Beginning and experienced teachers alike can rethink their approaches to lesson planning by reflecting on the following six statements. Read each one and decide if it’s a truth or a myth. (I share my own thoughts, but please feel free to voice a different opinion!)
1. Good lessons follow lesson plans exactly as they were written.
Myth. Of course, if you’re constantly modifying a plan to the point where a completely new lesson evolves as you’re teaching it, then most likely you didn’t accurately identify your objectives or adequately anticipate your students’ needs. Nevertheless, it’s permissible and sometimes necessary to make adjustments. A lesson plan is a guide. It’s more like a map with different routes available to one destination. It’s less like a set of instructions for assembling a piece of furniture where every piece in the kit must be used. Some steps in your plan can be modified or even omitted, and you can still meet your objectives.
2. A good lesson plan can be used repeatedly with different groups of students.
Truth. If the plan allows enough flexibility to tailor the presentation and practice to each group of students, then it can certainly be recycled. The idea is to reuse same materials and activities with different groups while making the effort to personalize the lesson. This will make it more accessible, memorable, and effective. If a plan is recycled, it’s important to anticipate variations in the students’ performance resulting from their level of familiarity with the topic, their learning styles, and their contributions. In the end, no lesson plan can be executed exactly the same way more than once.
3. A good lesson plan can be executed by more than one teacher.
Truth. I know this is similar to #2, but it’s worth discussing. If the methodology is sound and all materials are on hand, the plan can be successfully used by more than one teacher. This can be the case when a substitutes steps in and is handed a prepared lesson to teach. A well-constructed plan can be used effectively by different teachers. Of course, each teacher’s personality and teaching style will put a unique spin on the delivery.
4. Lessons incorporate two components: presentation and practice. Presentation comes first, and practice follows.
Myth. Lessons are built from components, but anything too rigid doesn’t allow a teacher to accommodate a broad range of learning styles and learners’ needs. Many good lessons will follow the traditional sequence of presenting, practicing, and producing the target language, but to stretch ourselves as teachers and challenge our learners, lesson formats need to vary. Good lessons can begin with communicative activities and then be followed by a teacher’s presentation. Such a presentation benefits from the teacher’s observations of the students’ performance. She knows what needs to be highlighted and clarified. The class may end with controlled practice to confirm students’ understanding.
5. On paper, lesson plans should be uniform in format and length.
Myth. Let me explain. Sometimes a school will require a standard format for lesson plans. However, when out from under the eye of a supervisor, teachers will have different approaches to lesson planning. Some still need to write detailed plans with a formal heading and carefully estimated times for each step. Others produce plans that appear very sketchy. The amount of detail will vary. What’s more important is for the teacher to consistently provide enough detail to enable her to execute her plans smoothly and effectively. Of course, making a habit of using a similar format will increase the readability of a plan. Look at a few of your plans and compare them. Is it easy to spot the lesson topics, materials needed, any page numbers, homework assignments, and other reminders?
6. You cannot teach without a lesson plan.
Truth. I’ve actually taught classes without anything written down in advance. This was always out of necessity (e.g., being asked to teach on the spot), but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a plan. The plan took shape in my mind piece by piece. Within the first few minutes, the topic was identified, I saw the materials available, and I set basic objectives. I then selected an exercise or activity that afforded me additional planning time. While students were working independently, I was deciding and preparing for the next sequence of steps. Preparing in advance is ideal, but when it’s not possible, you can still stay one or two steps ahead in your mind, remaining focused on your objectives and being in tune with the students’ needs.