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Adventures in EFL: The Lesson Plan of Doom

What happens when your lesson bombs?

By 4 min read

At some point in your English teaching adventure, you may encounter small setbacks that seem quite catastrophic at the time. One of the most common setbacks is the Lesson Plan of Doom. Maybe it’s a plan you devised yourself. Maybe it was bestowed upon you by Those Who Sit Above in Shadow. Maybe you didn’t even get a lesson plan.

Either way, sometimes lessons fall flat on their faces. One of the best skills to hone in our epic journey is to learn how to roll with the punches, jump over the hurdles, and climb out of the various pits we fall into.

As I said before and will say a million times more, don’t panic. Panic makes clear and quick thinking very difficult, which is the opposite of what you want. Every second counts when your class time is on the line. Keep calm and brush it off. If you feel like crying or like you’re on the verge of a panic attack, laugh. That may sound crazy, but laughing and crying are actually closely related processes.

By laughing, you can release your tension and even lighten the mood in the classroom. You will get through the flaming wreck of your lesson as long as you don’t break down. Most teachers have had at least one encounter with the Lesson Plan of Doom, and nearly all of the casualties are due to panic.

Before heading into a class, you should always be fully aware of your objectives. What are you teaching? Knowing the answer to this question is very important and will help you deal with any issues that may come up. You should always have a clear educational goal. If your assigned goal is as vague as “make English enjoyable,” as one of my employers put it, then you have it easy.

If a lesson starts to crash and burn, just play an English based game or sing songs for the rest of the class. You will still complete your objective. However, if your company or school expects the students to make progress in the language, you will need to consider the specific structures and vocabulary needed to make such progress.

Armed with your objectives, you can easily modify lessons on the fly. Are your students bogged down with material that isn’t part of your objective? Cut it. Make sure that your lesson objective is obtainable. If your primary objective is to to get all 100 elementary schoolers in grade 1 to introduce themselves, you don’t need to go through all the animal flashcards. If you have time in your lesson to add material or review past material, that’s fine, but make sure all of your objectives are met.

Each individual student is a unique person, and sometimes you need to modify your lesson to make things go smoothly.

I once had a small class of junior high schoolers. We were talking about describing typical male traits such as facial hair and baldness. The textbook prompted the students to draw pictures of their fathers and then describe the pictures to the class. One girl in the class looked very perplexed, so I asked her what was wrong. She said she didn’t know what her father looked like. After a few questions, I figured out that her father was never a part of her life. I apologised for not initially understanding what she meant, and then let her pick a male friend or family member. Since the lesson objective was describing male traits, that awkward hiccup ended there and we completed the lesson. Any potential disasters were averted.

If you are an assistant language teacher (ALT) and the lessons are planned and mostly executed by your co-teacher, you may be conflicted about what to do if a lesson very obviously starts to bomb. The students are unruly, the lesson is boring, and the teacher in charge really didn’t commit to any objectives at all. Instead of standing back and shrugging it off as not being your fault or problem, you can jump in and help. Everybody loves a hero.

In this situation, you will need to identify a clear objective whether or not your co-teacher ever had one. What do you know about the class? What can you review? What will they need to know for next week or for an upcoming test? If they have a textbook, what objectives can you glean from that?

Once you identify the objective, you can use drills, role plays, games, or other activities to flesh out the lesson for the rest of the class. If you aren’t sure of what activities to use, you can ask a co-worker, network with other teachers, or use the wealth of information online. Having a handful of easy no-prep activities in your arsenal can make people believe that you always have a plan, even when you are making it up as you go.

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