Last month I wrote a rather… different post here. It talked basically about how I’d been a bit demotivated with the whole teaching thing, and how important it was for me to turn things around and find that spark again, that curiosity again, that fun again.

I asked you people to help out, to send in ideas and share with me – and everyone else really – what it is that you do to make sure that your classes are always fresh, always motivating for your students and, maybe even more importantly, for you. I’m very thankful to all of you who did, and the amount of emails and replies (both here and on my blog) I received was really humbling, and I’m amazed at the difference this new project of mine has made for me already, and it has only been a month. I hope that from now on, as I begin the sharing here, that these ideas will make a difference for you as well.

This month, I’ll begin by talking about arguably where the whole process of teaching a motivating class, for your and your students, starts: lesson planning.

Lesson Planning

It goes without saying that if we’re not motivated ourselves, there isn’t much chance we’ll be able to motivate our students that much. So, as obvious as these ideas might sound, I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to thinking of ways of doing that, and it just so happens that most of this thinking usually happens while I’m preparing my lessons.

If you’ve done a pre-service teachers’ course, I’d be willing to bet good money you’ve heard about how important it is to prepare your lessons thoroughly a million times. You’ve probably preached this yourself, so that there’s every likelihood that you‘re now thinking, “duh!”

But really?

Do you really prepare your lessons thoroughly? Do you really prepare your lessons in a way that ensures they’ll hang together, achieve your aims (assuming, of course, you have them), feel fresh and varied, take individual students into consideration, all in a way that pretty much guarantees time will fly by? If you always do that, kudos for you. I didn’t. Not always, anyway.

There are several different types of lesson plan, of course. What I’m advocating here is not that you write detailed, CELTA-like lesson plans for every single class you teach. You wouldn’t be able to do much else with your life. What I’m saying is we really, really have got to go well beyond ‘do activity 1; now 2; now 3…” in our plans if you want our lessons to succeed. We have to do more than just check the answer keys for the activities we’ll do in class and the – usually feeble – ideas the teachers’ guides bring. Planning a class, as we all know it, should involve a lot more than that.

  • Have something extra every class: it can be a song, it can be a pronunciation activity (looking at minimal pairs, for example), a video activity, a reading lesson you devised yourself using real materials (instead of a boring, meaningless text from your course book). Make it very clear for your students that you actually devoted time to them during the week apart from the time you spend together in class.
  • Understand your course book was not written for your students: this is actually not that obvious for many teachers. In a brilliant article written over a decade ago, Michael Swan mentions teachers who, when asked why they teach grammar so much say, “because it’s there”, meaning it’s there in the course book. Course books are written to make them as international as possible, as general as possible, with a view to making as much money as possible. Think of that! Using course books is, in my opinion, a great idea. It gives the course a sense of purpose, of continuity, of progress. However, there are more than a few useless activities there as well, of silly texts and ridiculously artificial listening passages, to name but a few. Adapt. Skip. Substitute. Use your course book as a tool, because that’s all it is. Your course book is not your course.
  • End classes on a high note: I’ve been very lucky as a teacher trainer to observe a very wide array of classes all over the country, and a very high percentage of these classes start with a fun – if sometimes a bit predictable and repetitive – warm-up activity.  But how about a wrap-up activity? How about having a song at the end of class? A hot potato? A hangman? A video? Ending classes on a high note will make your students actually want to come back next class, it’ll keep them on their toes, it’ll keep predictability at bay. Don’t end every class discussing homework!
  • Get out of the classroom with your students from time to time: Stephen Greene (from the brilliant www.tmenglish.org) suggested that in a comment on my blog. This may not be exactly new, and as I replied to him there I might’ve even suggested it in training courses myself. But again: Do we do it? I hadn’t left the classroom with my students in such a long time I can’t even say when I’d done it last. Stephen calls it “Walk and Talk”, where he simply goes for a walk with his students and chats, sometimes with a specific destination in mind, sometimes not really. I loved the idea and have had breakfast with one of my students, visited Museu do Futebol with another group and have been thinking of other ways of putting that into practice. It makes a big difference.

That’s it this month. I will now continue this discussion on lesson planning on my blog (www.higorcavalcante.com). Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, for the next month, I’ll be posting more on the topic of lesson planning and ideas to make our plans more interesting and varied. I hope you’ll visit and keep on contributing your ideas.

See you in June!

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