Live-ish Lesson Planning

All this talk of planning over on the #KELTchat  has gotten me thinking. It is nice to think about such things, I believe. These days, my schedule is such that I pretty much have only one class a week I’d consider to be an English class. My other courses are known as “seminars in simultaneous interpretation” (clicking here will give you some idea how these classes go). I also have some other courses that politely defy simple explanations but I will not mention them here, unless I just did. OK, back to the sole English class I have this term, then. It is called International Discussion and the general idea is a fluency focused course on local and global issues of importance.

The course is organized around topics. In practice this means each week features a new topic to discuss. I try to make sure students work with related vocabulary. Often (well 55% of the time) there are assigned readings (but rarely reading tasks) for students to read before class to help students frame the issues of a topic and to get them thinking about the topic. Around half the topics are chosen by me in advance of the course and the remaining topics are chosen by the group in one of the first lessons of the term.

I also try to focus on discussion strategies. This means that planning is often about marrying the topics to the the discussion skills. I have a number of discussion strategies laid out before the course and also get students’ input on what they need. Of course, I also notice what they need during the class and make plans accordingly.

My students are students in an English medium graduate school. They tend to be around upper intermediate, if you are into such labels. Sharing their opinions and having conversations on headier topics is not always easy for them. They tend to do very well with long turns. Interrupting (and other turn-taking strategies) and speaking without thinking time are challenges.

One important thing that often comes to my mind when thinking of these students is how they have no shortage of opportunities to use English but they do have a shortage of opportunities for getting feedback, or at least feedback in the sense of a teacher correcting and giving suggestions and such. The read and write and talk and have lectures in English but don’t have chances to get feedback on their production. The (only?) feedback they might outside of class get more is something like a classmate saying, “I don’t understand” in their daily English interactions. With this in mind I feel even more than I would in other classes that my duty is to give feedback on both fluency and accuracy. I feel less ok than I might otherwise be in other contexts in Korea to simply provide time and place for practice in English, as this is something my students tend to get quite a bit of, regardless of how loudly people say Korea is an EFL country or how perfectly they place it in the Expanding Circle.

Onto planning then. What follows is a mostly live account of my thoughts as I try to plan my class.

5:00 pm 
(Class time – 28 hours)
What shall we do in class tomorrow? I know the topic is North Korea. There has been a lot of DPRK in the news lately. How to slice things into manageable pieces.
I like the idea of explaining the situation to a well-meaning but clueless North American.
Imagine you meet a North American who asks you if you are North Korean and then asks you to talk about the differences.
A speaking task like this could help frame some of the issues and see where students are and where they need help.

Bz3Sw99IAAEiLBE

There he is. Photo via @W7VOA

5:05 
Am I really talking about lesson planning without mentioning objectives for the class.
Zero SWBATs so far? What will the neighbors think?

5:10 
Should I revisit my beliefs about lesson planning?
Should I make a shameless plug to a previous post about beliefs about lesson planning?

5:18 
I think one of the keys on my regular planning for this class is the balance between things like useful chunks for managing discussions, time spent on the topic of the week, feedback on English (including grammar, usage, pron and other stuff), and lexis (both old and newer) related to the topic. Last week I think we focused a bit much on lexis and not as much on the others. This week, I think there are some “go-to” terms related to North Korea and the whole situation they will need and want to know.

5:19
That KELTchat is interesting. Nice to see lots of people involved. I must admit it is somewhat distracting, however.

5:20
I remember one student getting a bit stuck when admitting he didn’t quite follow a classmate and attempting to ask for clarifications two weeks ago. I think he didn’t have much experience with this. I think this is something that we will have to focus on and play with in the next few weeks. That and interruptions.

When I think about interruptions I often get my brain a bit twisted around because I don’t want to say that the American way is the way to do it and nor do I want to insist that students interrupt each other all the time. On other hand I want to make sure students can interrupt as they wish.

5:29 
I suppose I could just choose all the topics myself or match discussion skills to topics earlier in the term. This would prevent this sort of day-before-the-lesson-concern. That said, I don’t mind it so much and I like the idea of some flexibility. I think it would be too much flexibility to have to worry about choosing a topic and the more languagey stuff each week.

5:36
These days I am very much into the idea of using material created by one class of students for another class. I toyed with the idea of trying to use some stuff created by previous students (this stuff) but I don’t see much value in it for tomorrow.

5:50
It has been 14 minutes since I thought about tomorrow’s class.

5:55
Planning, eh?

5:56
Dinner time. Yep, that is the ticket. I need to eat and then I can focus.

6:32
Ok, now I am ready. Surely my brain will work properly now. Time to focus. Let’s get down to business.

6:36
It is too quiet. What is on TV?
Oh, awesome. CSI. I love that show.
(Note: I actually don’t like it)

That Grissom is a clever fellow.
How would he handle this lesson plan?

Grissom.
Griffin.
Grissom.
Griffin.
Weird.

gilgriss

Griss.

7:04
This is silly. I need to get to work. The sooner I get to work the sooner I can relax.

7:15
Words and phrases and paraphrasing? Yeah I think so.
Strategies? Yes.
North Korea? Yes, for sure.
General questions? Ok.
Summarizing? Explaining to an outsider? Probably.
Mini 6 party talks? Nah.

7:20
When talking about teaching in Korea I have seen lots of advice like “Don’t talk about North Korea.” I think this might be fine advice in many context, but in mine with these student I think it is something they will need to be comfortable talking about.

7:32
Damned insert key messing everything up here. What am I to do?
I googled and nothing helped. I might have to restart the computer.

7:40
This used to be easier without blogging about it. Like last week.

8:20
I found some materials I used previously on this topic. Interesting stuff there including questions around the topic and some language.

8:23
Cool. I just remembered there is a new FlashmobELT lino wall from the recent KOTESOL conference.
For more information on FMELT you can click here.

8:32
I think I will put this planning on hold for 90 minutes or so.
Gosh, when I get back to it will be less than 12 hours to class time.
In the meantime I will be on ELTlive talking about…wait for it…lesson planning.

10:10
If I get into some deep psychological shit thoughts I can examine my procrastination. Maybe it is based on my thought class will likely be fine as there are limited disasters these days. Of course not every lesson is wonderful but things tend to work out reasonably well in the end. I think if I were faced with the potential of disaster I’d be more motivated at the moment.

That said, I do not believe that teachers instinctively know when their lessons or plans have gone well. I think it takes collecting feedback and measuring students progress to have much of an idea on this. And reflection beyond “that went well enough.”

10:15
Class is in less than 11 hours. This is the motivation I need.

10:16
*Checks notes from last week.

10:17
Ahh to hell with it. I will finish planning in the morning. Yeah, if I wake up early and plan it will be better. It will be fresh in my mind and that way I will actually be more ready.

10:28
I am nervous about not being ready for tomorrow.

10:33
I am glad my plans these days are neguices free but I wish I were a bit more focused. I will publish and close this.
I’ll let you know if tomorrow’s class is a disaster.

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4 comments

  1. livinglearning

    It won’t be a disaster. That’s the worst part of it (speaking from my experience). You procrastinate until it’s better to wait till tomorrow and feel guilty all day tomorrow about not having planned for the class “well enough” and still don’t quite get it done but somehow the class goes fine and the students don’t notice that you could possibly have been better planned and more prepared. Would it have gone better if you had planned it out? Would your lesson have flowed better? Would you have found the exact right ways of teaching interruptions and the perfect activities to go with? Who knows. Maybe not. “Next time I’ll do this better.” You promise yourself. Just like you did last week.
    (Just to be very, very clear – this comment is actually about me, not you.)

    • mikecorea

      Hey wow. I am here not planning and catching up on old comments. Only from 5 months ago or so. Interestingly, today I had the feeling of not being totally prepared enough but students filled that empty space by asking each other questions and asking me questions and talking about things I could not have predicted. This makes me feel a little more comfortable about tomorrow…until the next time I feel the burn of not being prepared and then (over) prepare for the next while till this feeling is not so easily remembered. And then rinse, wash repeat. It sounds somewhat lazy as I type it but I remember being super super prepared in the past (at times!) but not really feeling the benefit and then sort of scaling down to something of a happy medium and then living on the edge. Of course there are a variety of factors here in including type of class and everything. Thanks for commenting and helping me feel better (then and now) about not being totally prepared.

  2. ljiljana havran

    I enjoyed your post very much (as always) and I’m sure your class won’t be a disaster. 🙂
    This is a great topic because effective lesson planning is the basis of effective teaching. From my point of view, very good/experienced teachers usually create short and concise Lesson plans (just a few notes, a few interesting questions,…). They spend a lot of time thinking about their students and how to help them learn, about the aims they want to achieve, the questions they could ask, about the possible problems and solutions, students’ feedback about the lesson …They always try to create some challenging tasks and to find some reliable sources their students could explore by themselves. Good teachers are imaginative and flexible and don’t stick so strictly to the plan.
    Thanks for your post, for many very useful links, and for the very interesting and enjoyable Keltchat and ELTlive 🙂

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