The art of lesson design

1. Introduction

Lesson planning is, in my opinion, one of the trickiest, most intricate processes a teacher must go through if they wish to be effective in the classroom. As Ur (2012) puts it “The lesson is a very complex construct, which fulfils a variety of functions and can be seen from a variety of perspectives by different people.” However, I get the feeling that lesson planning is not a popular topic in teachers’ rooms and in-service training initiatives. It is almost as if teachers were supposed to know it as an innate talent or previous experience, should the former even exist. I for one had my first contact with lesson planning instruction after five years of intuitive, gut feeling work with more than 500 students over this period. My goal with this article is to share three different lesson planning frameworks aimed at catering for the needs of three different profiles of teachers at different stages of professional development. The frameworks range from novice to proficient teacher in terms of complexity of planning and implementation. We are going to go over the advantages and disadvantages of each of the planning processes so that you, teacher, can adopt (and adapt!) these processes to better suit your needs.

2. The by-the-book teacher

The first lesson framework I would like to talk about is the traditional PPP strategy. PPP stands for Presentation → Practice → Production. It consists of the teacher drawing a linguistic aim for the lesson, designing the Presentation stage, the Practice stage and, then, the Production stage. In the Presentation moment, the teacher will present the language to be worked on in the lesson and clarify its meaning, form and use with the learners. The students then engage in a practice moment aimed at developing students’ accuracy with the target language and get them used to the new feature, according to Harmer (2017), “this is often called controlled practice and may involve drilling” which is the repetition of words, phrases or even full sentences. At the production phase, students are supposed to use the language in a more creative way, taking part in an information gap activity, for example.

2.1 Advantages

A clear advantage of this framework is its predictability and teacher control over all the steps of the lesson. It is, in a way, a teacher centered planning scheme in the sense that the teacher will decide on the aim of the lesson, the presentation format, the practice moment, and the production phase. The lesson is completely thought of before the students even get into the classroom. I believe this framework is very teacher friendly and one that novice teachers would feel the most comfortable with at the beginning of their teaching careers. As Harmer (2017) puts it, this is a widely used procedure especially useful for teaching simple language for students at lower levels and might even be found in coursebooks.

2.2 Disadvantages

If being in control of everything that happens in the classroom is an advantage, one might argue that it is also a disadvantage of this planning framework. This strategy of planning is entirely proactive and all stages of the lesson will be planned and prepared before the lesson. What if students are not interested in the topic? What if students need more practice before going to the production phase? What if students already have control over the target language the teacher decided to teach? Students might feel demotivated to participate in a lesson which feels unresponsive to their needs and wants.