Balancing lesson plans makes classes run more smoothly, and provides more value to students.
To balance your plan, you need to choose activities based not just on their content (vocabulary, grammar, etc), but also three other factors.
- Skills (listening, reading, speaking, writing)
- Interaction patterns
- Interpersonal relationships
Let’s take a look at these one at a time.
This should be fairly simple – make sure that your lesson plan balances listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Although it’s a little more complex than that. Do you want to balance input and output in class? Or mainly focus on output? Do you really want to include reading and writing during class time, or assign it for homework? Unless of course you have a class of young learners who are struggling with phonics and learning to read.
The point is to consider your class, your students, and what the skills they need to practice most. The time you have in class is the most valuable English practice time they’re going to have all week, make sure you make the most of it for them.
Interaction patterns describe the number of others that each student is interacting with. They can be split into the following general patterns:
- Individual work
- Pair work
- Small group work
- Large group work
- Whole Class
A good lesson plan will balance these patterns.
A good way to use interactions is the ‘pyramid’ and ‘upside-down’ pyramid structures. Take a look:
Reasons to use the pyramid: for a challenging activity that students might struggle with if you gave it to them as an individual activity immediately. The pyramid gives them a chance to practice in a ‘safe’ group setting first, then ups the involvement during small group / pairwork, which should give them the confidence of doing the activity by themselves.
Examples include: practicing for a substitution dialogue, any kind of implicit or explicit grammar activity (e.g. changing present simple to past simple).
Reasons to use the upside down pyramid: to prepare for a larger group or whole class activity. Students are able to give their own input, have it multiplied by working in pairs or small groups, and then take part in a whole class activity.
Examples include: a debate, any complex task based activity.
Don’t feel that you have to use every stage of the pyramid – some classes need less support or preparation time than others. I rarely use every stage.
I include this one as using the social dynamics of the students in the class can make or break a class, all other things being equal.
Example: it’s standard TEFL dogma to pair a stronger student with a weaker student, so the stronger student can help the weaker one. OK, now how does the stronger student feel after 5 weeks of this? Happy and willing to help? Or frustrated, annoyed and totally unwilling to participate? It depends on their personality.
Some students don’t work well together, others do. Cliques form, and change. Stronger students like to work with others of their level, as well as being called on to help peers. Naughty students’ excess energy can be channelled for a force for good (teacher’s helper anyone?), while shyer students need extra encouragement from you, the teacher.
As a teacher, I’m sure we all do this to some degree, but making it a series of conscious decisions can help to smooth out your classes.
Of course, all these rules are suggestions, not rules. If you want to break them with an epic task based lesson that takes up two hours or more, be my guest. Just make sure that when you break the rules, do so for a good reason.
Balance your lesson plans. Think about your students when you consider which skills to teach, how to have the students interacting, and how well they get on with their peers.