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Concourse 2

Lesson planning

Note: there is a guide to possible lesson structures which may help with this area.


Why have a plan?

Come up with three good reasons to have plans for a lessons and then click for a list of 4.


The planning paradox

While there are good reasons to have a plan (see above) there are also ways in which a plan can actually get in the way of responding to your learners.  This calls for a little flexibility.
Good teachers do not go into classes wholly unprepared and the really good can cite reasons for everything they do.  This is what planning is about: focus and variety.

because we want our lessons to be purposeful and orderly
because we want to keep our learners involved and stimulated

Both will contribute to giving the learners a sense that they are really getting somewhere rather than going through the classroom motions.

While both focus and variety can be planned, flexibility, by definition, cannot.  What the teacher does when things do not go according to plan is just as important as knowing what to put in the plan in the first place.
However good the plan, and however carefully you have thought about your learners, their needs and their preferences, something will arise in almost all lessons which was not predicted in your plan.
So, please bear in mind that what follows is a map of the lesson, not the lesson itself any more than a satellite navigation system is a journey.



If you are taking a training course, your tutors will have spoken about how they want you present aims.  There are, however, some general points.  The most important thing to be able to do is to distinguish between real aims and descriptions of procedures.  For example:

The students will ask each other questions about their families using Have you got any ... and answer using Yes, I've got ... or No I haven't got any ...

is not an aim; it is a description of what will happen but

The learners will become familiar with the names of relations (aunt, uncle, nephew etc.) and be able to converse about relationships by asking Have you got any ... / a(n) ... and stating, e.g., I've got two brothers / I haven't got any sisters etc.

is a real aim because it states what the learners will be able to do at the end of the lesson that they couldn't do at the beginning.

Which of the following are aims for lessons?  Check here.

  1. Students will exchange ideas about sports and pastimes
  2. The learners will be more confident speakers
  3. The class will practise making question forms with conditional sentences
  4. At the end of the lesson, the learners will be more aware of the importance of collocation
  5. The students will present the findings of their survey to the whole class
  6. The learners will be able to understand, use appropriately and pronounce the following 10 lexemes ...
  7. The students will improve their writing skills in terms of planning and selecting appropriate stylistic conventions
  8. I will present and revise the main uses of the present perfect progressive using a smart board
  9. The students will mingle to find someone who has selected the same three adjectives to describe their families
  10. Students will have gained a better understanding of the nature of verbs followed by gerunds and infinitives and be able to use them confidently


Good aims are ...

Here's a mnemonic to help you remember the characteristics of good lesson aims.  If you can remember the word CLEAR, it will help you.  Good aims are:

Clear and not only to you.  Learners, too, must know what they are trying to achieve.
Limited Too many aims will mean that the lesson loses focus.  Both the teacher and the learners will lose a sense of purpose.
Explicit A good lesson plan will also make it clear how the aims will be achieved.  For example, instead of ...
    The students will have learnt 10 new words to describe emotions
it would be more helpful to state ...
    The students will have understood the negative and positive aspects of the target language by using the items accurately and realistically in a personalised framework.
Achievable Aims need to be realistic in terms of the level of the learners, the amount of material and the time available.
If aims are too ambitious, learners will be discouraged because there will be no sense of progress.
If aims are too low, learners will get bored and wonder what use the lesson is.
Relevant Whatever the aims, the skills and knowledge you hope the learners will acquire have to be things they need.

In an ideal world, aims should be clear, limited, explicit, achievable and relevant.  A good lesson plan will also make it clear to the reader (and the teacher) how the aims will be achieved.  For example, instead of ...

The students will have used the present perfect to talk about how the past has changed their present situation

it would be more helpful to state ...

The students will have understood the sense of the relative nature of the present perfect to refer to how a past action, event or state has changed the present through explaining how their own experiences have changed how they are today



Procedures should be internally logical with clear evidence that you have thought about what you and the learners will be doing and why throughout the lesson.  For example:

  1. if you are going to focus on pronunciation in a lesson, make sure you do this before the learners have to use the language to communicate
  2. if you know that there will be three words in a text that will cause serious comprehension problems, make sure you focus on them before you ask the students to read / listen and try to understand

Try this short test to see if you can order the procedures of a lesson logically.  To help you, the lesson is about an accident which happened to the teacher and there is a reading text describing what occurred.

Aims of procedures

It is useful at the planning stages to think about what each stage aims to achieve.  For example, if you have a stage in which the learners write down the six new words in a text, make sure you can say why they are doing this (probably to reinforce the form and spelling and to provide a take-away record of learning).

Try this short test to see if you can match the stage of a lesson to its aims.



On training courses, you will normally be constrained to keep your lesson with quite tight limits but when you are not observed, there is a temptation not to worry too much about over-running because, the feeling often is, you can always finish off the lesson later.
However, the reasons, apart from administrational convenience, that training courses usually insist on strict time are:

  1. Learners like to have a completed learning cycle within a lesson so they can judge their own progress.
  2. Short-term memories being what they are often means that finishing off a topic later (maybe even the next day or week) is likely to be ineffective because the target items have been deleted from the learners' memory stores.
  3. The final stages of a lesson usually include procedures designed for both you and the learners to check that the aims have been achieved so if you don't get to that stage, you and they may never know.

So, when you are planning the stages of a lesson you need to bear realistic timings in mind and this will include judging:

  1. how long it will take to introduce the topic and get people activating their ideas about it.
  2. how long it will take to explain an activity, give the instructions and set up any grouping you want.
  3. whether any difficulties the learners encounter will take a long or short time to fix.
  4. how long proper feedback from tasks that are crucial in terms of production from the learners will take.
  5. which stage or stages can be safely deleted from the plan (or lengthened) if the timing you have predicted turns out to be an over- or under-estimate.

The easiest way to do this is to write an estimate of the timing in a column on a planning grid, giving minimum and maximum times in minutes.  Adding up the maximum timings will alert you to whether what you have planned can really be accomplished.


Other things to consider for all lessons

Checking learning
At key times in the lesson you need to plan a stage which will allow you to check that the learning you hoped for has taken place.  If it hasn't, you need to depart from the plan.
Varying interaction patterns
Look through the plan and decide what the patterns are at each stage.  If it's nearly always teacher to students, you need to think more carefully about getting some student-to-student interaction
What will the students take away from the lesson as a record and aid to learning?
Have you thought about ways to recycle key language as the lesson progresses?
Will the students be given the chance to use target language items in speech and writing?
Have you checked that they are error free?
Will they actually assist the stages when they are used?
Do they address the language aims?

Related guides
step-by-step planning to see an example of how to plan a language lesson and a writing skills lesson
needs analyses for a guide to how to find out what learners need to learn which will inform aim setting
lesson structures to see how the overall shape of lessons can vary
activity types for a guide to the three essential forms of activities and what they do
task types to see how the types of task may affect what you are planning to do
Bloom's taxonomy this is a categorisation of objectives in teaching which can help to set challenges