If you’ve been trained as a teacher or you work for an organization or school, you’ve probably learned how to create a formal lesson plan. State your objectives. Explain how you’ll meet them. List your materials. Show how you will accomplish the course goals. Etc.
Looking for more lesson planning help? Check out this Guide to Creating a Lesson Road Map!
There is definitely a time and place for formal lesson plans. However, they aren't always practical in day-to-day teaching. If you find that you’re more of a free-thinker, or you’re just straight up unorganized, formal lesson plans might be the bane of your existence.
Maybe you work better on the spot, or you find your lesson plan holds you back in the classroom. Whatever the reason, you’re searching for alternative forms of lesson planning that will allow you to keep your sanity and meet your students’ needs in the moment.
There are many different methods of lesson planning. When I taught refugees and when I taught college students in Mongolia, I found that I tended to just jot down some notes or a ‘running order’ in a notebook to work off of. This gave me the freedom to make decisions on the spot, such as when my students had questions about a specific vocabulary word, while also having the security of a plan.
I find alternative forms of lesson planning more practical for day-to-day teaching. I don’t have time to type out a 3 page, perfectly scripted plan. What I do have time for is a list of activities that I want to accomplish with my students. And when you know your students well enough, that's really all you need to create a rich learning environment.
The lesson planning method that will work best for you will largely depend on what your class looks like, how you operate as a teacher, and how much time your schedule allows for lesson planning. But, teacher, once you find the method that works for you it will revolutionize your teaching life!
My preferred lesson planning method is a running order. Jot down the order of your activities and work off of that. Maybe you’ll add in a discussion activity on the spot, maybe you’ll only get through half of what you’ve planned, or maybe you’ll decide to nix one of the activities because your students are getting antsy and need to move around.
A running order gives you the freedom to make decisions in the moment, but it doesn’t leave you hanging in the front of a classroom with 10 pairs of eyes watching. I find this method great for teachers who know what they want to cover and can spend 15-20 minutes planning out a few activities in order to accomplish their goals.
Another great, quick, and easy way to plan a lesson that allows for flexibility is to create a flow chart. I’m sure you’ve had students create a flow chart to show the progression of their ideas in a potential essay, or something else of that nature. However, they can be a great option for lesson planning as well.
Simply put your activities into little boxes and draw lines between them to show your progression. The great thing about a flow chart, as opposed to a running order, is that you can create multiple paths. For example, if in activity #1 your students make errors you can proceed to an editing/correction session. If they don’t make errors, or don’t make errors that you feel the need to go over, proceed to the next activity.
A flow chart is a great option for teachers who know what they want to cover, but aren't sure how they want to get there. It's great if you want to follow your students' leading in the classroom, but still want to prepare some activities.
Through the Jungle
This is perhaps the bravest method of informal lesson planning. It is akin to hacking your way through a jungle, cutting down foliage and fighting against the elements. Okay, maybe it isn’t that dramatic; but, nevertheless, this method requires you to enter into the classroom almost entirely blind.
Simply prepare a few different questions to ask your students, such as: What is something you did this past week? What was the topic of one of your conversations yesterday? What were some of the top new stories of this week?
Ask your students one of the questions, and let them guide you through the class time. Indulge their questions, find rabbit holes to lose yourself in, and work off of your students’ curiosities, needs, and English language struggles.
This final method of lesson planning flips the ‘running order’ method on it’s head. Instead of creating a list of activities, objective-led planning is when you make a list of objectives to guide your lesson plan.
Let me explain: Make a list of your objectives for the lessons, or what you want your students to learn. For this example, let’s say that I want my students to be able to politely disagree with one another. I would obviously include other objectives in a lesson, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll stick with one.
Since my goal is for students to learn how to disagree with one another, for this portion of the lesson I’ll introduce a few sentence formulas for students to use. Then, I may decide to do an activity where students will get in line A if they agree with a statement and line B if they disagree with that statement. Then, students will discuss with the person they’re standing across from why they disagree with one another. After that, I may have my students pull up an article online that they disagree with, and read through it. Then, they’ll have to write a paragraph or two outlining their opinion, while using the sentence formulas.
This whole lesson plan would be created on the spot, or mostly on the spot. I would have had no other plan in place aside from my objectives. One of the downfalls of this lesson planning method is that I’m not able to prepare more rich resources and activities for my students. If I had planned more upfront, I would have been able to find an article to discuss as a class; however, my students will still benefit from the research/choosing process.
Finding a lesson planning method that works well for you is one of the best discoveries a teacher can make. I remember struggling through lesson planning for HOURS every night, until it finally clicked. I knew my students. I knew how I taught. And I was able to use my time more effectively every night to create something that worked for me.
Try out one or a few of these alternative lesson planning methods and find what works best for you and your students. It can make a world of a difference.
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you lesson plan? What works best for you?
How long did it take you to find your rhythm? Does it change from class-to-class?