Posted on March 14, 2015 by Barry Smith
And if I told you I don’t believe in lesson plans?
Lesson plans – they’re a bit of a nonsense. Don’t you think? In fact, I’ll go further. Lesson plans hold kids back and encourage teachers to focus on all the wrong things.
So does that mean I just roll up and freewheel my way through lessons? Not really. But it does mean I work according to a set of principles that allow me to teach, largely, on autopilot. Teach on autopilot? That sounds strangely complacent! Not really. I keep to my key principles. My lessons are uncluttered. I have the flexibility to tweak lessons on the hoof.
I’m largely on autopilot because I don’t have a lot to think about. Teaching really does not have to be complicated. When something goes ‘wrong’ I can react quickly. Though things rarely go ‘wrong’ because I preempt problems mostly. I know what kids get wrong in the main and I teach to preemt.
Kids come in. I’m immediately firing questions or we’re all chanting the alphabet in French. They’re not idly chatting. There’s no room for that. The questions I fire out are usually grammar based. I focus on the stuff I want them to retain and reuse across topics.
I’ve done? Having done? Whilst doing? After having done? I am going to do? I would like to do?
I am? I am not? I went? I didn’t go? It was? It wasn’t? I played? I didnt play? I would like to play?
Structures. I just fire simple mark winning structures at the kids as they get their stuff out and they stand behind their chairs. They know these structures. I’m just keeping them fresh. At the front of the mind. I want these structures to be instant. I might give clues:
It was; C apostrophe. Il y a in accent.
I would like: JV. Deux lettres espace huit lettres.
They are is ‘ils sont’ . Comment dit-on ‘They went’ Trois mots. le troisième mot contient cinq lettres.
I must go? I F Q J apostrophe.
I most do? I F Q J F
Although I am? Ce n’est pas ‘ je sUIs’. Il faut le subjonctif!
These questions can last as long, or as short, a time as I want. I can ping what I what at whom I want. None of this is written down. No random name generator. No lolly sticks. The kids are just getting their stuff out.
Si vous voulez vous pouvez enlever…
vos chaussures? Non!
vos chaussettes? Non!
vos chemises? Non!
vos cravates? Non!
vos vestes? Oui!!!
This is all super quick and all on autopilot. Them and me. We’re all on auto-pilot. It’s a bit of a laugh. They’ve joined in. We’ve recycled stuff they know. They’re already feeling accomplished. Nothing’s written down.
No silly learning objectives. No wasteful patronising starters. We just get on with ‘it’, But what’s the ‘it’? My lesson planning, my core questions, are these. They’re always the same. They’re never typed on a pro forma.
What are kids likely to find hard in this topic?
How can I prempt the high frequency errors that typically eat into lesson time?
How can I incorporate PROFS – past reasons opinions future subjunctive – into this topic?
How can I ensure they will retain this stuff?
How could a lazy kid hide or sabotage this lesson?
I don’t use a text book. Be great if I could. But until I write one I stick with the resources I create and I recycle. I do teach ‘topics’ – but kind of loosely. There’ll never be a PowerPoint with pictures and one word at a time. There’ll be lengthy passages that include phrases such as:
Il est rare que je fasse mes devoirs dans ma chambre
parce que je préfère faire mes devoirs dans le salon
en regardant la télé ou en écoutant de la musique
ma mère veut que je fasse mes devoirs dans la salle à manger
Hier, ayant fait mes devoirs dans la chambre de mon frère
mais avant d’écouter de la musique dans la cuisine
j’ai regardé la télé dans la salle de bains.
I’m teaching ‘rooms in the house’. No PowerPoint. No pictures. Kids are reading a text stuffed with grammar. We’re recycling language they know. I want them to recycle so they really NOT nearly know it. The text in front of them is flat. The sentences are short. Or rather, I present long sentences in short chunks. Every line is numbered. Kids follow the text with a ruler. We read aloud. We link the written word to the spoken word. I never let sloppy pronunciation go unchallenged. The kids are developing very nice accents as a consequence. They listen very carefully as their peers read out loud. They readily correct one another’s pronunciation. But in a very supportive way.
The next step is often: find the French equivalent for these 40 English phrases from the passage:
it’s the least that one can say,
the room of bathing,
Why 40 questions? The number isn’t set in stone. The point is, I want kids to work through the passage line by line in silence for 10 to 15 minutes. The most willing kids need to be occupied for that time. I go for volume of questions combined with richness of language. There’s good range and it’s recyclable language. The less willing kids have no hiding place. They are forced to accomplish lots as they work through the passage. And of course, because they do succeed, they genuinely feel accomplished and clever and next lesson they come in feeling able. The willing kids, in fact all of the kids, are getting quicker and quicker at this kind of exercise. Their pronunciation, their retention, their range – it’s really coming on.
There’s loads more I do. I can’t fit it all in one blog. Suffice to say. No formalised written lesson plan, no attempt to be whizzy and ‘engaging’, no powerpoints. I build from my key questions. The language is rich. I ignore nonsense nc levels. I ensure lazy kids can’t hide. Everyone works hard and feels accomplished. And we have a laugh!
In languages, grammar is the glue that holds everything together, so I’m constantly recycling the mark winning grammar. But beyond MFL, just the bread and butter job of teaching, I’d always say, if you can, have a laugh with the kids. And then…make them work their socks off!
Anyway, that’s some of the stuff I do. My kids are doing really well. This stuff works. It’s simple, uncluttered, invariably didactic and very often a good giggle.