With a new group I can get really nervous. I think the same is true for many teachers, and it may not be a bad thing. My way of dealing with nerves is to get planning. I assemble everything I know about the assigned class. I write it down. Once it’s on paper – out of my head – it starts to feel firmer and more reliable. Then I think about what I want to achieve, and then how to do it, and so on. The plan gets deeper. Later we’ll take a quick look at what a really cast-iron plan involves for me. The point for now is that I’m feeling better already. I’m even beginning to look forward to seeing if my ideas will work.
While it is possible to learn a language from random input around us (as babies do), there is a well-founded consensus that language classes can speed this process up considerably, and that learning is essentially a process. Plans help us to work with this process.
The fact is that teachers are easily distracted, and lessons are too short. But lessons should not be haphazard. Perhaps you are tired, or stressed, perhaps your students ask a lot of questions. Maybe you struggle with timing or pace. In any of these cases it is useful to be able to have a quick glance at your written plan, and move on. Thinking on our feet we simply can’t hope to adjust our natural tendencies. And while it is possible to learn a language from random input around us (as babies do), there is a well-founded consensus that language classes can speed this process up considerably, and that learning is essentially a process. Plans help us to work with this process.
One of the things that keep us all interested is learning more, so it can be a great idea to research exactly what’s being covered. Being a native speaker is usually not enough. Students may meet native speakers at their work or out and about. But these are not teachers. They may talk too fast, never correct, have no time, or fixate on things like ‘split infinitives’. The teacher needs to understand in order to convey. How do we form the structure? What added meaning does it enable us to express? What does it sound like and how do we say it (including phonetic transcripts)?
What else should we include in a really in-depth, nerves-busting plan – one that will serve as a record that you can keep and build on in the future? There’s information like time, location, number of students, and duration. Check these fundamentals are all known. To do things properly you should also include a summary of ages, backgrounds, and nationality mix. Then you could include recent notes on each student. Doing this will help you tailor your class to them.
Then you’ll want to declare your aims. Write statements beginning with things like ‘by the end of the class the students will be (better) able to…’ or, ‘will be more aware of/about’, ‘will have had practice in…’ writing down which outcome is desired helps a lot.
As we know, problems arise. We can often anticipate these. What won’t they understand? How will I cope with that? What will be tricky with this particular class – say, numbers-wise? What measures can I take now? You may also want to say what you are working on as a teacher. Including this helps you to develop the habit of self-criticism. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. I find a whiteboard plan can be really useful. Just having a drawing of what is to go where can really help make the class clearer, and aid memory.
Then we get to the stages of the class. This is usually put into a standard template (see example). It needs to be clear enough to use in the lesson. I tend to note what I will actually say. This acts both as a marker on the plan and aids clarity. It’s a good idea to give the perceived aim for each procedural stage as well. Write down what resources, materials, text-book pages, track numbers and handouts you need to bring in. This helps reduce the chances of finding something missing. Also note down what the clock should read at each stage, and who will be talking to whom (interaction).
Having done all this, we will be as ready as we can be. Of course things could change once in front of the students, and ideally we don’t want to be worrying about following a procedure over and above the concerns that arise in class. Perhaps the plan won’t work well in practice. No matter: the forethought we put into the lesson cannot go to waste – and afterwards we have a chance to mull over why life in the classroom didn’t match what we had envisioned, something that’s impossible if there never was a plan.