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Where did my lesson plan go wrong?

The A’s, O’s and R’s of lesson planning: take your lesson to the next level


It’s class time. You grab your materials and go into your classroom. You’re excited. You’ve planned a great engaging lesson. You’re smiling and confident while you greet the students. Class is over. You leave scratching your head wondering what went wrong. When, where, why and how did it all go downhill?

Does this scenario sound familiar? None of the ESL activities and games you planned seemed to work. Your students weren’t responsive to what you were trying to get them to do. Naturally, you review your lesson plan to see why your aim and objective wasn’t met.

Include an aim and objective in your ESL lesson plan

Experienced teachers understand a quality lesson plan needs to include an aim and objective. When I write my plans, I always think of the aim as the big picture. A is for achievement.  It’s the broad statement that most teachers gear towards the end of that lesson. The objective is the specific short-term accomplishment. O is for outcome. The outcome helps you achieve the aim.  Aims and objectives go hand in hand and vary each lesson. Every class even if the levels and books are the same have different A’s and O’s.

Own your lesson plan

I commonly see teachers write in their plans, “By the end of this lesson, the students will retain 80% of the vocabulary and language.”  Or when I am lesson planning with new teachers, they say “I want to work on their social skills.” This is the baby step; take your aims and objectives higher. Let’s think bigger, broader, more holistic. Own your lesson plans whether your school provides you with a pre-made plan or you need to create one from scratch for your classes.

Here are some goals to consider the next time you are writing your lesson plans to help you achieve your aims:

Gear tasks and activities towards skill-based learning

Move beyond your standard vocabulary and grammar goal. Think past the 80% goal. That should be easily obtainable with appropriate activities and tasks geared towards skills-based learning. Break your course into segments; first, mid, and end. Of course, if you are an overzealous teacher, include an additional overarching goal for your students.

First-term goals

Your first-term goals are short, mini goals for small segments such as this class, this lesson, this theme or unit. Using your materials (books, course guides, homework and student books), what is your expectation for the students? Your mini goal for a brand-new class could be simply “students will learn and practice classroom instructions (stand up, sit down, sit well, eyes on teacher, etc.).” This is the starting point for activity and game introduction. Teachers start to think about their approach and determining if phasing is necessary.

Mid-term goals

These goals should be geared towards the accumulation of vocabulary and grammar points from the first part of your course. For example, for a 32-week course the mid-term goal is looking at the first 16 weeks. Hopefully, your goal is for maximum student talk time. After 16 weeks, even new students have a decent amount of vocabulary and language points under their belt. For myself, reusing, recycling, and expanding from prior classes is part of my aim. Grow the student’s confidence by creating role play scenarios or skits for them to practice in the classroom.  Allow them the freedom to make mistakes while performing. I take notes while they are talking, and once they have finished, I then talk through the mistakes so they can improve for next time we practice. These types of activities can help a student move beyond a robotic response.

End-term goals

This is as it seems. At the end of the course, what is your expectation for your students? Some training centers have parent presentations or graduation ceremonies at the end of each term and book. These are great opportunities to showcase what the students have learned throughout the entire course. I showcase chants, songs, and student dialogues which I have practiced throughout the term. This goal is just as important as your initial starting goal. If you haven’t met your targets along the way, your end-term goal mostly likely will not be met.

Can you include an additional aim?

Experienced teachers include an additional aim; an overarching target for the class. An example for a young class, increasing their phonological awareness to start practicing word recognition and simple reading to increase their chance of success when they move up levels and to the next book. For my grade 3 and 4 students, my highest-level aim is for them to start incorporating ‘why’ in their responses. “I don’t like fries because they are too salty.” This lofty goal is phased and slowly built up throughout the course.

R is for Recognition

Lastly, after class reflection time is another important step. R is for recognition. I spend 5-minutes after class reflecting on what went well and recognizing areas for improvement. Recognition can include giving yourself a pat for a good lesson. My reflection includes notes on students by identifying the strongest and weakest for that class. This is helpful information for when you are planning your next class. If your school requires you to write student assessments, having a written reflection can assist with this requirement.

In summary, move beyond the standard aim and objective based on that specific lesson’s information. Using a multi term goal creates a holistic approach for lesson preparation. Student and class reflections are too often forgotten. Spending an additional 5-minutes post lesson to reflect, will only assist in making a more effective lesson for the next class. Continually examining your A’s, O’s and R’s is a beneficial habit to develop early on in your ESL career.

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by Kristin Waters

I am a Senior ESL Teacher at Shane English School Changzhou, China. My students call me Teacher Kris. I am known by the students as the teacher who gives candy. My professional background encompasses HR consulting and training for major companies. I strongly believe in creating repeatable and efficient practices. You can see this in my lesson planning. Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, reading and sports.