Homework ideas for English learners
- Tips & Strategies
When I was a university student and started working as a school teacher, I was supposed to have a lesson plan for each lesson. My director of studies could turn up and observe my teaching without warning or request a plan of my lesson at any time. Did I consider lesson plans as a teaching aid at that time? No way. It was my precaution to avoid punishment for not having one.
I didn't use my plans for teaching. I spent the time of my life writing them to please my boss. Sounds like a good reason to hate writing lesson plans for the rest of my life. Well, it does. But I don't, because now I see the real value in planning, and one of my greatest fears is to come to a 90-minute class unprepared, and without any plan.
I was not (and I'm sure I'm still not) the only teacher who treats lesson plans this way. Let's look at why some teachers don't see any value in planning, and why lesson plans are so useless for many teachers.
Well, yes, usually we teach what is in the book. However, are you always happy with what the coursebook provides?
For example, I'm not happy with how the coursebook presents comparatives, and I think my students will benefit if I do it differently; or know that my weaker Elementary students need more practice with the new grammar, and the two controlled practice exercises in the book are not enough; or any other reason why the coursebook materials will not work for your students.
If I'm not happy with something, I will change it, and it requires a plan.
As a teacher who teaches kids, teenagers, and adults, I know the lesson structures for different kinds of lessons for different ages. However, if I prepare for a 90-minute lesson with kids, I can hardly imagine teaching it without a plan.
The reason is very simple. I need to change activities a lot, and in one lesson I can have about 20 different tasks. I cannot keep all of them in mind — this is impossible, and without a plan I will definitely forget something, or swap the activities by accident (which is not always a good idea in most cases). I need a plan in order not to forget to do something important that might not be mentioned in the coursebook.
That was a typical misconception when I was a university student and a novice teacher. A teacher with a lesson plan was considered as the one who is badly prepared for a lesson. I was supposed to teach like an actress, having learnt and remembered the script. Such beliefs are one of the reasons why lesson planning lost its value, because the plan was never actually used in a lesson.
A lesson plan is your best friend, and it must be at hand when you need it so that you could glance at it either if you are not sure what to do next, or remember to do something important. For example, you can plan a role-play activity with complicated grouping and a change of partners.
Instead of keeping in mind how to do it, what roles to assign, and the regrouping pattern, it is so much more convenient to write it down in your lesson plan.
Common mistakes in lesson planning
Moreover, you might have to change something as the lesson goes, or note down something in your plan in order not to forget to do it later, and you can make notes in the plan as well. For example, you hear your learners make mistakes in conditional sentences when they are practicing the new vocabulary set you have presented.
You decide to write down a couple of sentences with mistakes you heard, and spend 5—6 minutes at the end of the lesson analysing and correcting them. What is the chance you remember to do it unless you make notes in your plan?
Many schools and institutions have their own idea of how to write lesson plans. Some of them are sometimes not reasonable. For example, some schools might require a pronunciation warm-up at the beginning of each class.
While this might be a good idea for lower levels of learners, but for certain lessons (like a writing lesson, or a module test) a pronunciation warm-up will not benefit the lesson aims achievement (it will not help students produce better writing or get a higher score for the test). Sometimes half of a lesson plan becomes a set of formal parts with a thin layer of what the teacher is actually going to do in a lesson.
What makes you a "good" teacher?
A good (and useful) lesson plan must be an aid in a lesson, and thus contain only what is necessary. If there are some requirements you feel become rituals rather than useful planning, it is a good idea to talk to your DOS and ask them if you are allowed to make alterations and write the plan in the format that helps you teach better. If you are allowed to write your plan the way that works for you, you can make it work and really help you teach.
For example, some of the activities or stages might be mentioned as a bullet point, e.g. 'Christmas taboo'. If you know the game well and will definitely set it up without any problem, and if you have got a set of Taboo cards to use in a game, why would you need to write anything else for this activity in your plan? On the other hand, some activities need more detail to set them up well. For example:
Stop the bus.
Categories: clothes, animals, food, space, school, sports, jobs.
Letters: a,b,c,d,e, i, l, m, n, j, r, s, t, w
This game might be very tricky if you don't plan it ahead, so this is important to make notes in your plan.
If you are developing your teaching skills and need to write your instructions and questions to students because you might not come up with them on the spot, it is important to prepare them in advance and write them in your plan.
You might have taught the coursebook before, but if you teach the same lesson to different groups of students, you teach four different lessons because every group is different. It means you still need to look at the materials of each lesson and decide what to adjust, so you need to plan your lesson anyway.
Make your instructions clear and understandable!
Moreover, when we plan, apart from planning what activities you are going to launch, we consider a lot of other important factors like:
Remember, careful and effective planning means that what you plan really helps you teach.
Once you see the value in writing a lesson plan and the best format for you (the one that helps you reduce the unnecessary descriptions and add details where necessary) which does not include any useless and formal work, you will see that your lesson plan helps you teach more effective lessons, and reflect on them later.
YL DOS, CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, TKT Course creator
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