1 Mistake I Still Make with Lesson Plans and 3 Ways I Fix It

Most lessons go well, thank goodness, and it’s a wonderful thing to have time fly and end a lesson knowing that something meaningful was accomplished. A good lesson leaves my heart happy and my mind already focused on planning the next steps forward. A stumble here and there fills me with determination to make things go more smoothly the next time.

Even after twenty-some years of teaching, ten of which have been online, I know I’m not perfect. But like I tell my students, we can become aware of what challenges us and then work to improve in those areas in order to achieve more consistent success in our performance.

One aspect of lesson planning that I still goof up on is timing.

I run through each lesson plan before I actually teach it and make my time estimates. I usually teach one-hour lessons, and I mentally walk through any warm-up and then consider the logical flow of the tasks I’ve created, planning the approximate amounts of time we’ll need to complete them. But designing a plan and carrying it out are two different things. The human factor brings in a lot of unpredictability:
– If a student asks a relevant question, I take the time to answer it.
– If a student needs more examples or further explanation, I offer this.
– If a student excels at a task, I may raise the bar by creating a new task on the spot.
– If a controlled task sparks a short discussion about the content, I allow some digression.

Actually, this last situation is one I’ve become better at anticipating. (1) I can build in opportunities for discussion and reflection. In one advanced student’s lessons, we’ve been covering American pop culture, from vaudeville and the Golden Age of Hollywood to current late night TV shows. It’s been great fun planning her lessons. Facts I find online become the basis for grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation tasks. In our last lesson, a short vocabulary exercise based on Carol Burnett’s biography led directly into a talk about women in comedy. Similarly, other brief discussions were carefully placed after grammar tasks that gave more insight into this famous American entertainer’s career. It would have been a lost opportunity to digest only facts and not talk about Burnett’s contribution to American entertainment. Discussion wasn’t a digression, but rather meaningful student production.

In a class I have with intermediate students, I’ve gotten better at managing my time by remembering what choices I have. This small group of students likes to have a short Q&A session at the beginning of each weekly lesson. There have been times when I’ve let that segment run a little too long. (2) I’m trying to be more conscious of the need to decide how much to address then and there and what to address either through a later post on our private Facebook page or through a task in the next lesson. I need to remember that all questions deserve answers, but not all answers can be given in a single lesson.

Another thought I bear in mind is how pacing needs to take priority over timing. In other words, (3) if a pace I choose turns out to be too fast, then it’s better to slow down and cover less material but cover it well, allowing the student to deliver a confident performance. I may have planned a review of falling and rising intonation within a single lesson, but if the falling intonation requires more work, then I’ll ditch the second half of the plan and focus entirely on falling intonation. What I had originally estimated to be a 15-minute task can become a 25-minute task, but there’s no sense in rushing through a lesson plan to cover all the steps if it means losing a student back on step 1! Of course, I have this freedom when I teach privately. In a large class setting, other alternatives would have to be explored, such as offering additional help to a single student who needs more support.

Do you find any particular aspect of lesson planning challenging? Feel free to share.


Photo credit: Idea, Empty, Paper, Pen, Light, Bulb by Qimono. Retrieved from the Creative Commons at https://pixabay.com/en/idea-empty-paper-pen-light-bulb-1876659/.

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