Planning A Lesson
A key aspect of effective teaching is having a plan for what will happen in the classroom each day. Creating such a plan involves setting realistic goals, deciding how to incorporate course textbooks and other required materials, and developing activities that will promote learning. This section shows instructors how to carry out each of these steps.
Set Lesson Goals
Lesson goals are most usefully stated in terms of what students will have done or accomplished at the end of the lesson. Stating goals in this way allows both teacher and learners to know when the goals have been reached.
To set lesson goals:
1. Identify a topic for the lesson. The topic is not a goal, but it will help you develop your goals. The topic may be determined largely by your curriculum and textbook, and may be part of a larger thematic unit such as Travel or Leisure Activities. If you have some flexibility in choice of topic, consider your students’ interests and the availability of authentic materials at the appropriate level.
2. Identify specific linguistic content, such as vocabulary and points of grammar or language use, to be introduced or reviewed. These are usually prescribed by the course textbook or course curriculum. If they are not, select points that are connected in some significant way with the topic of the lesson.
3. Identify specific communication tasks to be completed by students. To be authentic, the tasks should allow, but not require, students to use the vocabulary, grammar, and strategies presented in the lesson. The focus of the tasks should be topical, not grammatical. This means that it may be possible for some students to complete the task without using either the grammar point or the strategy presented in the first part of the lesson.
4. Identify specific learning strategies to be introduced or reviewed in connection with the lesson.
5. Create goal statements for the linguistic content, communication tasks, and learning strategies that state what you will do and what students will do during the lesson.
Structure the Lesson
A language lesson should include a variety of activities that combine different types of language input and output. Learners at all proficiency levels benefit from such variety; research has shown that it is more motivating and is more likely to result in effective language learning.
An effective lesson has five parts:
The five parts of a lesson may all take place in one class session or may extend over multiple sessions, depending on the nature of the topic and the activities.
The lesson plan should outline who will do what in each part of the lesson. The time allotted for preparation, presentation, and evaluation activities should be no more than 8-10 minutes each. Communication practice activities may run a little longer.
As the class begins, give students a broad outline of the day’s goals and activities so they know what to expect. Help them focus by eliciting their existing knowledge of the day’s topics.
- Use discussion or homework review to elicit knowledge related to the grammar and language use points to be covered
- Use comparison with the native language to elicit strategies that students may already be using
- Use discussion of what students do and/or like to do to elicit their knowledge of the topic they will address in communication activities
Move from preparation into presentation of the linguistic and topical content of the lesson and relevant learning strategies. Present the strategy first if it will help students absorb the lesson content.
Presentation provides the language input that gives students the foundation for their knowledge of the language. Input comes from the instructor and from course textbooks. Language textbooks designed for students in U.S. universities usually provide input only in the form of examples; explanations and instructions are written in English. To increase the amount of input that students receive in the target language, instructors should use it as much as possible for all classroom communication purposes.
An important part of the presentation is structured output, in which students practice the form that the instructor has presented. In structured output, accuracy of performance is important. Structured output is designed to make learners comfortable producing specific language items recently introduced.
Structured output is a type of communication that is found only in language classrooms. Because production is limited to preselected items, structured output is not truly communicative.
In this part of the lesson, the focus shifts from the instructor as presenter to the students as completers of a designated task. Students work in pairs or small groups on a topic-based task with a specific outcome. Completion of the task may require the bridging of an information gap. The instructor observes the groups an acts as a resource when students have questions that they cannot resolve themselves.
In their work together, students move from structured output to communicative output, in which the main purpose is to complete the communication task. Language becomes a tool, rather than an end in itself. Learners have to use any or all of the language that they know along with varied communication strategies. The criterion of success is whether the learner gets the message across. Accuracy is not a consideration unless the lack of it interferes with the message.
Activities for the practice segment of the lesson may come from a textbook or be designed by the instructor..
When all students have completed the communication practice task, reconvene the class as a group to recap the lesson. Ask students to give examples of how they used the linguistic content and learning or communication strategies to carry out the communication task.
Evaluation is useful for four reasons:
- It reinforces the material that was presented earlier in the lesson
- It provides an opportunity for students to raise questions of usage and style
- It enables the instructor to monitor individual student comprehension and learning
- It provides closure to the lesson
Expansion activities allow students to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom to situations outside it. Expansion activities include out-of-class observation assignments, in which the instructor asks students to find examples of something or to use a strategy and then report back.
Identify Materials and Activities
The materials for a specific lesson will fall into two categories: those that are required, such as course textbooks and lab materials, and authentic materials that the teacher incorporates into classroom activities.
For required materials, determine what information must be presented in class and decide which exercise(s) to use in class and which for out-of-class work. For teacher-provided materials, use materials that are genuinely related to realistic communication activities. Don’t be tempted to try to create a communication task around something just because it’s a really cool video or a beautiful brochure.
Truly authentic communication tasks have several features:
- They involve solving a true problem or discussing a topic of interest
- They require using language to accomplish a goal, not using language merely to use language
- They allow students to use all of the language skills they have, rather than specific forms or vocabulary, and to self-correct when they realize they need to
- The criterion of success is clear: completion of a defined task