4 Common Mistakes That ESL Teachers Make When Planning Lessons

TESOL lesson planning mistakesWhen you’re starting out as a language teacher, your TESOL lesson plan is going to be as important to you as any of the course materials. If we view the coursebook as the boat that takes you and your learners along the river of language learning, your lesson plan acts as the map that guides you along the way. Just as any journey may include wrong turns, so can your language lessons. For this reason, having a reliable map will be a great help in navigating this journey. Here are four things to avoid that will ensure your plan takes you on the correct route.

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  1. Teaching the book and not the learner

You’ll probably find that you are under a lot of pressure to get through a coursebook by a particular point in time. Therefore, a lot of your planning will involve looking at how you can work through the material with your learners in an engaging way. Nevertheless, planning the material is only one aspect of lesson planning. To ensure that you are teaching your class, rather than just covering material, you do need to incorporate students into your plans. A language class is made up of a group of individuals with different goals, expectations and interests. Find out what these are, and then think of ways to accommodate these into your lessons while you are following the syllabus. If you don’t, your learners will quickly realize you’re just following the book page by page (Read: Supplementing ESL Textbooks with Authentic Material).

  1. Forgetting to use a variety of activities

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of using the same kinds of activity again and again. You might find that you start each lesson with a vocabulary matching exercise or a grammar gap fill that revises what you did on the previous lesson. Alternatively, each lesson might feature a speaking activity in which learners share past experiences in groups. These aren’t bad activities, but they will become boring very quickly if you do them every lesson. Make sure that you vary the tasks that you do in class. For instance, plan to use music, video and games every so often. Also, vary the way that you get learners to interact in terms of working in pairs or in groups (Read: No prep/low prep ESL Activities).

  1. Using technology without a good reason

It’s commonplace these days to use technology in classes. Indeed, there are many amazing things that you can do in your lessons when you choose to incorporate the Internet and mobile phones, for example. Nevertheless, you should only use technology that is helping you to meet your lesson objectives. If not, you may find that you are only using technological gadgets to try and be cool. Your learners will see through this very quickly and not appreciate it. Always consider if the technological tool is helping you do the activity in a better way than you could without technology (Read: Using the Internet in the ESL Classroom).

  1. Failing to have a backup plan

So far I’ve suggested that you vary your tasks and include technological input as and when it’s justified. However, using things such as video clips and music from an online source brings about its own problems: what happens when things go wrong? Ask any experienced teacher and they will tell you about the time that something didn’t work properly in their class; it has happened to the best of us! When this happens to you, make sure you have a plan B that takes you on another route to the same learning goal. For example, if your lesson is based on an online listening task, make sure you have a similar task ready that is on a CD, or that you have a tape script that you can read out to the class. Always look at what you have planned and ask yourself how you can meet your objective in a different way that will have the same results.

Avoiding these mistakes will increase your confidence as a teacher, as well as give your learners the impression that you are in control of the classroom.

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