Lesson Planning with no Benchmarks
Lesson planning is something that all teachers will have to do, but we are often confined to a course book or teachers guide, but what happens when you have no limits? where do you begin from there?
This was the case at my new school—when I spoke to the Dean about standards and benchmarks, I was given an ‘if they can speak just a little bit better, that’s all we’re looking for’. There is such a wide variance of levels and so much English to teach, how do you know where to begin?
After struggling for a couple weeks, this is what I’ve come up with:
1. Start from the student and expand
Usually, a book will start with introductions to the class, to ourselves, and to each other. They usually then delve into different topics, such as shopping, eating out, and movies to teach phrases and vocabulary.
This is a good start, but to me, it seemed like a drop in the bucket of what is out there. It seems almost pointless to teach only topic-based lessons to students who seemingly have no experience speaking English.
But, this is a good strategy—usually Chinese students have some experience in studying grammar and vocabulary but speaking is a whole other ballgame.
I’ve designed my lessons to begin with vocabulary, but instead of rehearsing and memorizing, I want my students to start creating English pathways quickly in their mind.
I’m making them associate their vocabulary words and share their associations with each other, so when it comes to speaking, if they can’t think of a word, they can hopefully come across another one quite quickly.
It’s also a nice addition to put some questions on the board with some of the introduced vocabulary for the students to write answers to in their notebook to get them ready for the topic at hand.
For instance, if you are teaching about shopping, you can ask something like—“How often do you go shopping?” “What do you usually purchase?” These make for good conversation too!
After vocabulary, I teach them the basic sentence structure I want them to know, (and what it’s referred to in English—ie: present continuous, etc). Then I give them a couple practice sentences to try out, like: “He is jumping. She is going to eat.”
At the end of the lesson, we usually have some sort of speaking activity or group project utilizing the new vocabulary and sentence structure.
As far as a curriculum design is concerned, you can follow a structure from a book or come up with your own using a strategy like this. Start with the individual person and work outwards—what do they need to know if they go to a foreign country? What do they need to know if they are going to be working with foreigners in a job? What phrases and words will be the most useful to them?
2. Speak as much as possible
This might be the first time they’ve ever really had a chance to listen and speak with a foreigner. It’s very important for them to hear the way you pronounce words, see the way your mouth moves when you speak, and practice speaking at pace.
This means it’s also quite important to schedule in some individual or small group practice to chat with students rather than trying to conduct the entire class at once. It’s also important to have them practice their English with each other for a low-pressure exercise.
They probably do not practice their English much, if ever, so now is the time to watch them and correct any mispronunciations or grammatical errors as you walk around too.
It’s also a fun idea to combine creativity, writing, reading, and group work with group presentations or activities in the front of the class. You can schedule groups come in one at a time to present a book report, product pitch, or podcast during midterm or final week. Or, bring students out by pairs or threes to discuss activities with each other and you.
3. Groups (apps)
Groups are essential for English class activities, but it’s also a good idea to plan groups ahead of your class using students who have varied strengths in English.
I was introduced to an app called ‘Teacher’s Kit’ and it has been a lifesaver! The first class is a good introduction class to let the students get to know you, the rules, and the grading rubric, but in the next class, I like to pull the students out for 1 on 1’s to get to know everyone and assess a student’s level in speaking.
I have my students write a small introduction paragraph for me in the first class that I grade, and talk to them about, outside the classroom as well.
This is where I get to utilize Teacher’s Kit—I record their name in English, in Chinese, their student ID number, and I take a picture to remember them. I have about 400 students so this is an immense help in planning out groups for the rest of the semester!
Now, when there is a vocabulary list, a group activity, a midterm or a final, you have your group made already and there is no wasted time in counting out students and forming groups on the cuff!
My lessons and plans change quite often, especially when I speak to the other teachers and glean new ideas from them. The good news is; you can only change your curriculum for the better! If something doesn’t work, try, try again!