One of the most common problems new teachers face is not having enough time to plan. It’s one thing to be able to spend several hours planning a class for one of your CELTA/Trinity teaching practices, and quite another to realise that you’ve got four or five classes to plan for tomorrow. There simply isn’t enough time to spend hours planning each class you teach.
I know exactly how you feel. Add to that more experienced colleagues telling you ‘it gets quicker’ and those who proudly tell you that they don’t bother to plan at all, and it’s enough to make you want to quit before you’ve even started.
My first piece of advice is not to skip planning – however tempting it may be, and no matter how confident you are that you can ‘just wing it’, your lesson will be worse as a result.
Planning isn’t just something to do ‘because you have to’, it will genuinely allow you to anticipate problems, explain things better, and teach a more interesting and better organised lesson.
The colleagues telling you are quite right – planning does get quicker. Here’s how.
Your standard lesson plan that you use every day doesn’t need to have a CELTA-type level of detail.
Yes, you can think about anticipated problems, you can think about how long each activity will last, and you can think about interaction patterns, but you don’t need to write them all down! To give you an idea of the difference, a CELTA-style lesson plan may run to four or five A4 pages. My average lesson plan on a daily basis is around half an A5 sheet. You can already start to see the difference in time this requires.
Your lesson plan does not need to be 100% perfect.
Many teachers are perfectionists – it seems to go with the territory, and if you’ve just started a new job it’s only natural to want to do well. However, teaching itself requires you to be flexible, and things will very rarely go exactly as you intend them. I’m not advocating taking a completely laissez-faire approach and abandoning planning completely, but know that there is a limit to how much you can plan everything.
There are also some questions questions you can ask yourself which will help you to plan efficiently.
What do I want the end result to be?
I always struggled with writing lesson aims until I read ‘How to be an Outstanding Primary School Teacher’ by David Dunn. Although aimed at primary school teachers, some of the advice can be easily applied to any kind of teaching, including EFL. At the start of every lesson plan, sit down and ask yourself what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the lesson (something they won’t be able to do at the start!). This could be completing an activity in the coursebook, or carrying out a communicative task, or producing something, like a presentation or a piece of writing. What you do in your lesson should lead up to your students being able to achieve the end result.
For example: if you want your young learners to write a horror story using past simple, your lesson plan might need to include: a model example of a horror story (this could be a reading or listening activity), an activity to review the past simple, an activity to teach some ‘horror’ vocabulary, and perhaps an activity to review story structure/using paragraphs etc. With those elements, even quite weak students should be able to produce the end product.
Can I use the coursebook, or do I need to adapt it or supplement it in some way?
Once you’ve figured out what elements you need to include in your lesson, it’s time to relate that to the coursebook. Are those pages you’re meant to be covering a relevant/interesting topic? Is it appropriate for your class (in terms of both level and topic)? Can you use the coursebook as is, or do you need to adapt or supplement it in some way?
No coursebook is perfect, so it’s far more likely to be the latter. See my post on adapting the coursebook for more hints and tips here.
3. Can I use something I’ve already used/can I reuse this in the future?
If you’re going to supplement or create anything, it’s worth pausing to think for a moment here. As we discussed in my teacher toolkit post, it’s always helpful to have a selection of resources you can turn to in a hurry. If there’s potential to reuse something, make an extra copy, depending on what it is laminate it, and then save it for the future.
4. What do I need to plan more/less?
One of the reasons why CELTA lesson plans are so damn long is that they require pretty much the same level of detail, regardless of what the activity is – what the students will be doing, what the teacher will be doing, instructions, interaction patterns, etc. When you’re writing a functional lesson plan for your normal classes, you don’t need to.
Some things – such as presenting a new grammatical structure – will require more planning, and it’s still worth writing down how you want your boardwork to look, grammar rules and examples. When it comes to a listening activity, however, you might just want to write down ‘Exercise 2b’.
5. What is the minimum level of detail I am comfortable working with?
When teaching a full 20-30 hour timetable, there is a limit to how much time you’re going to be able to spend planning if you value your sanity and/or social life. The reason all those experienced teachers tell you that planning gets quicker? A lot of the time it’s down to this: that they’ve figured out the minimum level of detail they are comfortable working with.
Over time, as you become more confident with your teaching, your plan becomes a way of organising your thoughts pre-lesson more than a document you refer to whilst teaching. This means that most of the meat of the plan will eventually be in your head. If you understand whatever abbreviations, shorthand, diagrams or whatever else you want to use, the only person you have to answer to is yourself.
I hope these tips help you to feel more comfortable with lesson planning. For some more planning advice check out my post Lesson Planning 101, which is aimed specifically at summer school teachers (but works for other new teachers as well!).