Number one for English language teachers

General: planning lessons

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Remember, a plan is not a route-map of what must happen in class, it is only your informed setting-up of some possibilities. Here are a few ideas for alternative plans:

Your training course probably offered you some ideas for making 'traditional' formal lesson plans – but don't assume that these are the beginning and end of planning. There may be many good reasons for not writing a standard 'aims plus procedure' plan. Planning is essentially a thinking skill i.e. imagining the lesson before it happens – and anything that helps you think more clearly and effectively can be useful. Remember, a plan is not a route-map of what must happen in class, it is only your informed setting-up of some possibilities. Here are a few ideas for alternative plans:


Write your procedure notes in sketch-boxes rather than in traditional linear down-the-page fashion. Show a variety of different possible running orders and routes through the stages by drawing arrows between different boxes.

Dream through the lesson

Don't write anything. Repeatedly imagine your way through the lesson, perhaps with your eyes closed. Think up possible different routes that you might initiate – or that learners might. See where each leads. (Try this just before you fall asleep at night!)

Focus on the 'critical learning moments'

List some specific key things you hope learners will gain from the class (e.g. being able to pronounce a set of new words well e.g. being able to replay a difficult tape until they can understand the main message etc). For each of these, decide what the 'critical learning moment' will probably be i.e. something you or they do (lasting no more than 30 seconds) that is likely to make the most significant impact on their success. Focus 95% of your planning on paying attention to the 'challenge' inherent in these moments.

Plan the 'critical teaching moments'

Which instructions, explanations, feedback stages etc will be 'critical teaching moments' for the teacher which may need to be prepared in detail in advance?


(Plan the skills; don't plan the language)Put your energy into planning how your class will do skills work (e.g. reading, speaking etc). Don't plan any language systems work (e.g. lexis, grammar etc). In class spontaneously work on language issues as they come up if they are useful, interesting and appropriate for students. (NB 'work on' doesn't just mean 'explain explain' – can you invent engaging on-the-spot practice tasks as well? )

Lesson images

Draw sketch pictures of the class at several key moments in the lesson. Show what learners and teacher are doing. (Not appropriate for a 'sit down and write all the time' kind of lesson …)

Plan with the learners

Allow 10 minutes a week to negotiate and plan with learners – not just "What shall we do?" but also "How shall we do that?". You may be surprised to find some strong opinions and preferences.

Or perhaps, don't …

… plan anything. Discover what a lesson is like without any previous thought. (Many teachers are surprised to come out feeling that they have taught particularly well – is this because they have had to listen and respond to students far more carefully than usual?)

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Readers' comments (3)

  • a couple of examples of good and bad planning would help!

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  • Dogme theory !

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  • how good is it to have to plan a whole month ahead, in our school they ask us to do this, with dates, but it is diff. for me to know exactlly how my students are going to behave each day, i like to plan two week ahead, that way i know a waht speed, my students are learnig.

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