As a general rule of thumb, teacher’s don’t have enough time. Most, if not all, teachers would agree that there is not enough time in their day, week, month, or school year for lesson planning! When I was teaching English in Mongolia, I was doing an intense 6 week program, and spent my evenings planning about 8 hours worth of material for the next day.
Despite the time constraint, lessons still need to be planned. So, it gets crammed into small blocks of time. Maybe you do your planning during your lunch break or when you get home from teaching. Either way, it's not optimal.
Struggling to Find Your Rhythm When it Comes to Lesson Planning?
Check out this Lesson Planning Guide for the Free-Thinking ESL Teacher.
I’ve always found that when I rush lesson planning, my lessons don’t turn out how I want them to. However, when I use an easy-to-understand format and structure that I can plug information and activities into, it makes the process much quicker.
Today I want to share one of my favorite structures for last-minute lesson plans. It’s not quite as interesting and complex as some other lessons I’ve seen or taught, and it’s nothing too fancy. But, it does more than simply “get the job done.” It allows my students to warm up, practice, learn, and incorporate, which is a successful lesson in my book!
Don't miss out on the free lesson plan template at the end of this article. You can type your activities and ideas straight into the different sections that we'll talk about below.
Warm Up Their English
Start your lesson off with a quick warm up activity. It gets students back into the routine of speaking English, without much effort from them. Jumping straight into reviewing recently-learned material or learning something brand new is like trying to go 60 mph when the light turns green. It’s too much too soon.
Start class off slowly. This activity shouldn't require too much brainpower from your students, just something simple that they're good at to warm them up. Ask about your students’ weekend, play a fun game, or simply spend 5-10 minutes conversing in English.
There are so many different activities you can plug into this time frame. It’s also a great opportunity to play games that your students have enjoyed playing in the past. Go-Fish, Bingo, or Mad Libs are just a few examples.
It might feel like you’re not accomplishing anything substantial, but if all this activity does is make your students more prepared for the review and learning that will come later in class, it’s still worth it.
Recycle Previously Learned Material
Recycling or reusing previously learned material is one of the most important parts of teaching English. Repetition is key. Take this time to plan an activity or discussion based on a unit you've already finished.
This activity can be as simple as reviewing vocabulary on the chalkboard or having your students create a role play. The only guideline I follow is to use the material in a new way. If you’ve already had a discussion on leadership roles, recycle leadership-related vocabulary by watching a video on leadership in different cultures or by holding a debate.
While you should definitely use your old material in a new way, this isn't the time to teach a different aspect of that material. If your previous class was on qualities related to leadership, you don't want to use this time to teach about different levels of leadership in a company (CEO, Supervisor, Senior, etc.) However, you might talk about people your students know with good leadership qualities, using the knowledge they already have.
Stretch Their Understanding
After recycling your old material, it’s time to get into the “meat” of the lesson. Introduce the topic you’ll be covering in class that day. This is your formal “teaching” time, where you give a lecture or teach new vocabulary.
You’ll want to throw in a practice activity or two that you, as the teacher, are still heavily involved in. For example, after teaching new vocabulary, work together as a class to read through a passage with those words or have students work in pairs to sort words into different categories.
Sometimes, though, when I’m lesson planning at the last minute, I just don’t have it in me to introduce new material. But don't worry, all hope is not lost. Think of your class as an extended study session. Instead of teaching new material, stretch the material your students already know. Maybe a few weeks ago you finished a unit on going to the restaurant. Now, it’s time to take the topic a bit further and test your students' abilities.
If the restaurant unit focused on the speaking and listening skills an individual might need as a patron, you could read a passage from a book that features dialogue at a restaurant, watch a video from a chef who owns their own restaurant, or have students create their own restaurant.
Use the opportunity to stretch your students’ understanding and creativity. Speaking a second language is an incredibly creative skill and process. So, instead of simply having your students follow directions or fill-in-the-blanks, have them use their creativity to incorporate the language they’ve learned into a project.
So, you’ve already warmed your students up, recycled old material, and introduced a new topic or stretched an old one. A great way to continue learning and continue reviewing, is by combining the old material with the new. Take the information you recycled at the beginning of class and the information you just learned towards the end of class and find out how they relate.
Using two seemingly unrelated topics in the same activity is a great way to force your students to think more holistically about their English. It wouldn't be uncommon to talk about the leadership qualities of a restaurant owner or chef, but in the ESL world it may not come about naturally.
So often we, as teachers, put the subject we teach into perfectly contained boxes. We talk about careers, then the kitchen, and then shopping. But we hardly ever talk about shopping for kitchen supplies or the career titles related to shopping malls. Find ways to connect the boxes!
Let me give you an example: I previously talked about recycling leadership-related vocabulary and stretching restaurant-related English. If that’s how your lesson has played out, find a way to use both in this final chunk of time. You could watch a few movie clips or clips from a tv show that show the chef interacting with the other people who work in the kitchen and talk about their leadership skills. Or you could hold a simple discussion about how your students think the owner of a restaurant should interact with their hired chef.
There's nothing I hate more than being rushed and having to do things at the last minute. Some people thrive in those situations, but I am not one of them.
Having a template has really helped to relieve some of my stress related to last-minute lesson planning. I have to continually remind myself that it doesn't have to be perfect, and that when I have a looser lesson plan it allows me to follow my students' leading!