Blog da Disal, May 2012 – Starting Over, part 2: Lesson Planning

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Last month I wrote a rather… different post here. It talked basically about how I’d been a bit demotivated with the whole teaching thing, and how important it was for me to turn things around and find that spark again, that curiosity again, that fun again.

I asked you people to help out, to send in ideas and share with me – and everyone else really – what it is that you do to make sure that your classes are always fresh, always motivating for your students and, maybe even more importantly, for you. I’m very thankful to all of you who did, and the amount of emails and replies (both here and on my blog) I received was really humbling, and I’m amazed at the difference this new project of mine has made for me already, and it has only been a month. I hope that from now on, as I begin the sharing here, that these ideas will make a difference for you as well.

This month, I’ll begin by talking about arguably where the whole process of teaching a motivating class, for your and your students, starts: lesson planning.

Lesson Planning

It goes without saying that if we’re not motivated ourselves, there isn’t much chance we’ll be able to motivate our students that much. So, as obvious as these ideas might sound, I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to thinking of ways of doing that, and it just so happens that most of this thinking usually happens while I’m preparing my lessons.

If you’ve done a pre-service teachers’ course, I’d be willing to bet good money you’ve heard about how important it is to prepare your lessons thoroughly a million times. You’ve probably preached this yourself, so that there’s every likelihood that you‘re now thinking, “duh!”

But really?

Do you really prepare your lessons thoroughly? Do you really prepare your lessons in a way that ensures they’ll hang together, achieve your aims (assuming, of course, you have them), feel fresh and varied, take individual students into consideration, all in a way that pretty much guarantees time will fly by? If you always do that, kudos for you. I didn’t. Not always, anyway.

There are several different types of lesson plan, of course. What I’m advocating here is not that you write detailed, CELTA-like lesson plans for every single class you teach. You wouldn’t be able to do much else with your life. What I’m saying is we really, really have got to go well beyond ‘do activity 1; now 2; now 3…” in our plans if you want our lessons to succeed. We have to do more than just check the answer keys for the activities we’ll do in class and the – usually feeble – ideas the teachers’ guides bring. Planning a class, as we all know it, should involve a lot more than that.

  • Have something extra every class: it can be a song, it can be a pronunciation activity (looking at minimal pairs, for example), a video activity, a reading lesson you devised yourself using real materials (instead of a boring, meaningless text from your course book). Make it very clear for your students that you actually devoted time to them during the week apart from the time you spend together in class.
  • Understand your course book was not written for your students: this is actually not that obvious for many teachers. In a brilliant article written over a decade ago, Michael Swan mentions teachers who, when asked why they teach grammar so much say, “because it’s there”, meaning it’s there in the course book. Course books are written to make them as international as possible, as general as possible, with a view to making as much money as possible. Think of that! Using course books is, in my opinion, a great idea. It gives the course a sense of purpose, of continuity, of progress. However, there are more than a few useless activities there as well, of silly texts and ridiculously artificial listening passages, to name but a few. Adapt. Skip. Substitute. Use your course book as a tool, because that’s all it is. Your course book is not your course.
  • End classes on a high note: I’ve been very lucky as a teacher trainer to observe a very wide array of classes all over the country, and a very high percentage of these classes start with a fun – if sometimes a bit predictable and repetitive – warm-up activity.  But how about a wrap-up activity? How about having a song at the end of class? A hot potato? A hangman? A video? Ending classes on a high note will make your students actually want to come back next class, it’ll keep them on their toes, it’ll keep predictability at bay. Don’t end every class discussing homework!
  • Get out of the classroom with your students from time to time: Stephen Greene (from the brilliant suggested that in a comment on my blog. This may not be exactly new, and as I replied to him there I might’ve even suggested it in training courses myself. But again: Do we do it? I hadn’t left the classroom with my students in such a long time I can’t even say when I’d done it last. Stephen calls it “Walk and Talk”, where he simply goes for a walk with his students and chats, sometimes with a specific destination in mind, sometimes not really. I loved the idea and have had breakfast with one of my students, visited Museu do Futebol with another group and have been thinking of other ways of putting that into practice. It makes a big difference.

That’s it this month. I will now continue this discussion on lesson planning on my blog ( Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, for the next month, I’ll be posting more on the topic of lesson planning and ideas to make our plans more interesting and varied. I hope you’ll visit and keep on contributing your ideas.

See you in June!

This article was published on Blog da Disal ( on May 21, 2012


12 thoughts on “Blog da Disal, May 2012 – Starting Over, part 2: Lesson Planning

    Luiz Otávio said:
    May 21, 2012 at 12:14 am

    Wise words, Higor. More and more I’ve found that the more prepared you are (procedurally), the more brain space (so to speak) you free up to pay attention to all the unpredictable stuff that will crop up as the lesson unfolds. And that applies to both novice teachers and “macacos velhos” as well.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Hey Luiz,

      That’s exactly what I mean. In my next posts on the topic, I’ll talk about different types of plan, what to include in a plan, interesting ideas plan-wise such as Dogme, but I’ll also discuss Scrivener’s (always) wise words which say we teach the students, not the plan.

      Thanks for the comment!

    carolcolaneri said:
    May 21, 2012 at 9:02 am

    As a teacher who is tired of teaching I must tell you that it’s extremely difficult to be motivated all the time… But i do try(otherwhise, I’ll go crazy). And movies and songs are my best allies. I use them whenever I can and I always try to use my favorite movies ou favorite songs. Students already know that I love The Beatles and Tom Hanks lol.

    I also try to plan a different class once in a while- a whole class on how to act at the aiport, or how to buy clothes abroad, or how to order food from a restaurant, or a whole class on different phrasal verbs, on pronunciation and so on. =)

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm

      Let’s work on your motivation, darling! You’re one of the good ones and we need you! =)

      The use of music and video are certainly two of the best ways of motivating students while at the same time exposing them to “real” English, important cultural aspects, not to mention, as Penny Ur says (in the case of video), the visibility of the speaker!

      As for planning extra/different activities, that’s remarkable. I really think we must have something “off-book” to surprise students with every class, if for nothing else because it shows them we took time to plan their lesson and didn’t just pick up the book 5 minutes before class.

      Thanks for the comments, dear. Keep ’em coming! =)

    carolcolaneri said:
    May 21, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Ah! and studenst also love when you bring suggestions of tv shows, web sites, dictionaries, books…. =)

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm

      Absolutely! And this is something we must do since it’s our job to motivate them to expose themselves to the language as much as possible outside the classroom! All about fostering autonomy, right?

    Anna Silva said:
    May 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I usually say that we have to look at things from a different point of view and create something new just like in that movie DEAD POETS SOCIETY when the teacher climbed on the table and invited the students to do the same. I am going to dare ask you to visit my blog and see how I talked about fashion to 12 boys and kept them motivated:

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      Hey Anna,

      Thank you very much for the comment and for mentioning my favorite “teaching film” in the world.

      I’ll visit your blog right away and comment there!


    Maíra Barros said:
    May 29, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Higor,

    I was just trying to remember where I’d read some wise lines about ending classes on a high note instead of simply assigning HW… Then I realized they were written here.
    Had to come back and leave a comment! 🙂

    Amazing post and I truly agree with you. We must plan, because that’s the time we have to come up with good ideas, to try to prepare something different in order to keep a lively pace. Coursebooks are, of course, allies but they are too general indeed. Truth be told, however, sometimes it takes such little effort to turn a boring task into a fun discussion. 🙂

    Being too green, I haven’t experienced demotivation yet (it’s more the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do it, rather than demotivation itself) but I do believe we should always do our best to enjoy our own lessons. And that’s certainly more likely to happen when we plan ahead 🙂


      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Maíra,

      Many thanks for your lovely comment!

      I’m glad to see so many people agree with the importance of planning. I never meant to say we should do absolutely everything we put there in your plans, and I’m all for making alterations to the plan as the class progresses. But if you don’t plan at all… well, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never gonna get there, right?

      As for the “teacher burnout” thing, I don’t know if that’s what it was, you know. I just felt I hadn’t been as excited as always with teaching, with was in all likelihood my own fault. I now am again, and that’s all that matters.

      Thanks a lot, Maíra!


    Anna Silva said:
    June 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Hugo, I´ve developed a project with my students which was really successful and motivating for me and also for them. take alook at my article about it:

    Anna Silva said:
    July 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm

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