5 Quick Tips for Killer Lesson Planning

With the Lesson Planning Masterclass starting soon, I thought we should keep with the planning theme and a few useful tips on how to plan lessons that we can all enjoy.

1. Know your learners

Might seem obvious – but who/what are you teaching? The syllabus? The coursebook? Or the learners? Get to know the learners and what makes them tick. Use a variety of techniques to find out about them, use ‘find someone who’ activities, questionnaires, discussions and build this information gathering into the lessons. Keep a record of useful info on each learner. If you REALLY know your learners you will be able to tailor lessons to their needs and interests, making for much more engaging and motivating lessons.

Don’t just teach page 21 of the book because it is Wednesday.

2. Start at the end

When planning, always have the final task/objective in mind and lead the learners to it. Make sure the language they need to complete the task is clearly taught in the lesson. Practice the task during the planning so that you know what language they will need. Use what you know about the learners to ensure that you teach them the language they need in contexts they are likely to meet outside the classroom too. ‘Scaffolding’ is a bit of a buzzword, but it ensures that the learners will be able to do what you want them to by the end of your carefully crafted lesson.

3. Know What Success Looks Like

It is important that you know how you are going to assess your learners. Plan the assessment rubric in advance. Keep it simple and specific (and related to the lesson objective). If you are focusing on the present perfect tense, ensure you have a task that uses the grammar and write one or two ‘can do’ statements so you can assess learners’ ability to use the language. (e.g. Can say whether they have visited a specific country / can ask others if they have visited a country) – are you going to observe, test or have learners present their knowledge? Think about different ways of assessing learners like observations, exit slips and informal tests.

4. Leave Space For Adaptation

Make sure you have an extra activity (or two) up your sleeve in case you find you have a few spare minutes and, likewise, know which activities can be left out or cut short if things take longer than expected. Have a back-up plan in case the computer fails or the photocopier breaks down and build an element of differentiation into activities – because no two learners are the same. Maybe some learners only complete 3/5 of a task or others have a ‘fast finishers’ question at the end. Just because something is written in the plan – it doesn’t mean you can’t improvise if an interesting question is asked or the learners have an unexpected problem or link to the topic.

Build in feedback stages, so that you can deal with unsuccessful learner-generated language. Reactive teaching helps learners with the language they want and need to use, but you may not have anticipated. Put the language on the board and have learners correct (and explain) in pairs or individually.

5. Check Your Pace

Try to mix it up a bit, if the whole lesson is spent sitting at desks writing, it may be hard to get the learners excited about the lesson. Try adding some movement such as running dictations or putting tasks on the walls around the room. Change the interactions, move learners around so they talk in different groups, use a combination of pair work and group work. If things look a bit slow build in a brain break activity to revitalise the class. If learners are a bit excitable, try a calming activity like pelmanism or individual work.

Ode to Technophobes

This week’s guest poster is Richard Osborne: podcaster, teacher, teacher trainer and all-round tech-savvy guru. If you struggle with integrating new technology into your teaching, he has some excellent advice, in his own inimitable style…

The global digital transformation has been on my mind these past few days. Yesterday came some of the most perfect examples.

On my way home to my sleepy little country town of Montignac from the big smoke of Perigueux, I thought to myself, “Hey, remember that new car radio you were thinking of buying for your tired old frumpy Opel Meriva, when you immediately opened your phone to look on Amazon like some sort of Mark-Zuckerberg-conditioned drone? Why don’t you take advantage of your being in the big city and go to one of those things… whatya-ma-call-it… a brick-and-mortar store, yes, that’s right.” So I quickly tapped “Norauto” (yes I actually remembered the name of a brick-and-mortar store, showing my age there) into my Waze navigation app on my phone.

Yes, ok, my anti-technology example hinged upon a bloody piece of technology. Otherwise what the hell else would I have done? Should I have wound down my window and asked some poor downtrodden serf walking the streets where the nearest Norauto was? Hoping she’d lift her head from her Instagram long enough to comprehend what I’d said. Waiting patiently for her to unfurl her grand map of Perigueux from her pocket (don’t be ridiculous, girls don’t have pockets) in the rain and start reading me out turns and road numbers? Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but even more ridiculous still is what would have actually happened in this scenario. She’d have simply typed “Norauto” into her own bloody Waze app, probably press some magical button that’d beam that information into my own phone, thus negating the whole process of asking in the first place.

Anyway, back to reality please. Where was I? Oh yes. Being guided by my wonderful Waze app, which is updated live with traffic information from other people who are also using the Waze app (and vice versa. Yes, take my personal information, take it all!), it spontaneously changes my route to avoid traffic jams, speeding towards my mysterious destination.

I was awash with excitement. Would they have the product I sought? Who knows. That’s the fun of it, isn’t it? Driving twenty minutes, spending petrol at €100 a litre, just to arrive at one of these once illustrious institutions of commercial frivolity, and finding they don’t ‘stock’ the product you seek. That state of not knowing is what makes it worth being human, ticking my brain’s anticipation sacks only to experience the full spectrum of crushing disappointment at the phrase, “Ah… sorry Sir, I’ll have to order that part in for you…”

Where was this slightly pungent employee going to order the part from, dear readers? You’ve guessed it. From the bleeding internet of course! Yes, that’s right, brick-and-mortar stores today are basically the physical click-and-collect points of the digital world. I give up. Amazon, here I come! [insert picture of Jeff Bezos laughing smoking a cigar in a tall leather chair please Tamara]

That’s not all. During this ill-advised foray into the good-old-days, I was listening to my favorite French radio station – France Info. Coincidence of all coincidences, they were talking to a representative of the police of Nice about a test the municipality conducted last year of a new facial recognition system using the city’s CCTV cameras.

The police rep couldn’t have said it better, and I paraphrase, “At first we thought this would never work, that you can’t replace a real human police officer when it comes to identifying a suspect in CCTV footage. After the test we’ve absolutely changed our minds. Furthermore, we realised that there are roles where technology can greatly alleviate the work of police officers, and areas where a human officer is absolutely irreplaceable.”

For me these are two examples show what’s happening in our world in terms of fear of technology turning to wondering how we ever did without it. I may be a self-confessed geek who runs head-first towards anything new, throwing caution and common sense to the wind, but there’s not much more to my technological prowess than that. I’ve never taken a training course in technology, I didn’t study computer programming in university. Back in my day (preach, old man) when I was in secondary school, the furthest we got was ‘word processing class’, where we sat and typed out printed texts into Microsoft Word for about 2 hours a week. It was hell, but by God did it teach me to type as fast as a German milkmaid on acid. Yes, I’ve lost you there, let’s move on and pretend that never happened.

The point that I’m very unclearly trying to make it this: Technology should be evaluated for its usefulness throughout the spectrum of human activities, but we must put measures in place to help ease people through the transition without fear leading to being left behind. Language teaching is no exception.

On that same radio show yesterday, a teenager talked about how one of the major changes in her school was that this year students at her school have no paper textbooks anymore. Not one. The state has paid for every single secondary student to have a tablet computer. All school materials are now online. If you’re the reactionary English teacher in one of those schools, clutching your copy of New English File in the supply closet, moistening its decade old pages with your tears, you must be #$%@ing bricking it.

This is why I’m writing this article. I’m looking at you, my nervous language teaching colleague, and I hear you. “I’m rubbish at technology, I’ll never be able to keep up with all these gadgets and doodads, what am I going to do?!” I can tell you, right here and now, you’re wrong. You can absolutely and easily catch up and use any technology you want. You just have to be like me – go running towards the technology head first, to hell with the consequences, to hell with people who think you’re ridiculous and mock you with such zingers as “How can she not even know how to type with all her fingers??” The hidden truth of the internet is: You’re not alone.

My job involves teaching freelance language teachers of all ages in France and abroad about how to use new technology in their language teaching. I can tell you from vast experience that a majority of language teachers, regardless of their age, don’t know how to use the same technologies you currently fear are coming to take your job. It actually surprised me how much this ratio of 5:1 – teachers who are comfortable with technology to teachers who are not – doesn’t change much based on age. I’ve met 60-year-olds who are miles more tech-savvy that some of my 20 -year-old teacher trainees.

In reality, there’s only one thing that separates them: Being able to get over the irrational fear of new things and simply go for it, try the technology out, push buttons and break things, make a mess, and slowly learn how the thing ticks.

Take Google Docs for example. I had a teacher trainee yesterday talking about Microsoft Word documents she’d created that, now she’s teaching at a distance, she’d like to share with her learners. Before she used to send them by email, asking the learners to write their answers in the document and send a copy back, to be corrected and once again sent to the learner. What she ends up with are three versions of the same document in an email chain. This is not in itself a complicated thing to manage, but once she starts doing it with 5, 10, 20 students at a time, it will become a logistical nightmare. She could, in theory, organise her email inbox into folders and be rigorous in storing students’ work in the correct place, but this would almost require as much effort as it would learning how to use Google Docs in the place of Microsoft Word.

The advantage of Google Docs is you can import your existing Word documents directly into your Google Drive and convert them without losing much formatting. Afterwards, you’ll have an original document that can be edited live by one or more of your learners. How they edit it is up to you. They can be given permission to simply ‘comment’ the document, that is to say, they can modify and add text, but the original will not be changed. The teacher can look at the modifications, give corrections in the form of comment replies, then erase them to return to the original unmodified text, ready for the next student to complete. They can equally be allowed to modify the original document as if they were they author. Even then, each modification is stored in a huge list of historical changes, each one able to be consulted and restored if necessary.

This means the teacher will now only have two version of the same document: One master version, stored safely in a private folder, and one duplicate version added to a student’s shared Google Drive folder for editing. Even if you think this is only a minor improvement on the original emailing Microsoft Word documents method, I can tell you that this basic transition into the sort of ‘neo-digital’ realm of using free, web-based software, will open up a world of possibilities for you.

For example, you can experiment with the Google Docs extension Kaizena (plugin available from the ‘Chrome Store’ in Google’s Chrome web browser). This plugin allows you and your learners to not only edit documents together, but add self-recorded spontaneous audio comments to parts of the text. Imagine the possibilities for replying to production questions that up to now could only be completed using writing skills? Suddenly, “Use the present perfect to describe a recent holiday you had,” can be answered as a speaking activity – for homework. This was an absolutely mind-blowing experience for me the first time I tried it, and now I encourage my learners to record themselves as frequently as possible in preference to writing their answers to my own homework activities.

Why not move on to experiment with Google Drawings, Google Sheets or Google Slides? These are an online whiteboard (admittedly very basic), an online Microsoft Excel and an online Microsoft Powerpoint respectively. Every application is free, and you can add links between individual documents through the ‘add link’ function which searches through your existing file from any of the other platforms. Why not branch out from Google, and experiment with Quizlet, Memrise, and Padlet? These are a flash-card quiz application, a spaced-interval vocabulary memorisation application, and a social link sharing board respectively.

I could go on, but my objective here is not to overload your brain with the possibilities of technology. I know there’s a point where I’ll scare you off. If you can even experiment with just Google Drive and Google Docs, I’ll be happy. These could be your first personal challenges of confidently charging towards new technologies, spending a good hour testing each of them, pushing all the buttons trying to make it make you a cup of coffee, to know in the end what it can and can’t do, where the bugs are, where it works well and where it doesn’t. In doing so, you’ll remove all embarrassment from future use of such technology with your students. Through one hour of simply imitating the autodidact baby smashing, chewing and throwing a new toy around to learn entirely through doing, I guarantee you’ll know more than 90% of the people you intend to use it with.

The CEFR 101 – Essentials for Teachers to Know, and What’s New!

This week’s guest post is from Tim Goodier, member of the core authoring group for the CEFR Companion Volume (among other things). Did you know that the descriptors had been updated? I didn’t! Here, he offers some useful insights into the changes and how to incorporate the ‘can do’ statements into your teaching.

Most people working in ELT will be familiar with the CEFR (in full: the Common European Framework of Reference for languages) though not necessarily in detail. You might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a set of level labels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) that are roughly equivalent to ‘beginner/elementary’, ‘pre-intermediate’, ‘intermediate’, ‘upper-intermediate’, ‘advanced’ and ‘proficiency’. However, the CEFR levels are based on a scheme for profiling language skills, using ‘can do’ statements developed with the feedback of thousands of teaching professionals. It was first published in a book 2001 and then updated in an online Companion Volume in 2018 for greater relevance for the 21st century. This recent update has created a lot of discussion, especially concerning the expanded concept of ‘mediation’ (see the note on communication modes below).

Here are 3 key points about the CEFR, and its recent update, that have some interesting implications for English language teaching (and there are popular misunderstandings that we can de-mystify here too):

  1. The CEFR is for any language – this means it is designed to describe in detail what learners can do in any given language at each level. The same can do statements apply across different languages because they focus on the outcomes of communication, not the mechanics of specific languages. The idea is to support plurilingual education, where learners build a profile of 2 or 3 (or more) languages in a portfolio and ‘language passport’, to open opportunities in an increasingly globalised / ‘glocalised’ world.

    Implications for language teachers: The CEFR therefore breaks down language ability into things we do communicatively (for example, justify a viewpoint rather than use modal verbs),and this ‘action-oriented approach’ dovetails well with communicative, task-based and project-based learning. In essence, the CEFR gives us as a reliable core menu of communicative activities and strategies to work on at each level, which are applicable to different contexts and topics. Individual can do statements can be adapted as learning aims to help us focus more on coaching learners for real world communication, rather than just teaching language forms with staged controlled interactions. Check whether your course material already provides a simplified list of CEFR linked can do statements for learners, as they can be a good focal point for incorporating more personalised and action-oriented lesson tasks.  

    Popular misunderstanding: people often think that the CEFR does not support a focus on grammar and vocabulary practice, but this is not the case. There are in fact CEFR mapping projects for English grammar, functions and vocabulary such as the British Council Eaquals Core Inventory, or English Profile. Nevertheless, grammar and vocabulary topics need not dominate course aims at the expense of meaningful skills development.  The CEFR encourages us to organise learning around acts of communication relevant to the learners, and in tandem work on the language forms that they need to succeed in them. Published teaching materials are gradually changing their approach to reflect this (and I mean gradually!), but you can also use can do statements to negotiate with learners how to customise their course and lessons with extra activities.

  2. Four modes not four skills: The CEFR views listening and reading as ‘reception’, which is a mode of communication. But it also describes modes of production (formulating the message), interaction (engaging in dialogue)and mediation (collaborating and helping others to understand things better), which can apply to either speaking or writing, or a mixture of these, reflecting how communication really happens. The recent update to the CEFR adds scales of can do statements for mediation for the first time. This goes well beyond the dictionary definition and includes a wide range of activities for achieving better understanding between people; for example, skills for collaborative team work or explaining / summarising things you have read or listened to – hence the spotlight on integrated skills.

    Implications for language teachers: Mediation can do statements now provide a detailed level-specific roadmap for areas such as presentation skills, collaborative problem-solving tasks and summarising information from different sources. This is highly relevant to the growing focus on content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in ELT. It’s something you could explore yourself by taking one mediation can do statement and thinking how to bring it to life in an authentic communicative task.

    For example, consider the B1 descriptor:

    ‘Can summarise (in Language B) a short narrative or article, a talk, discussion, interview or documentary (in Language A) and answer further questions about details.’

    Firstly, note that ‘language A’ and ‘language B’ can be different uses of English, and are not necessarily two different languages. This could for example be developed in a task to present the main points of an article or documentary on a subject chosen by the learner, researched on an English-language website, or indeed in L1.  The main point here is a focus on relaying information and ideas in a personalised way for your intended audience, not just verbatim reporting or translation, and this can create rich opportunities for exploring language use, especially at B and C levels.

    Popular misunderstanding: ‘mediation is a new theory that we have no means to teach’. Mediation can do statements are in fact very practical, and they relate to tasks that have a focus on meaning, be it helping people understand something, helping people communicate better, taking other viewpoints into account, and/or talking through ideas to find solutions. Mediation can happen at low levels too e.g. in a simple form of relaying information from a schedule or brochure. Mediation is not new – it’s a feature of all good communicative classrooms, and the person who regularly mediates the most is you the teacher!
  3. ‘Online interaction’ – a genuinely new area:  The 2018 update to the CEFR also adds scales for online interaction, which can be open-ended or goal-oriented. Online interaction activities assume an integration of skills / modes, and can involve phases of live (synchronous) and delayed (asynchronous) interaction by text or speech, with varying numbers of participants, embedded threads and use of links to media to illustrate points etc. This together means something quite unique to the 21st century that is described separately in the updated CEFR levels.

Implications for language teachers: As with mediation we now have a more detailed roadmap for what to work on at each level for online interaction. This can be translated into concrete targets for 21st century communication skills, and personalised with creative activities learners can relate to. For example, ‘Can engage in online transactions that require an extended exchange of information’ could be developed in a house swap scenario, using, email, a free messenger app or simulating with exchanged written messages. The same principle can apply of experimenting with one descriptor to start with, and thinking how it suggests personalised tasks and simulations.

This is just a brief taster of what is described in the updated CEFR, but remember it’s free to download and explore. Follow this link: https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference-languages/home

On this page you can find the 2018 update titled the CEFR Companion Volume with New Descriptors (or CEFR CV) because it brings together all the scales of can do statements, original and new, in one easily navigable collection. If you’re interested to learn more, a good place to start is the introductory chapter of the CEFR CV called ‘Key aspects of the CEFR for teaching and learning’, which is rather more accessible than the original book, and is only 20 or so pages long!

No! No! No! – The Three You Need to know…

This guest post is from Philip Pound, founder of EFL Magazine. Some salient advice for freelancers (both teaching and writing) trying to ‘sell’ their work or skills.

A sales trainer once told me, “no matter what you do in life you’re always selling” I may have forgotten most of the rest of that seminar, but that has stuck with me.

If you feel you need a little primer on how to sell, have a read of this article and be sure to do some more research.

  1. Take no for an answer

Many newbies starting out in their sales careers are terrified of rejection. They’re afraid of hearing no. We think when we hear “no” it’s a rejection of us as a person. This is not the case.

Hearing “no” is often our best friend.

Let me explain…

In my 10+ years in sales, if I have learned anything for my efforts, it was your clients say yes when they oftentimes mean no. You get your hopes up, you follow up, and eventually it’s a no.

Why did this happen? “They seemed so positive”, you say. And yes, many times business decisions are made by committee. And yes, it takes only one person to blackball your fantastic proposal.


More often though, It’s your prospect who can’t bear to say “no” You see, if being rejected feels like a hammer blow, having to reject is far worse.

So what happens?

When they mean no they say yes.

In his book, Never Split the Difference, former FBI negotiator Chris Voss Outlines 3 types of yes: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment.

A “Counterfeit Yes” is when your prospect wants to say no but says yes in order to back of the deal and the feeling of being cornered

A “Confirmation Yes” is when your prospect interchanges yes with “I see” or “ok” for example

A “Commitment Yes” is what you want. It’s your prospect agreeing to take your product or service.

Voss recommends looking for the words “that’s right” as a more accurate gauge of your client’s intention to work with you.

On top of this, Voss advises to actively look for and invite “no” Check out more here

In the end, if getting a no means not having to waste your time following up with prospects. That in itself is a great result.

2. Start with no

Do you hate salespeople?

In surveys over the years, salespeople come out bottom of the least-liked jobs. Why is this? You may have your opinion, but for me one big factor comes out on top.


It’s like this, you see a salesperson sidle up to you with that big smile and over-familiar patter. Sub-consciously you feel we’re going to “be sold”and there’s going to be some manipulation and guilt-tripping involved . Of course, not all salespeople are like this. But they do exist. And we hate how they make us feel.

Why do we feel like this and what can we do as salespeople to not scare away or prospects?

In his book, Start with No, Jim Camp talks about the power of no in negotiations and sales.

One of his tips is to be forthright about your intentions from the very outset. To be clear that you want to sell and what your price is. In this way, the prospect will not have the creepy feeling that there’s an agenda afoot. The air is clear and you can move on. He also talks about the power of no and how seeking and hearing it can help uncover your prospect’s pain points and help you to shape your solution to fit.

3. Always be prepared to say no

When you work in sales there’ll always be a few clients that you’ll stay in touch with even after moving on to another company. One such gentleman once handed me this nugget of advice. I’ve never forgotten it and it’s served me well.

Always be prepared to walk away

The story goes like this: He’d secured the exclusive distribution rights for a famous beverage in Ireland. Then with the contract in hand he went with a lot of optimism to one of that country’s largest retailers. This was a big contract, and undoubtedly one he wanted in the bag.

But he walked away.


Well, the buyer was unnecessarily rude, demeaning, and aggressive.

His response was “ Thank you, but I don’t need your business”

In your business, there’s never a contract that’s too big to lose your self respect and honour over. Think of the long run, the client treats you with contempt or arrogance how is the relationship going to develop? Not well, is it. Being too eager to close a deal also leaves you open to looking desperate. People can smell desperation from a mile away. It’s a sales repellant.

If you’re always ready to say no, you’ll have the upper hand.

Oh, and he landed the contract in the end