Teacher’s Block: How To Make a Lesson Plan From a Blank Sheet
Especially at the beginning of your teaching career, right after you take your TEFL qualification, writing a lesson plan can be a scary thing.
It is true that you have studied how to do it, and you have probably already prepared others, but there are situations in which having a blank sheet of paper in front of you continues to be as intimidating as the first time.
Some time ago, for example, an Italian-American school I work with from time to time asked me if I was available to cover an online lesson for the next day.
– Okay – I said – What is the subject?
I worked as a Tennis Instructor and as Head of Sport in a summer camp, but I never thought about preparing a gym class via Zoom, so it was a new situation.
I couldn’t recycle a lesson I had done before, and when I opened a new document to prepare the lesson I felt I had a block.
Here’s how I got over it, and how you can too, if you happen to be in the same situation.
1. DON’T LEAVE YOUR SHEET BLANK
Consider the psychological aspect of the problem: a blank sheet is scary, and the more it stays white, the harder it becomes to get started.
The answer is to write something down as soon as possible, so that it is no longer blank.
Start with the place and date for your personal archive, lesson title, lesson time, link to the Zoom meeting.
Here, the sheet is no longer white, problem solved.
2. USE AN INTRO AND OUTRO WITH MUSIC
When I teach online, I like to start and end the lesson with a theme song.
I start with a song to wake up the students, because at the beginning of the lesson they are usually shy/sleepy/too quiet, etc.
This music also buys some time for latecomers to enter the lesson, without those who arrived on time being upset because we have not started yet.
This way I started the lesson, but at the same time, I haven’t really started it.
The ending of the lesson is equally important.
In my lessons I like to involve students, asking them questions, allowing them to express their opinions whenever they want, or even disturbing the lesson with a joke, because all of this helps to keep a good mood.
At the end of the lesson they usually want to say a few more things, and if it were up to them we would go on forever.
If I have the chance, I don’t interrupt the lesson at the right time, but I let them go on and talk to each other.
When the time comes to say goodbye, I start the music, and this makes it clear that we have reached the end.
There are those who stay and dance until the end and those who leave the meeting during the music.
These are my favorite starting and ending music:
So now you have the time of your lesson to cover, minus the music. Not bad, right?
3. GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE
As you have probably learned in your English as a Foreign Language Teacher Course, humans are more productive when they have deadlines.
I believe this is true when my students have to take exams, and it is also true for myself as a teacher.
Instead of taking it easy, thinking that I have all night long to write my lesson plan, let’s take an hour, or half an hour, or 10 minutes, to achieve a tangible goal.
Imagine I have 10 minutes, after which someone could come at any time and tell me that I have to go on stage with what I have.
My goal is to be as prepared as possible right away, and get into the details as I finish a phase.
4. BEGIN IN GENERAL AND GET DOWN TO THE DETAILS
In order to be quick and effective in my planning, start with general settings, and write more details as I finish with the previous phase.
For example, give myself 10 minutes to divide my lesson into segments (not by topic, but by time).
Later, I will give them a title and a description, dividing them into various points.
So, initially, I will write, for example:
9.00 – 9.10
9.10 – 9.25
9.25 – 9.45
After this first stage, start adding general topics:
9.00 – 9.10 – Introduction
9.10 – 9.25 – Ice Breaker
9.25 – 9.45 – Grammar
Followed by an increasingly detailed explanation of what I want to do.
If I work with others, these notes must also be clear for those who read them (the Director of Studies, or a teacher who might have to do the lesson for me at the last moment):
9.00 – 9.10 – Introduction
- What we did last time
- Presentation of today’s theme
- Introductory video (PUT LINK HERE)
5. WRITE THE CONTENT OF THE LESSON
At this point I have some ideas.
I have a skeleton of the lesson, now I have to replace it with what I am going to do.
You may have noticed that the actual process is not quite as clean as I describe it here: you actually take notes when you come up with an idea, you write down things you will need later, you make a lot of corrections, you change the lesson structure…
This is part of the creative process, so it can’t (and shouldn’t) be too tidy and respectful of the rules.
In my case, I had recently seen a documentary on the Paralympics and the difficulties of organizing them.
This reminded me of the famous phrase “The important thing is not winning, but taking part”.
It was great food for thought to start the lesson, because, in my opinion, most people don’t understand its meaning and use this quote from Pierre de Coubertin to cheer up those who have lost.
In my opinion, however, it means that there are events that are so significant that you have to live them, and then, if you win it’s even better, but the important thing is to be there.
The last step is to insert the links to the videos that I want to show to my students, or those that I used as a reference to prepare my lesson.
I keep this passage for the end because looking for the right video when I still don’t have a clear idea about what I want to cover in my lesson is a long operation.
We often spend hours viewing videos that are not relevant, ending up watching kitten videos and charts of the best Friends jokes.
If I search for videos when I am almost done with preparing my lesson, I will spend much less time selecting them.
Correcting my lesson plan in this stage (for example, because the videos gave me new ideas), will be easier and faster, and it will be small corrections instead of big ones.
6. CORRECT QUICKLY AND FINISH
Another mistake I very often made, especially at the beginning of my career as teacher of English as a foreign language, is that I was too precise in my lesson plan, due to my insecurity.
From my experience, the lesson plan should be a guide.
There are situations in which I have to give it to others, for example our manager, the student office, absent students or a colleague in case I cannot take the lesson and someone has to replace me last minute.
I personally believe that it is good to get in the habit of being clear when writing lesson plans, because it can be also useful for myself, for example in case I have to give the same lesson after a long period of time.
Aside from that, the lesson plan is a trace that I usually follow generically, and depending on the space I leave to my students, my actual lesson could take other directions.
This is why, once I finish writing my lesson plan, continuing to correct it, rarely improves it.
As we move forward in our life as ELT teachers, the teacher’s block will always remain one of our fears when we write our lesson plan, especially when we are faced with new challenges, like in my case, teaching gymnastics via Zoom.
Therefore, in my opinion, the best way to overcome this fear is to leave the paper blank as little as possible.
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