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Commandment 3 – Present the tasks properly

I used to hate planning lessons. It was my least favorite part of my TESL certification program.

My instructors wanted so much detail. Every single moment of the lesson had to be accounted for and justified. Why are you doing this? Why at this point in the lesson? What is this supposed to teach them? What does the research say about this type of activity? It was overwhelming.

I much preferred to “wing it”. Go with the flow.

Sometimes it worked. But most of the time it didn’t. I would get lost in my own lesson, and forget to mention an important detail, or hand out the work sheet the students were supposed to be working on. I would jump ahead to talk about things they hadn’t had time to practice.

I was disorganized. My lessons were a mess. And my students were confused and frustrated.

Now, I appreciate having a good plan. I even actually enjoy making lesson plans.

Something that helped me a lot was to work backwards from my end goal. I could think about what I wanted my students to do, and give them (and me!) a roadmap to get them there.

One semester, the goal was to have my students write and present a basic, 5-or-so-sentence paragraph. I call these paragraphs “hamburger paragraphs” because your introduction and conclusion sentences should be similar, like two halves of a bun, and a paragraph without enough to support it is like slapping a patty between your buns and calling it a day. Sure, it’s technically a burger, but it could be so much more with some supporting details, just like condiments and toppings make for better burgers.

I knew this was a good goal since a previous assignment of “Write a paragraph about X” resulted in a stack of written assignments that barely resembled anything I would consider to be a paragraph. Sentences written out line by line. Sentence fragments galore. Disconnected thoughts put to paper. It was a mess.

But it wasn’t their fault. I didn’t show them what a paragraph was, or that what I called a paragraph might be different than what their other teachers had been expecting.

So with my end goal of students presenting their paragraphs to the class, I could figure out the steps to get them there.

Step one: sentences. Complete. Verbs. Subjects. We were gonna have to go over some basic grammar.

Step two: Because. How to use it in a sentence. Why “my dog died because I was sad” will make Chelanna sensei chuckle to herself and then feel bad. And sad about your dog.

Step three: Putting sentences together. Load up our “hamburgers” with lots of juicy details.

Step four: How to present things to the class, a.k.a the back row can’t hear you if you mumble behind your paper, and neither can the front row for that matter.

Step five: Serve those delicious “burgers” up!

I couldn’t very well explain how to put sentences together before I was certain they knew what I meant by “sentence”. They couldn’t present paragraphs they hadn’t written yet. Once I had my end goal, putting the steps in order became pretty easy.

My example is for a series of lessons over the course of a semester, but it works at the single lesson level, too. Planning out what to present to the students, and what they must do, in order, is not only helpful for keeping you on track, but it helps your students, too!