I hate lesson plans…… with a passion

I am going to start this post by making a sweeping statement which is kinda harsh, and will definitely make some of you, my lovely readers, roll your eyes.

I hate writing lesson plans

I hate writing lesson plans which are part of a formal observation and have to be timed, have to have tasks with minutes next to them (gotcha! So, my title was a bit misleading ….).

The problem with lesson plans that are part of a formal school or diploma observation is that you get sucked in cause of the ‘minutes’, and you may lose sight of what you really should be focusing on. As far as I am concerned, lessons that had to be based on specific timing as part of the lesson plan made me feel like I am suffocating.

Maybe the timing bit is what I hate the most. Trying to figure out how many minutes you will spend on a grammar task, a reading, a group activity. So, you write up your ‘official’ lesson plan, you go into class and then you are stuck. You do not or maybe even cannot stray from what you planned in a hypothetical lesson plan.

Scenario one

You decide to do a reading task. It’s a dense semi-long reading passage and you plan ten mins for reading and four for exercises. You go into class and then you give the instructions and the students start reading.Ten minutes are up. You say, ” Has everyone finished reading? Do you need more time?” and then… some students dare to say, ” Yes, we need more time…..” .

OMG. There goes my planning… down the drain. I am behind in my minutes, and now I am gonna have to go rush rush through other stuff, or even skip other stuff which leads to more minute missing, more bad planning, more feeling like the person observing you will give you a bad grade! I have realised that when I am observed, I am ashamed to admit this, but I do lose sight of what my learners need and start dreading the tick tock of the clock.I think, ”I gotta stick to my timing. I should’ve put this setback in my anticipated problems, but I didn’t. Oh my, I am a bad teacher, I am not doing what’s on my lesson plan” (Joanna says sarcastically).

Scenario 2

You have a listening task. You decide to play the recording twice, but when the recording is over, your learners say, ” We didn’t find anything. It was too hard. We need to listen to it again”. You start sweating. You play the recording again cause that’s what the learners need and then… tick tock, tick tock.

How I normally plan lessons- my happy place

This is probably blasphemy, and the ELT Gods will probably ostracise me, but, when I am not observed and I do not have to make a detailed plan, I look at my material, start ticking what I will do, make notes, sometimes on post-it notes, I write down the minutes but very loosely, and then I walk into class. If something interesting comes up, I change my plan and go with the flow (ooooohh). If students are having difficulties, I start trying to figure out ways to explain things, and again stray from the plan. I think my lessons are good, my learners learn (most of the times) and everyone is happy. When I get observed, I may stick to my minutes, but I can’t say I am the happiest teacher on the block. My observed lessons are not my best ones, even when the feedback is really good (yes, sometimes it is…).

Beach in Chania

So, that’s why I hate lesson plans… with a passion. I dislike minutes. I wish lesson plans did not have the timing box, and we could just go with the flow or maybe I am just a bad planner….Oh! By the way, I know observations are aimed to help us, and give us suggestions on how to improve. I do really learn a lot from them. The latter does not mean though that I don’t feel trapped in my little boxes (the tables where you write your lp).

What do you guys think?

Talk soon

Jo

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15 thoughts on “I hate lesson plans…… with a passion

  1. A really interesting post, Joanna! I believe the answer always lies in the middle -or as I often say, for every Plan A there should at least be a Plan B and C! Time can be a huge frustration and it is indeed a setback when students’ needs are concerned. So, I say yes to plans as long as they are flexible and tailored to meet our students’ needs.

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    • Hi Maria!
      I totally agree with you. That’s why I struggle with the ONE. The plan that is part of the formal/official observation!!
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I am really interested in seeing what other teachers think.
      Joanna

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      • I understand what you mean, I’ve been through the observation part myself. In this case, I think it takes an understanding attitude on the part of the person observing you as well. Luckily, I’ve had people who were open to that whenever I deviated from the original plan I had given them.

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      • Yes, people who observe you are there to help you. I have learnt a lot from them. I do think that what someone sees in an observed lesson that is based on a formal lesson plan is not what I actually do in my classes though. I think that maybe it’s my own insecurity or the fact that I do not do well with limits ( word limits/ time limits). I think my teaching is better without the constraints of minutes because sometimes the classroom context can go beyond what you expected and anticipated.

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  2. Hey Joanna,
    I know what you mean about watching the clock when it comes to observed lessons. I suppose observed lessons just are a bit unnatural no matter how they are done! As for the lesson plans, over the past year or so I have tried making a short lesson plan for every single class I teach. It takes me less than 5 minutes now for each one. I started to do this because after one observed lesson last year, my line manager told me that I should have my lesson aims more firmly in mind before getting stuck into the mechanics of what I was going to do in the lesson. It sounds like common sense of course, but I realised that I was starting from ‘what am I going to do’ rather than, ‘what do I want the learners to be able to do after this lesson’….. Which wound up in me spending ages thinking about activities and losing sight of the end result.

    Now I save each lesson plan in Word, start with the aims, then plan the activities and timings. It helps me save time in keeping track of what I have done with each class, and for thinking about what did and didn’t work well. It’s 5 minutes that saves me so much time in the long run because my job involves creating courses from scratch, so at least I can repeat the lessons I have made more easily when I have saved the quickie lesson plan…… 🙂 It’s different when the plan is just for you and not for someone else though 😉 Happy planning!

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  3. Hi there!I completely understand you.A few years back we changed our system(Montenegro) and now we can (but we don’t have to) write a lesson plan containing minutes.I don’t do this because quite often I change what I have planned to do.I just write a method next to an objective and I don’t detail the activities.Sometimes my students don’t feel like doing something.I keep them in Word and change things in a few minutes.I prefer it that way.I don’t see the point in writing every possible detail since it is impossible to complete everything.Though I understand that some teacher need to have everything in detail.

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  4. The minutes are meaningless. On teacher training in England I used to put 10 minutes contingency time and 1 extension activity into every plan. 5 minutes is rarely 5 minutes and more often 6 or 7. The jumping through hoops one does!

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  5. Hi Joanna,
    I used to hate timings on lesson plans, but now that I’ce spent a year giving other people advice on how to calculate timing for their classes, I actually think it can be a very useful exercise. It shows the onserver that you’re aware of what you can realistically achieve in the lesson time available, although it’s always good practice to have a couple of extra activities up your sleeve or to know what you can drop if things take longer than you expect – I always recommend teachers include both of those things in the anticipated problems. If you have pre-set aims, timing your classes fairly accurately shows you’re aware of your students and what they can achieve.
    All that doesn’t mean that you can’t adapt your lessons based on what happens on the day – I don’t think any observer expects the teacher in frront of them to teach a lesson which is identical to what is on the paper, down to the exact number of minutes each activity takes. In fact, if they did, I would be a bit suspicious. The important thing is to respond to your students’ needs and adapt the lesson to fit them.
    Finally, Joanna, don’t be nervous and clock watch if you don’t normally do it. If timing is an issue for you, maybe it’s an area for some action research to improve your confidence. During a normal lesson, make a note of how long each activity took and start to use this to make yourself more aware of what normally takes longer or less time than you expect. You could also take a look at the Timing Your Elementary Classes post on my blog, which I really should change the title of – it’s not just for elementary! 😉
    Hope that helps, and good luck with your next observation!
    Sandy

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  6. Hey Sandy,
    I agree that minutes and timing of exercises and putting all these things in a lesson plan does show that you have an understanding of what will happen in class. It may also confine you though (I am talking about official observations) because many teachers (like me) feel that they have to cherish the minutes cause there is a lot of box ticking in an observed minutes. This means that maybe if you realise that something is not working or you go into work and feel like doing something completely different cause say you saw a rat outside your door, you cannot. That is why I said I hate lesson plans and minutes in official observations cause they are not always natural for me :)Thanks for the link. I will defo have a look and yes, I do have difficulty with time… and word limits 😛
    Joanna

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  7. Hi Joanna, I have to admit I still put in the minutes but mainly because I can teach lessons of different durations and the minutes tell me how long that particular lesson is. I rarely follow them religiously but they remind me of the time I have to play with.

    Personally, I like doing my lesson plans in Excel. I started doing them that way last year and I set them up to auto-fill and calculate the information I was tired of writing. So now I only have to change my minutes with a couple of clicks. (I think the gods of ELT will be disappointed with my laziness.)

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  8. On my Trinity dip we were told that the minutes on the plan were a guide, but they expected you to deviate from it depending on your students needs, and so long as you could justify why you did. If you did something completely different to what was planned it was ok if you could say why you did it and the trainer agreed. So it was more like estimating how long it would take if it went to plan, so you could fit in the lesson. Later in an ‘official’ lesson plan you have flexi stages and stages that can be longer or shorter which you do depending on what happened. In non-official lessons, you recalculate in your head what would now fit in the remainder of the lesson.
    When I’m observing now this is how I look at it. If the lesson is totally mistimed, I talk to the teacher about how long they expected activities to take and being more realistic with estimations, as this can help day to day teaching, but if the lesson goes over because they were responding to student needs, I praise that!

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    • Hey Kate,
      I am glad to hear that. I would like to be observed with no lesson plan, do my thing and then explain why I did, what I did. I have tossed out lesson plans cause my learners were tired or said sth random which led to a beautiful. That is why my title is quite dramatic but touches on that. I think minutes in lesson plans are unrealistic. I also think that plans can and should be broken depending on how the lesson is going. I think we agree that learner needs come first, then minutes and plans 🙂

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  11. And now, I’m getting stuck and suffocating in that stuff. I used to like making lesson plan on my own style. Then, I learned how to make it better in a formal form, i got it prior to my sucking fake lesson plan now. Nevertheless, I know it is helpful.

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