The art and science of English lesson planning

7518824288_IMG_0639Working as a teacher involves a great deal of curriculum and lesson planning. The process of defining and breaking down the learning objectives and strategies is a time-consuming yet an invaluable ‘investment’ in the cognitive, emotional, and social development of students. Not to mention the fact that a well-structured curriculum along with thorough lesson plans can be of great support and guidance. Should you find yourself compelled to skip a step from the teaching journey (due to a tight schedule, for example), never think of omitting the planning stage whatsoever. Teaching without planning is as fruitless as swimming without using one’s legs. You make minimum progress even though investing a lot of effort in other aspects of  the process.

What I have described below is the planning process which used to work best for me when I was teaching at an IB school. At the end of the day, though, it’s all about knowing what works best for you and making choices about it. I encourage you to experiment and play with the possibilities. Indeed, what benefits one may, in fact, not be the best strategy for another. Here you can find the independently developed master plan I am referring to in my description below.

English Language Learning Outcome

First and foremost, I set aside time for planing the learning outcomes of every unit of inquiry. Oral Language and Written Language are the two major categories of language learning outcomes which divide into Listening & Speaking and Viewing & Presenting on one hand as well as Reading and Writing on the other hand. I allow myself to focus on a certain outcome for more than one unit of inquiry when younger children require more time to grasp and formulate the desired language (the ability of Grade 1-3 students to use language to explain, inquire, and compare) or when I want students to comprehend and manipulate a relatively complex concept (the ability of Grade 5 students to use figurative language).

Trans-disciplinary Skills

Mapping out the trans-disciplinary skills takes place on a semester (three units of inquiry) and age-appropriate basis. I usually teach two skills per unit of inquiry (six skills per semester) and plan them in such a way so as to support the holistic development of children by taking into consideration their cognitive, social-emotional, and spiritual growth. The trans-disciplinary skills, learner profile, and attitudes I encourage through my lessons differ from those outlined by the homeroom teachers.

The two skills I stress upon in every unit usually complement each other. For example, in their third unit of inquiry, fifth grade students develop both their social and self-management skills with regards to adopting a variety of group roles and investigating the codes of behavior that go along with certain roles. Thus, the objective is to foster students’ flexibility and prepare them for their transitioning into Middle School.

IB Learner Profile, Attitude and Behavior

Once the skills have been defined, I move onto determining what kind of learner profile (with its associated behavior) and attitude(s) can be shaped with the help of these skills. What feelings and values should be encouraged through the development of a certain skill set? For example, in their first unit of inquiry third grade students develop their research and communication skills with the aim of shaping them into knowledgeable individuals. Along the development of the Knowledgeable profile, an attitude of curiosity and disposition to inquiry (the foundation of knowledge) is being fostered.

Programme of Inquiry

English language specialists develop their own challenging, engaging, and relevant stand-alone planners while being cautious about integrating their lessons seamlessly into the structure and plan of every grade level. Once the English teacher has defined the outlines of their teaching, all they have to do is fill it in with content drawn from the Programme of Inquiry. The Programme of Inquiry gives an idea of what every grade level is going to learn, how they are going to be assessed, and what skills they are going to develop within each trans-disciplinary theme. It provides the context for students to develop and use the target language.

Personally, I always deliver my language lessons within the programme of inquiry which allows for contextual applications of the new knowledge. When language is taught through the relevant context of the units of inquiry, children are better able to make connections and apply their learning. And that’s as far as I go when it comes to utilizing information featured in the Programme of Inquiry.

English Language Curriculum Mapping – Grammar and Vocabulary

The last piece of the puzzle is the grammar and vocabulary taught in the course of every unit of inquiry. It rarely fits in its place right from the very first trial. Indeed, this is the phase that calls for the most creativity and dexterity in strategic planning. When all other pieces are in place, the final bit needs to be tailored and adapted so as to fit into the complex language learning jigsaw and that’s not an easy task. At times, the most obvious and logical grammar and vocabulary to teach (within a given unit of inquiry) might not be developmentally appropriate for the given grade. In this case, the teacher either goes back and revises certain elements of the plan in order to take the most rational course of action or opts for teaching the lesson outside the programme of inquiry.

When this is all finalized, the English language specialist is ready to formulate the stand-alone planner with an outline of the weekly activities and assessment tools needed to determine students’ progress. At the end of every lesson, the teacher reflects on it, writes a comments and if necessary adapts the upcoming lessons to the new circumstances. This is not a static plan but one that accepts constant and unpredictable modifications as the learning situations unfold.

Currently, I develop highly stimulating lessons based around monthly themes for early age kids. I incorporate study topics in the areas of language, social-emotional studies, art, and physical education. I will share more about these in another blog post. Stay tuned.


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