Surviving Summer School: Lesson Planning 101

This is part 5/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here. 

Surviving Summer School

For many new CELTA/Trinity graduates, summer school is their first teaching job. If you are one of them, then this post is for you!

Summer schools all work a little differently, and one of those differences is in terms of *what* exactly is taught. Whilst I can’t offer one-size-fits-all advice here, I can offer some hints and tips to make teaching a little easier.

1. Find out what materials are used.

Some summer schools do base their syllabus on existing coursebooks. Others produce a ‘lesson plan pack’ that is individual to that particular school. Still others have school-unique workbooks for the students to complete during their stay, and the lessons aim to cover those topics. This is something that’s helpful to find out about during your interview. If you didn’t ask and they didn’t tell you, don’t panic – do some scouting around on the summer school’s website, email the company, or even just wait until you get there; it won’t be the end of the world. Once you’ve found this out, there are three main questions you’ll want to address:

  • What exactly is it? If you have a standard coursebook to work from (which will likely be accompanied by teachers’ notes), teaching isn’t really likely to be too different from what you did on your CELTA. The same theories still apply – for each lesson figure out what you want your students to be able to do by the end of it, and then work backwards from there. If you have lesson plan packs, that’s potentially great! Lesson planning done! (At least to some extent – see the next point). If the students simply have a workbook, or a designated ‘theme for the week’ and nothing else, chances are you’ll need to be a bit more creative with your planning. Importantly though, don’t panic!
  • How useable is it? This is probably more likely to apply to lesson plan packs or workbooks, as coursebooks are normally rather more thoroughly ‘tried and tested’! However: if you’re teaching teens and you’re given an adult coursebook (has happened!) then be prepared to do a little more work when it comes to figuring out how to teach it. I’ve worked with teachers who have assumed that because the summer school provides lesson plan packs, that means no lesson planning required – it’s all been done for you! Check what you’re working with before you decide if this is the case 🙂 Often provided lesson plans will do the majority of the work for you, but there will still be parts you’ll want to change and things you’ll want to add or leave out, depending on your students.
  • What can you add to it? Just because you’ve been given some kind of material to follow, it doesn’t mean that you have to only do that. Don’t be scared of the idea of using supplementary materials. I share some ideas about how to choose what to use here.

2. Start from the very… end?

I remember in my first few months of teaching finding the idea of ‘lesson aims’ utterly daunting, and something I’d rather avoid thinking about. After all, it’s much easier to simply aim to cover page 66 and 67 of the coursebook. What I found completely changed my approach, however, was the idea of starting at the end and working backwards in order to figure out what your aims actually are. Whether you’re considering a set of vocabulary words, a grammar point, or even just a couple of pages in the coursebook, think about what you’d ideally like your students to be able to do at the end of the lesson. Do you want them to be able to talk about their favourite film? Do you want them to write a story using past simple and past continuous? Do you want them to ask another student in the class questions about their family? Once you’ve identified that ‘end aim’, what you do in the lesson should enable your students to get there. For example, if you want them to ask questions about family, they need to remember words for different family members, they need to know how to form questions, and they perhaps need some work on intonation/pronunciation in questions. These are the things you need to include in your lesson. Working backwards suddenly makes it very easy to work out what you do (and don’t!) need to include, and so helps you to work out what the different stages in your lesson will be.

3. Teamwork is your friend!

At most summer schools, there will be more than one teacher for each level – for example, there will be several classes of pre-intermediate students, several of upper-intermediate students, etc. This means that there is likely to be someone else teaching the same material as you. Make use of each other! One of the nicest summer schools I’ve worked at was where one of my colleagues and I set up a ‘photocopying agreement’. The syllabus involved lots of worksheets/bits of paper on most days, which meant lots of time spent at the photocopier. We agreed that on one day, one of us would do all the copying for both our classes (we would be teaching the same lessons, so it simply entailed making double the amount of copies), on the other day the other would do all the copying. More free time, everyone wins! It’s also nice to have someone to plan with/bounce ideas off – often other people have fantastic ideas that you might not have thought of.

4. Ask for help if you need it.

I feel as if I spend a lot of time reiterating this point, but it is an important one. Your senior teacher is there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re uncertain or even if you simply want reassurance that you’re on the right lines. No one starts out teaching knowing everything (in fact it’s the people who think they do who often run into problems!), and all of your colleagues were new to teaching once. At some point in the future you’ll be the one giving advice to the scared-looking newbie, and realise just how far you’ve come!

Good luck, and happy teaching!

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