Thursday, June 21, 2012

Planning Strategies

Please tell us about your planning process. What do you do and how does it work for you? Are you an over-planner or an under-planner? Do you have a resource that really helps in your lesson planning? What format of lesson plans do you use?


Heidi Gradall said...

My planning strategies vary for each class I teach. My morning class is very difficult to plan for because my students change every day, from the number of students to the age of students. I usually plan on continuing from what was covered the day before, but sometimes it´s geared toward the only one student and if that one student doesn´t show up the next day I´m usually better off teaching something completely diferrent, or I end up teaching the same material but in a different way and at a different rate.

My afternoon class is aslo difficult to plan for because sometimes I have a really bright student and we can cover a lot of material, but sometimes it´s two students and the other one needs more examples. I find it hard to balance the needs of keeping the focus of the brighter student while making sure the other student fully understands. I struggle with continuing the material when someone misses class, but to repeat the material completely for the student who missed class wouldn´t benefit the student who was there. Thus my strategy has to change every day depending on who comes to class. I find that it´s worthwhile to prepare extra for this class, but if I don´t there´s always interactive games to fill up the time.

My evening class I have a strategy. We are covering verbs and so the format stays the same, of learning the tenses, practicing in sentences, mixing up the tenses, mixing up the verbs and tenses, Questions and answers for each verb in each tense. This process can be repeated for each set of verbs that I teach and I can expand with new verb tenses also.

My evening class varies each night to the needs or topics of the day.

I think my situation has made lesson planning almost impractical, but I need to have a vision for each class, a topic and an idea of how to go about explaining the topic. I prefer to side on being overprepared, but often times find myself underprepared, and have learned that it´s okay, and there are several beneficial filler activities to do instead of letting class out early.

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds said...

So, are you syllabi grammatical structures? Is there another way to do it, like functional/notional for example, that would allow you to cover the grammatical structures without need to build them incrementally?

Dr. R

amanda.hokanson said...

I think my planning is reasonable. I generally have a flexible lesson plan, and after I try my lesson out on a group, I head back home and make necessary changes in response to their reaction to the lesson: shortening parts, lengthening discussion, adding physical activities, thinking of better examples and definitions for unknown vocabulary that I didn't anticipate having problems with. The overall lesson structure I have prepared a week or more in advance, but I make changes day to day. Every night I generally spend 3-5 hours preparing and have to have everything written out so that I can reference it in my notebook during the rotations if necessary. Morevoer, I have been asking for materials from my fellow older teachers and compiling them. I tried to get as many authentic resources before I went abroad, but I also have to anticipate how long it will take to look something up on the internet or have a family member email me something from home if I want to use it in a lesson. So, overall, I'm an overplanner. I don't know what the format of the lesson plans I use is. I guess it's a mix of the 4 skills, plus an alternation between the heavy/hard activities and fun, game-like activities. It's hard because the two 3-grade boys want to participate and have very fragile egos, so I have to include them, while not boring the pants off of the 5th and 6th graders. Le sigh...

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds said...

Amanda, I'm sure your personal organizational strengths are serving you well.

With multiple ages, it's always hard. What strategies are you using?

Angie Gusto said...

I am making a very noticeable transition into feeling more like a teacher, and I love it. If I have to make up a lesson on the fly because my group changes or even just modify what we are doing because it’s not working, I can do it easily. I have this mindset that follows my lesson planning strategy (warm up - new info - close-ended practice - open-ended practice - re-cap/reinforce/evaluate) and from there I can make decisions rather quickly. I also read my resources, such as Five-Minute Activities and Lessons in Your Rucksack in my free time so I have some back-up plans stored in my brain for times of need, and that has helped me immensely. I plan my lessons ahead of time in my notebook, but I am not afraid to change it up depending on what I think each of my groups can handle. I need to get better and recording all my modifications so I don’t forget why I changed something and which way worked better. I am being a reflective practitioner, but I think more is happening in my brain on the fly than in my actual written reflections. I need to improve in that aspect so I remember the changes for later, but I also don’t type up my lesson plans until I have taught them several times from my notebook, so the final electronic copy includes modifications.

Overall I would say the amount of planning that I do is just right for my teaching style, because I like to go through the complete planning thought process beforehand, but I don't like to have every minute so planned out that it stresses me out to stray from my plan. I think as an area of improvement, I would like to make more specific time goals for different activities to make the most out of the two-hour blocks I have with my groups.

Angie Gusto said...

Amanda: I also have a big age range all at once (about 8-15 years old), and I recently tried "game stations" with them where I created different board games, such as Memory for numbers and their corresponding words and regular board games with different language tasks on each space ("Tell the person on your right when you woke up today." etc..). I also included sentence starters and other scaffolds in the center of the the game board. I think the kids really liked it, and because they were divided into teams they didn't really notice that it was because of their age or proficiency level. It's a lot of work to prepare, but it may save my sanity in a small classroom with 30 children and no tables or chairs. :)

Angie Gusto said...

Amanda: I also have a big age range all at once (about 8-15 years old), and I recently tried "game stations" with them where I created different board games, such as Memory for numbers and their corresponding words and regular board games with different language tasks on each space ("Tell the person on your right when you woke up today." etc..). I also included sentence starters and other scaffolds in the center of the the game board. I think the kids really liked it, and because they were divided into teams they didn't really notice that it was because of their age or proficiency level. It's a lot of work to prepare, but it may save my sanity in a small classroom with 30 children and no tables or chairs. :)

Fredd said...

I am in a summer camp with differing ages. But each homeroom is pretty much age consistent. I have a lesson for each week I had prepared prior to coming here. The challenge I have is the homeroom rotation through the various age groups. My homeroom is 15-17 y.o., followed by the 9-11 y.o., then 12-13 y.o. etc. There is also the ethnic divide in some classes between the two primary ethnic groupings. It has required some adaptation of each lesson. Each night I need to plan the mix of skills and other adaptations for the next day's class(es). I don't write out much, if anything.

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds said...

@Fredd, do remember that writing the objectives is key.
Dr. R

cjdrummer said...

I am working with two different programs/ schools. At the elementary school it is very structured and there is a timeline of when units need to be completed and most if not all of the book and workbook pages need to be covered. I have only gotten the opportunity to plan one class ahead of time. Even then, I only had an hour to complete it. So I have gotten pretty good at glancing over what needs to be covered for the day and making up the plan for the class on the spot. However, this is not my ideal planning strategy. I would prefer to have at least a day in advance if not more to be able to plan a lesson that not only incorporates the specific book and workbook pages for the day, but includes fun ways of learning. I think it would also be helpful for me to invest in a few books on game ideas. Because although I have some game ideas of my own, you can only play the same games so many times before they get boring.

The other program is a free class once a week for whoever shows up. I like this class because I have an entire week to plan my section of the class so I always have enough activities planned. But sometimes after planning out everything, only two students show up and then there need to be modifications. It's also hard because there are varying ages and levels in the classroom. So I can be as prepared as possible with having a structure in mind and what needs to be covered and activities planned, but it's important to remember that modifications will probably need to be made. That's definitely something I have learned from this experience is that flexibility is key. Another thing about this class is that there are no materials given to us. In the elementary school we are provided with books, workbooks, CDs, etc. But this class has whatever we can make up on our own. It really tests a person’s creativity to be able to come up with materials for a class every week. It is helpful to use the internet for ideas and templates, but usually making it on your own will better suit the needs of the students and the purpose that you intended for.

Cait said...

@ cjdrummer
I can relate quite well with both of the comments you made of your two extremes even though both my experiences come out of the same institute. I teach M-F a class of mixed ages that is uncertain when they will come and when they don't. With that it is challenging to do activities I have planned if there are not enough students present or they weren't present the previous day to know how to do the activity, for example. However I am also expected to have covered a certain amount of material each week that will then be covered in the final exam (that the school writes.) The books are provided to the students and I and we are expected to use them.

On the other hand, for the first month I taught a kids class once a week. I asked what level the kids were at or what I should teach them and they told me they didn't know what they had already learned because there was nothing to say what we should teach them. Naturally, they didn't have a book but regardless I was to create my own topics and activities each week. It was most challenging the first day because I had planned XYZ activities and got into the room and found out they already knew most of that and then the activities were boring for them. It can be fun to create your own activities, and I agree more beneficial for your students, but it is also much more time consuming I have come to learn.

Astri Gerdes said...

I write my objectives and then I brainstorm about how to introduce the topic. After I’ve come up with an interesting intro or at least a review, I search my bookshelves and online for resources. This is, again, a benefit to teaching online from home. Sometimes I go for the meat of the lesson first, then plan around that. I try to aim for inductive learning, so I try to give my students a kind of experience with the language item, topic, etc. before explaining anything. Then I ask them to make specific observations and observe the pattern. I found that this worked very well for teaching word stress. A weakness of mine in planning is to under-plan, however. I am able to ‘stretch out’ a lesson by asking many questions of my students and verifying their understanding in multiple ways… which is probably good. But sometimes I think my lessons are a little thin and my students would benefit even more if I planned multiple applications of the material too.

nate mortenson said...

Planning is the hardest thing for me in teaching. I really dread it, like writing a term paper or something, but once I get started it's not so bad at all. I have experience with lesson writing for 3rd to 5th graders. I would just set one night aside and write 3 lesson plans, so that I would be a little ahead if things weren't working out in class and I had to skip activities or anything like that. I really like using online ESL forums for game ideas, and I found using the school curriculum along side TEFL course books from the University of EC to be really helpful.

Karlene said...

Lesson planning for me has fluctuated a great amount since I started teaching. Overtime I have spent less and less time planning, but actually following my lesson plans is another story. I first spent about two hours on each lesson plan during my first month of teaching. Each day I dreaded lesson planning because it took me such a long time to think about what I was going to plan, and the fact that I would frequently blank out when it came to using a variety of activities. One of the worst things I found was that online websites that I would look to for ideas were no help at all. I really doubt that about 90% of the stuff that is put online to help teachers was created by an accredited professional with a degree in teaching. I only dared to use some of those activities for my children’s class on Saturdays because that was the only age group for which I could find suitable activities, otherwise I could tell that the other activities would flop with students high school age and up.

My schedule hasn’t worked in my favor. I typically have the most energy in the morning right after I wake up around 7 or 8am. Here my schedule for teaching starts at 5pm and ends at 9pm. If I had it my way I would be teaching from 7am to 11am, but these are the cards that I’ve been dealt. My creative juices start flowing after I’ve accomplished something in my day, so that has created somewhat of a problem for me in planning my lessons.

At first I began to write my lessons out by hand, thinking that I wouldn’t need to revise much, but I found that to be just the opposite. The school at which I work provides teachers with a lesson plan format that I use every day. The first time I saw the lesson plan I thought it wasn’t going to help me at all, but now that I have used it for a while I have gotten used to the format and style. I used to plan lessons everyday for each class, but now I tend to plan one lesson for two or three days, based on how quickly or slowly the students comprehend the material. At times I have noticed that when I plan less for class and take more of an impromptu stance I am better at catering to my students’ needs. When I plan a thought-out “exciting” lesson I usually don’t finish all that I have planned, and it doesn’t go the way that I intend. So, impromptu seems to be the best way for me to teach. I may have something in my mind before class begins, such as objectives and a few activities, but otherwise I step foot into the classroom feeling more energized and prepared for the unknown. The less time I spend picking my brain the better I feel about conducting a lesson.

Karlene said...

@ Astri -

I remember that you taught me to use the 5 Es while creating lessons. It has been a helpful way for me to brainstorm about a topic. One inductive strategy that I like is to give an example or two of a language item, then ask them to write a rule about it as a class or in pairs, then share with the whole class, but I typically only do this when students have trouble with something. You seem to be good at improvisation during your classes, so I wouldn’t worry about feeling that you have too little to teach. Review through eliciting is a very important part of teaching a language, so keep that up! I think that if you have a good variety of activities in your class you shouldn’t worry about under-planning.

@ Nate -

The good thing about lesson planning is that it gets better over time. You’ll find your style of creating a lesson and things will become easier. As long as you attempt to teach in new ways, through various activities, you will find the amount of time decrease that it takes to lesson plan. I also found the UWEC TEFL course books to be very helpful when planning a lesson, especially if I am stuck on something. It is always a good idea to keep a well-stocked and updated library for teaching ESL/EFL classes. I’ve only had one 3rd grade class while teaching EFL here, so it would be interesting to see the variety of activities - especially total physical response - that you employ in your classroom.

MC said...

This is the planning strategy that has worked for me so far. In some ways, it may seem anal but I can't live if I'm not organized to a tee. As far as tutoring one-on-one, I start off with what I will teach; speaking, reading, Writing, etc. After that I decide what types of activities will be done during the lesson. I like to have at least five with the intention of doing three. The other two end up being 'back up'. I take many lesson ideas from Wisniewska"s Learning One-on-One. This book has been a dues-ex-machina for me. After that, I guestimate the time the activities will take and try think of ideas to stretch or condense the time depending on the lesson. My lesson are about two hours, so this is where the "back-ups" can come in handy. Usually after that, I try out my planning on the tutee. After tutoring I figure out what was successful and what wasn't. i also write notes to myself in my person tutor notebook as well as the Learning One-on-One.

Chelcea said...

So, this is my first post while being abroad, I am about to officially start my internship. This Monday will be my first day of actually teaching, but today I had my first face to face meeting with the teacher who will be supervising me. I decided to write this post under “planning” because my understanding of how much I needed to plan has significantly change from the time I first was accepted for the internship and today as I walked out of the school from the meeting with my supervisor.

WOW. Ok. So at first, I had understood that pretty much lessons were written out and that I would be following their textbook and doing as they want me to do. I thought I would be supervised and or assisting more than teaching. As it turns out, today, I found out that not only is that not quite right, it’s actually not very close to being what is actually going to happen. What is the single most important key factor I forgot? ... that I’m in URUGUAY! Hello.. this is Latin America. Things are almost never strictly structured and it should be expected that things are going to change and flow A LOT.

Entonces, I learned that I will be “taking over” 3 different classes that are usually led by a teacher who is on leave because she is due to have a baby soon. Also, my supervisor informed me that the textbook they have was actually chosen by the previous administrator and truth be told, (from her perspective, I haven’t seen it yet), it’s a horrible textbook, and they don’t use it very often. OHH.. so you mean the teacher developed all of the syllabuses and activities herself? No, actually that’s all up to you. HA! Wow.. how about that!

I’m not very good at keeping in my emotions, and I know she noticed the completely shocked look on my face.. so she paused. And I explained that I had not be expecting this and that I would do my best, but would for sure love to have as much guidance as possible from her and/or other teachers at the school and she said over and over again that she would love to help me plan and go over different lesson plans and talk about everything before I do it. As it turns out, we even found out that I’m staying with a family that lives within a couple blocks of her home so she will probably be giving me a ride home some days of the week!

So, planning. Well, planning looked a lot different a few hours ago  and now I’m certain that although it will most likely take a lot more planning on my part than I had anticipated, it will be a great experience. I asked her if I could sit in on some classes of the other teachers and she said that would be a great idea and that maybe I could “assist” in some of these classes.

In the end, it’s working out great! I’m still pretty nervous, but I’m looking forward to creating my rules chart and start up activities lesson plan. I feel like I’m pretty ready to start implementing the things I’ve learned from all of my classes, both TEFL and for my Spanish Teaching component of my degree. I’m really interested to see how the students react to having a young teacher from the US in front of them. I want to make it fun, and I’m excited to see learning in action in this time span of 7 weeks. Yes, I’m mostly excited now.. but there is a fair share of nerves involved, too!

Heather said...


Wow! It sounds like you're really organized. I like how you're careful to include activities on all the areas of speaking, listening, etc., and have lots of activities to do with each.

How accurate do you think you've been guesstimating the amounts of time activities will take? Do you have any rules of thumb or other techniques you use? I must confess that's been the hardest part for me. I taught at one camp which had 45 minute lessons, and another which had two hour lessons, and I never did really get a handle on how long things would take. In one sense it was great to have over-planned so much, but a lot of things either got cut or crunched, and it made it a bit harder to keep a balance between time spent on the various skills.

Heather said...

Just out of curiosity, does anyone else lie awake at night sometimes compulsively thinking out exactly what you're going to say the next morning to introduce a topic, or explain a point or something? It can be helpful for me - even if I don't say it exactly the same way it's nice to have gone over it beforehand in my head - but it's seriously annoying when what I'm really desperate for is sleep!

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds said...

Hi Heather,
Yes, dedicated teachers do.... :-)

Ashley said...

yes, I do too! but it's usually because I am worried about how I am going to present what i prepared to them because I'm really worried that I am going to confuse them or proved poor explanations/examples. So I tend to fuss over them in my head until i'm actually there sitting in front of them. And usually it all goes pretty well. :)

Ashley said...

Most of the time when I am planning for my tutoring sessions I ask the tutorees what they would like to work on most. I then take what they tell me and attempt to create a lesson based off that. For example, last week one of the girls I am tutoring really wanted to work on her pronunciation. So I went to the internet and looked up good ways to help with pronunciation for advanced English learners.

I ended up finding quite a bit of materials and ideas but then the challenge of narrowing it all down and selecting the most appropriate ones for her particular needs came to hand. I spent a good hour just reading through things trying to decide what I would even like to do. Would I like to do tongue twisters, or stress, or single word practice?

Once I decided on that I needed to decide what kind of activities or worksheet type things could I create to give them practice in what I have selected. I also had to figure out if the worksheet or practice was actually beneficial to her or just kind of a waste of time.

After that was decided I felt a lot more confident about our scheduled tutoring sessions because I was able to create a small lesson based off of her needs and what she would like to work on and practice most. It also means that she is more likely to actively engage in what i am saying because she really wants to learn it. Overall this is usually the planning strategy I use when it comes to my tutoring each week. Most weeks I think it is very successful but some weeks I find that I had under-prepared myself for some of the tasks and lessons that they have requested of me. Tis a work in progress and I am learning and developing each time. :)

Ashley said...

I found your insight on tutoring very helpful. I sometimes run out of ideas of what to teach my tutorees so I just end up asking them what they would like to learn. But since reading your post I will definitely check out your resources and hopefully be able to create some fun, interesting, and well thought out lessons. Thanks so much for sharing it! ^_^

Jennifer Speier said...

I wrote a really nice and long blog post and then it didn't post :( So I will try again.

I am really excited to write this blog post because lesson planning is my life! Not only do i go crazy planning for my own classes but I am also responsible for reading lesson plans of all of the Kids/Teens staff at my school, 50 some a week.

I love planning. I feel like I need it to be the best teacher I can be. I don't like the feeling of not knowing 100% how to explain something or not knowing 100% what I am going to do next. I am definitely an over planner....this is because I like to be extra prepared, because I am used to classes longer than 1 hour, and because I just never want to stop.

I do my planning in multiple stages. First either before my class starts or in the first week I sit down and make a general calender/plan of when I am going to cover the main grammar and vocabulary points that I need for my objectives. Then I break my planning down into units. I have post it notes all over my books and extra papers coming out everywhere. My school does have a set book series, but I skip around in it a lot. I don't find all the activities beneficial. It drives some of the students crazy, they don't understand how we can have a quiz if we haven't finished everything.

My next stage of planning is on a daily basis by week. I write down in list form my activities and the objectives they are working towards. I take these list and I use them to fill in the weekly lesson plan required for my school. This plan is quite different from most lesson plans. We re-designed to cover the most important things for our school since teacher's had major problems with the standard plan. It is now in excel (one sheet per week). We have a column for objectives, to the right of that there is a column for activities specifically to achieve those objectives, to the right of which is the language focus for those activities, to the right of which is how those activities are being assessed.