Lesson planning – problems, problems…and solutions! Part 1

Especially in the early days of teaching, figuring out what is going to be problematic for students is one of the more challenging elements of lesson planning. If we haven’t had much exposure to students, we may feel like we are making wild guesses. In the first of two posts about potential problems and solutions, we’re going to focus on the things you are normally asked to consider on the front sheet of your lesson plan – problems related to classroom management. (Part 2 focuses on problems with teaching language.)

It’s a good feeling when something happens in the lesson and not only have you predicted it, you have a solution ready to go. Conversely, it can really difficult when a problem appears that we hadn’t considered and the lesson begins to feel out of our control. While we certainly can’t, and probably shouldn’t, try to anticipate every single, tiny thing that could go ‘not according to plan’, (this may turn us into a bundle of nerves and insecurities!) – we can be aware of which areas present the greatest potential for problems, and be ready to respond to these.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.07.52

In terms of classroom management, it is often going to be something in one of the areas below. What do you think could be problematic for each?

  • timing
  • instructions
  • feedback
  • equipment
  • interaction
  • topic

Now look at the example problems below. First, decide which area from above each problem relates to, and then decide if you think each problem is identified in a way that is helpful.

  • Timing will be off.
  • The freer practice task takes a minimum of five minutes to set up and may therefore mean students don’t get much time to complete it if there is less than ten minutes left in the lesson.
  • Instructions won’t be clear and students will get confused.
  • The controlled practice will not work very well if students look at their partner’s picture, as there will then be no motivation for them to communicate.
  • Some of the classroom equipment won’t work.
  • The recording for the listening section may not play.
  • Students will not interact well.
  • Two of the students are much stronger in speaking than the others and they sometimes get bored or are not challenged when working with a less able partner in speaking tasks.
  • The topic is not very good.
  • The context is about famous people who my students may not have heard of. This may make it difficult for them to talk about the topic and may reduce interest.
  • Feedback may be unclear.
  • There are lots of questions to answer and students may get bored / I may lose their interest if I choose to nominate individual students one by one for answers.

How can we identify problems in a helpful way?

As you may have guessed, all the problems in black are more useful than the ones in blue. All the unhelpful problems have something in common. They are vague. If we want to provide a helpful solution, we need to be more specific about what could go wrong. So, for example, instead of identifying timing in general as a problem, we need to think about exactly which task or tasks are going to be problematic in timing, and equally important is ‘how?’. Do we think a particular task will potentially go on for too long? Why? Do we think students might complete it quicker than we anticipated? What effect will this have on the rest of the lesson? If we consider this carefully, it makes it much easier to come up with solutions.

For each of the more ‘helpful problems’ identified above, think what you might give as a solution.

Now read on to see what you think of the ideas below.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.22.15

Solutions!

area Helpful problem Possible solution
timing The freer practice task takes a minimum of five minutes to set up and may therefore mean students don’t get much time to complete it if there is less than ten minutes left in the lesson. If students are doing well with the language, and don’t need as much controlled practice, just instruct them to do questions 1-7 rather than 1-12, so there is more time to do freer practice.

If they need to finish the controlled practice and I’m left with only 7 or 8 minutes for the freer practice I will go with plan B – where students have discussion questions to answer with their partner instead of the role-play, as these only take a minute or so to set up.

instructions The controlled practice will not work very well if students look at their partner’s picture, as there will then be no motivation for them to communicate. Demonstrate by getting a stronger student to the front of the class, demonstrating and asking ICQs.

‘Can you show your picture to your partner?’ (N)

feedback There are lots of questions to answer and students may get bored / I may lose their interest if I choose to nominate individual students one by one for answers. Give several board pens out at the same time and tell each student to write any 2 answers on the board before giving the markers to another student. This should be quite time efficient and is nicely student-centred and active.
equipment The recording for the listening section may not play. Have a copy of the transcript ready to use if needed and read it out – this will be OK as the recording is a monologue.
interaction Two of the students are much stronger in speaking than the others and they sometimes get bored or are not challenged when working with a less able partner in speaking tasks. Have the two stronger students working with a weaker student during the clarification stage so they can peer teach / help – but put them together during the speaking so they can challenge and push each other.
topic The context is about famous people who my students may never heard of. This may make it difficult for them to talk about the topic and may reduce interest. Change the pictures to more internationally known people, and include at least one from Asia that I am sure they will know / be interested in.

So, in conclusion, a lot of potential classroom management problems are predictable to a certain extent. With a bit of thought before the lesson, we can start teaching with increased confidence in our ability to react to what might come up.

 

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