By Mourad El Hanafi
The language teaching community believes that lesson planning is an important part of a teacher’s job, especially at the levels below the university level, where lessons are offered in the form of lectures, conferences, etc.
A lesson plan is a document teachers develop as the theoretical side of their lessons and a reference they can use while teaching.
Some also draw an analogy between lesson plans and roadmaps. The more landmarks are located on the map, the more one has a vivid vision of the winding routes he or she needs to follow for effective teaching. By contrast, the less detailed the roadmap, the more likely the traveller will lose his or her way.
As an educator, I favor detailed lesson plans. Lesson plans are neither mere headings scribbled on a sheet of paper nor quick sketches made at the last minute. But “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill!” some teachers say once they have a cursory glance at my lesson plans. Or “I only plan things in my head before I go to teach,” some would add, boasting or even patronizing me, judging a plethora of details in my lesson plan as reflecting a lack of experience or self-confidence. But what is this “mental planning” without something at hand to focus on? Is it over-confidence or laziness? Or is it both? Will there not be a shadow of uncertainty and insecurity once you form lessons and go to teach? I believe that total trust in one’s mental ability is misplaced!
To the best of my knowledge, “mental planning” – imagination – goes hand in hand with poring over different resources while preparing a lesson plan. Yet, it also comes after putting the finishing touches on a lesson plan, trying to consider the conditions where one works and the kind of students one teaches. Therefore, “mental planning” is relatively good only if preceded by a well-thought out tangible blueprint that can guide one’s mind along the right track while the lesson is being carried out.
After all, advocates of bare bones and mental lesson plans are likely to fall prey to hesitations during classes. Every once in a while, the things you “plan” happen to fall flat, and in the moment you are desperate to take whatever action to rectify the situation, you find yourself trapped there because you didn’t think ahead and study the activity seriously and plan for substitutes just in case, and above all anticipate what might come out of it. Many are those pitfalls the teacher falls into when he or she doesn’t take a precise, extensive, thorough look at the lesson he or she tends to teach. Before you blame students for not answering the way you expect, check first whether your questions are well-put and well-prepared! Before you reproach your students for not doing well in an activity, check first if that is the right time or phase to assign it, and if it springs from the students’ prior knowledge. This is what well-detailed lesson plans are for.
Notwithstanding all that I mentioned above, I keep well-detailed lesson plans for two simple reasons: because I respect my students and because I don’t squander my efforts twice.
Fired relentlessly by what I consider a debt I owe to my students, I don’t mind spending hours preparing a lesson plan. While I consider that over 160 students are waiting for me, my patience doesn’t fizzle. They are worth every extra endeavor I make. I can check nearly all the available resources just to glean from here and there what would appeal to my students and make them stay on task, and hopefully shrink the continent of their “ignorance.” Likewise, with every single idea about the lesson in my mind, I usher my students gradually to the target language we’re studying through previously, carefully thought out, leading questions, smooth transitions and authentic situations, putting extra substitutes aside just in case.
The one who says that well-detailed lessons are just a waste of time is utterly wrong! Just the opposite. Once I rack my brain over different components to include in my lesson plan, I don’t let them slip through my fingers; I find room for them somewhere in my lesson plan even if they are not to be used in the meanwhile– as long as they are related to the lesson, they are worth jotting down.
Oftentimes, I spend considerable time trying to come up with as many best situations as possible through which students can act out dialogues or put what they’ve just learned into practice, either communicatively or in other way. I just write them in my lesson plan just to be at ease once I have to teach the same lesson again; all I have to do then is skim through it and go teach.
Similarly, all my lesson plan columns are there not for the fun of it. For instance, the remarks/observations column is there not because every typical lesson plan incorporates that, but truly because I personally need it. I need to fill it with reminders, remarks, and every detail I might need at certain points in my lessons in the class. With a thick lesson plan of this sort in your hands, you don’t have to stuff your school bag with hefty resources.
To put it in nutshell, well-detailed lesson plans give extra strength to teachers. The fact that you put your heart and soul into preparing them, you can be confident you know what you are doing, and feel secure about delivering the best result for your students. To the contrary, depending on “mental lesson planning” or even bare bones lesson plans might put teachers in awkward situations with their students, sometimes, because they put the healthy procedure of lessons at risk, and as a corollary, students pay the price over the course of time.