the student coming back to English class week after week, year after year.
The introduction may have several components depending on the type of lesson, but typically it contains a short review from a previous lesson, presenting new vocabulary that will be used in the current lesson, and a lead-in. The lead-in may be an icebreaker or a short discussion you elicit from the class on the lesson topic, and its purpose is twofold: gauging the students’ current knowledge or familiarity with the topic and ensuring that each student has an opportunity to speak. In a language classroom, it is absolutely vital that the students are given ample opportunity to speak. If students are not speaking, they are not learning. Set the right tone in the beginning of the lesson and get them speaking right away.
3 Guided Practice
Here is where you begin to put the lesson into action. Here, the students should be highly involved in practicing the lesson—whether it be role play, TPR, etc.—but the teacher is still heavily involved in this stage. (As a side note, whatever the activity, it is important that the teacher model for the students what they want or expect the students to do before beginning the guided practice.) In teaching dialogue, for example, the guided practice may be the teacher taking on the role of “Speaker A” and the students together taking on the role of “Speaker B,” then switching the roles. In a TPR sequence, the guided practice may consist of the model, together, hesitate steps.
Now that the teacher has modeled and done some guided practice, it is time for the teacher to step aside and let the students practice in pairs or small groups what they have learned. In a dialogue lesson, the students are now practicing the dialogue with each other. In a TPR sequence, they are performing the alone and jumble steps. During this time, the teacher should be circulating and keeping the students on-task, and occasionally correcting where needed.
This is where the teacher makes sure the goal has been reached. This will involve asking each student a question from the lesson to check that the lesson has indeed accomplished what it set out to accomplish.
Do your lesson plans have these five core components? Whether they are new, second nature, or a jogged memory from your college days, let me challenge you to see each and every lesson through the lens of these lesson essentials. And now that you have your destination and your roadmap, put the car in gear, and ready, set, go!
Renae Ghrist holds an MA in Education with a TESOL and Phonetic Instruction Specialist emphasis and has been teaching in the classroom for over a decade.
Excellent review about what is a serious challenge for me. Sweet and short, surely will be a written copy on my desk from now on. Thanks a lot!