Preparing a Lesson

Now that you understand the structure we are going to use for a lesson, let us go through the planning process from start to finish. First we need to make sure that we know:

  • What level the students are;
  • Who the students are (age, nationality);
  • How long the lesson is for;
  • What the students need to be learning.

Once we know this, we can start to plan.

Aims and objectives

Before you go any further you need to make sure you are clear what your objectives and aims are for the lesson you are about to plan. The two terms are very similar. The most important difference is that we use Aims to talk about what, as TEFL teachers, we want to achieve and we use Objectives to describe the result of the lesson from the perspective of the student.

Aims are the overall grammar or vocabulary points you want the students to be able to understand by the end of the lesson.

Some examples are:

  • To teach basic food vocabulary.
  • To introduce and start to use Present Simple.
  • To teach Present Perfect questions.

Objectives are the skills that you want the students to be able to produce by the end of the lesson. As TEFL teachers, we try to make these as practical as possible.

Some examples are:

  • Learn the vocabulary for basic food, including pronunciation.
  • To be able to talk about everyday activities.
  • To compare life experiences “Have you ever..?”.

If you do this before each lesson, it helps you:

  • think about the lesson from the student’s perspective;
  • stay on track – usually. With an aim in mind you tend to stop yourself getting sidetracked;
  • make sure the exercise you plan will be effective and help you achieve your goal.

Next

Once we have set our aims and objectives we need to make sure that what we want to teach fits in with the course syllabus or is relevant to the students’ level and previous knowledge. It is also a good time to make sure that we understand the piece of language we are going to teach, specifically its grammar rules and how we can best teach the given material.

Now the teacher can plan the lesson. Normally we want to include the stage of the lesson; a brief description of each task; additional information about how we can set it up, or any solutions to any potential problems anticipated; talk time and time allocated. An example could be:

StageActivityAdditional InformationTalkTiming
Lead in / Warm upSimon Says – Make the class stand.
Give simple instructions to the class such as “hands on head”. It is important to both say and demonstrate each command.The aim of the game is for the students to copy your command if you start the sentence with ‘Simon says’. If you don’t start with ‘Simon says’ then your students are not to copy you.
This exercise gets the students moving and releasing energy.
Students are introduced to parts of the body without needing to memorise each name as they are able to understand from the teacher’s demonstration.
Once the students have learnt how to play the game it can be used regularly.
TT5 mins

Once we have the lesson planned, we want to check that:

  • It meets our aims and objectives;
  • It has all the necessary stages;
  • Any anticipated problems have been thought through and solutions prepared to prevent or stop them happening;
  • You have all the material necessary;
  • Your activities are communication-based and the Teacher Talk Time is restricted to 30%.

Timing

We know that we have 3 main stages to a TEFL lesson: Presentation, Practice and Perform. When you start preparing a lesson you will have to consider the time allocated for the level and how you want to split the lesson between each part.

Some friendly advice

How long an exercise will take to set up, explain and perform is difficult to assess without experience of the group and that type of lesson. It’s not something you should worry about because, as new teachers, you have no experience. It will happen that you will get it completely wrong. If things take longer than we had expected, we are covered: it may not be the smoothest of lessons, but it will be fine. The problem is planning a lesson and finding out you have 20 minutes left at the end of the lesson and have used up all your material. The best advice any new teacher can take on board is to prepare extra exercises at the Practice and Perform stages. That way, if the students fly through an exercise you had allocated 15 minutes for then you are covered.

Teacher Talk Time vs Student Talk Time

Remember, we are TEFL trainers, not lecturers. Shy or nervous people have one advantage over others: they don’t like being the centre of attention so they try to explain what they want as simply and as quickly as possible and get the focus back on the students. It’s a good thing because students’ practice is a fundamental part of what we do. English is a communication-based subject so the students must practise as much as possible.

The ultimate goal

We aim to balance the amount of talk time at about 30/70. That means:

Teacher Talk Time (TTT) = 30%

Student Talk Time (STT) = 70%

How that translates to the lesson:

  • During the Present stage of a lesson, the teacher may have to do most of the talking to be able to present the new material and explain how it is used.
  • During the Practice stage, the talk time becomes more even. The students are practising the new material so will do plenty of talking but the teacher may have to step in and explain and give feedback as the students make mistakes.
  • During the Perform stage, we try to give the students ‘free practice’ where the students will do most of the talking. Often 90-95%.

To incorporate this into our time management we normally allocate slightly more time to the Practice stage compared to the Present stage. And likewise, we allocate more time to the Perform than the Practice. For example, in a 60 minute lesson:

Present (including ice breaker)        15 mins

Practice                                                 20 mins

Perform                                                 25 mins

Evaluation

Evaluation and re-evaluation are critical tools for the development of a TEFL teacher. Once you have prepared your lesson plan, you need to go through the lesson checklist that has been explained above:

  • What level the students are;
  • Who the students are (age, nationality);
  • How long the lesson is for;
  • What the students need to be learning;
  • Whether it meets our aims and objectives;
  • Whether it has all the necessary stages;
  • Any anticipated problems have been thought through and solutions prepared to prevent or stop them happening;
  • You have all the material necessary;
  • Your activities are communication-based and the Teacher Talk Time is restricted to 30%.

After the lesson, it is just as important that you evaluate how it went. Things rarely go exactly to plan, even for experienced TEFL teachers. The only difference is experienced TEFL teachers will adapt and change seamlessly so no-one will ever know. Consider what was good and what didn’t work so well. Remember to go over the timings you had prepared and analyse them compared to how long the various activities actually took. What would you do differently? The reality is that TEFL teachers are not expected to study for 3-4 years at university, it is rather accepted that there will be a large element of trial and error involved in the first year. Embrace it and make sure you learn from each lesson.