Hi TESOL Members!
My name is Nikki Ashcraft, and I have been a member of the TESOL International Association since 1992! During my career, I have taught ESL/EFL and trained teachers in the U.S., Kuwait, the UAE, Mexico, and Chile. I am currently an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri, where I teach in the online M.Ed. TESOL program.
I also happen to be the author of Lesson Planning (TESOL Press, 2014), and I have a strong interest in helping teachers become more confident with the lesson planning process. My question for you is:
What are the biggest challenges you face when planning your lessons?
Hi Nikki -
You have an impressive resume. I am currently getting my M.Ed. TESOL for adult education online, so I can appreciate your role in administering an online course!
As yet I am not employed as a teacher, but do a lot of volunteering. I have a Somali student that I tutor for 2 hours a week in English and basic math. My challenge in lesson planning is narrowing down my options of what to cover. I want to try things I am learning in my graduate program, and activities that I learned in my literacy tutor training. I think I have a challenge in getting the big picture of where my student needs and wants to go with her English. Frankly I believe I try to cover too much too fast.
How could you as a professional teacher and teacher trainer help me with these?
Thanks! It's great to have a forum in which to get some professional help!
Volunteering is a great way to start your career in TESOL! Good for you for taking that initiative!
As for your question about identifying your learner's needs, as Sergio pointed out, conducting a form of needs analysis (big or small) is an important first step in determining what to teach. What are you basing your lessons on now? Does the program have a curriculum? Do they give the learners some sort of diagnostic or placement test? If so, I would see what you can learn from those results.
Also, I would try to interview the learner (perhaps in the L1 with the help of an interpreter) to find out what he/she is most interested to learn. Sometimes, learners find it difficult to articulate what exactly they want to learn, but you can get some ideas by asking about the different contexts where they might need to use English (e.g., at the grocery store, at their child's school). Once you know the context, you can analyze the types of tasks they might need to perform in that context and the kinds of language they might need to produce or understand to carry out those tasks. For instance, if your learner says they use English at the grocery store, you might determine that your learner needs to read signs in the store, understand price tags, read food labels, count money, and interact with the cashier to purchase the items. From there, you could identify the types of language forms (i.e., vocabulary and sentence structure) the learner needs to know and skills (reading, speaking) they need to have to complete those tasks. In other words, you go from contexts to tasks to specific language forms and skills.
Does this sound feasible for your tutoring situation?
Hi. I teach a non-credit beginner ESL at a small community college. My biggest struggles are with finding or creating assessments that I can align with my CCRS objectives. I can do it if they're all in one skill (e.g. writing), but what if I have a combination of skills? For example, last night my "I can" statements were these:
CCR L1.A.j - I can use prepositions like over, under, and next to.
CCR SL2.A - I can ask and answer questions about something I see or hear to get clarification.
CCR SL4 - I can tell and add details about something I know.
For the 1st & 3rd standards, I had them draw a picture of their workplace, write a paragraph describing location of things with there is and there are, then use the Seesaw app to take a photo of their drawing and record themselves reading their paragraph. Later, I can evaluate their posts. In the middle of these steps, I had them work in partners to coach each other on making writing corrections and practice presenting to their team while the listening teammates asked questions for more details, which was to target standard #2 - but I can't listen to all 10 people asking questions at the same time so I didn't have a really good assessment to meet this criteria that I could record in a gradebook (which I'm just starting to attempt to use jumpro.pe to track progress on standards this week).
It is important to define what lesson plans we are talking about. I have worked in general English, bilingual secondary schools, and ESP for medical professionals and content, methodology, and needs can be very different in each of these and other areas.
I think the greatest difficulty in lesson planning has two important aspects. Having a suitable needs analysis to know what gaps exist in students knowledge and skills and knowing how to assess the acquired skills and knowledge at the end of the program.
This should be a feedback cycle to plan the following semester or year´s program but many schools have fixed curricula that allow little change.
I congratulate you for pointing out this topic and hope there will be more feedback on everyone´s contribution(s).
I totally agree with you that every teaching context requires teachers to create different kinds of lesson plans depending on the goals of the course, the characteristics of the learner population, the available materials, preferred (or required) teaching strategies, and the constraints of time and space. However, I think the need for teachers to engage in a lesson planning process cuts across contexts. (I used the indefinite article "a" since I recognize that the process and the decisions-involved will not be the same for all teachers in all contexts.)
You mentioned "knowing how to assess the acquired skills and knowledge at the end of the program" as an important part of lesson planning. Do you support a backward design process?
I'm on this task for my Advanced Practitioner Certification for TESOL. I teach English Language students in our BRIDGE program at Longwood University. I start with a pretest. Each day, I make sure to cover tasks in reading, writing, speaking, listening. My classes are 1.15 hours each day. Five minute-warm-ups (generally from the TOEFL prep book, listening-usually a TED talk and I've developed a listening guide, reading an article with a guide, sometimes in groups, or individually. Writing, 10 minute timed writing with a prompt. Each week, I have a theme based on American culture and all of my assignments correspond with the theme. I also incorporate grammar. The structure helps me. I hope I could add value to this discussion.
Thanks for sharing the structure of your lessons, Deborah! You noted that you have a weekly theme based on American culture and that all of the assignments relate to that theme. Can you give us an example of a theme and the correlating assignments? I also wondered how the grammar fits in? How does it relate to the input the students receive (the listening and reading texts) and the output they are supposed to produce (the timed writings)? Is the grammar integrated with those, or does it stand on its own?
Could you share your listening guide with the group?
Hello , my name is Holyor , and I teach ESL in NY so I'd like to have some tips on , you know, how to help my students to improve their listening and speaking skills .
Thank you Holyor Elmurodov.
Hi Nikki (and everyone else),
I moved back to the K-12 setting last year, and holy cow are ELL teachers at this level busy! As the "main" full-time ELL teacher, in addition to doing all the administrative work (testing, meetings, tracking, etc.) of our ELL students I also have to wear many hats and teach a few content courses (for ELL students) in addition to strictly "ELL" or "ESOL" courses. So challenge number 1 in lesson planning is finding the time to sit through and properly plan out 6 different courses. Thankfully my last job in Japan had me prepping 8 courses at a university, so my time management is getting better, though there's always a class that just isn't as well thought out as I'd like from time to time. OK...bigger problem for me: making the lessons differentiated enough so that my guys who are almost ready to exit ELL are challenged while my newbies who can barely do anything can actually follow. I have many ideas that I am looking into to help me, but I'd love to hear from others who have classes like these.
I'd be very interested in what K-12 ESL programs use for tracking students' progress on standards. I'm trying to put together a plan for our adult ESL program here and came across Jumpro.pe that I'm trying out this month. I'm very curious how teachers connect assessments to standards - question by question, one quiz per standard, etc. I'd like to get ahead of things before my upper management starts asking for proof of student progress rather than just our pre- and post-assessments that are required for grants at this point.
Planning appropriate lessons for K-12 English Language Learners not only in "ESL" class where BICS are mastered, but also in CALP in Core Content classes is can be confusing and stressful for educators at all levels. Fortunately you are in a WIDA state. Many people think WIDA is "just a test," but it is so much more. If you go to the website (www.wida.us) you will find tons of tools and useful information. The first step in effective lesson planning is identifying the starting point of the students. In the WIDA framework, the language assessment scores are not just meaningless numbers but equate to a language proficiency score which then gives you a true starting point for Social Language, and one each for the Language of Language Arts, the Language of Math, the Language of Science and the Language of Social Studies. Knowing the starting point gives you the accurate place to begin lesson planning. WIDA then provides sample matrices of how to work with students at various levels with a standards based topic, including Core Content. You can find loads of additional information and sample lesson plans as well as resources. Your ESL/Bilingual office at your state Department of Ed should also be able to provide you additional information on using the WIDA framework. In my 40+ years in education, it is very hard to plan a lesson destination if you do not first identify the various starting points of the students. I have attached the WIDA Performance Definitions by level for your reference.
This is really a great topic to explore! I have my M.A. TESOL and have taught English for over 10 years in China, mostly in the university setting. What I found most challenging in lesson planning is how to accommodate learners of different levels. I have taught some classes that have had students from beginning to advanced level and it is hard to know how to design a lesson that will appeal to all of them. I know that we should "aim for the middle" but this doesn't usually help my students who are higher or lower than the average. Any suggestions on dealing with this?
And to address what Carmen wrote, I think that is also challenging too trying to narrow down materials options. There's just so much out there, it can be overwhelming! I know one thing that has helped me is having a textbook to start with- that helps to guide your planning. But if you don't have a textbook, it's also good to start with the student- not only what they need but what they are interested in. Are there certain topics that appeal to your student, like a particular hobby, sport, or interest? Finding out this information can help guide you when choosing materials. And also thinking about what your student needs English for- in the classroom, doing activities outside of class, for work? Recreating some of these common scenarios that your students faces on a daily basis can be a good way to build a lesson.
I also agree that it's great to have a forum like this to express ideas!
Kristin Reimer Rojas
I'll join the conversation from a K12 perspective. And even then, the lenses change depending on the teacher's role.
Currently my school offers 2 kinds of language programs that targets specific population types - recent immigrants and long term ELLs (LTELLs). Each program is very distinctive in its format. I work on the program with LTELLs.
As an ESL teacher, if I'm thinking of lesson planning for our language enrichment classes, the challenge is locating materials that properly support advancing students' language skills way beyond the social use of language. When material is found, the scaffold or differentiation steps to reach the lesson goal pose as another challenge.
As an ESL teacher, if I'm planning for co-taught content-based classes, unpacking standards, locating resources, identifying ability level (using WIDA Can-Do descriptors) and designing lessons that reach the same goal for all with various routes to get there are the challenge.
As an content-specialist teaching LTELLs, I see many struggle understanding what students need and how to get there to properly plan for those students.
Addressing everyone's learning level has been a big struggle in my ESL class. I think students drop-out so quickly because I'm not meeting the highest and lowest students' needs. Although I teach all "beginner" ELLs, there still is a wide range of abilities. I feel like I need 3 of me in class to do it. I need to work on pronunciation and letter sounds with my beginners and fluency with my higher level students, but I never seem to get around to doing it - maybe fear that I can't keep the others occupied long enough because I have to give them instructions on activities too. I've recruited volunteers before, but they haven't stuck around this semester.
I am a certified TESOL instructor at a 4 year private college in Massachusetts. This is not my primary role in the college, however, I work with many international students and have realized that they need support with their English skills so I developed a 1 credit course to provide this support. The main concern of most students is with their confidence and ability to speak English clear enough to be understood by their peers. I have students who are very advanced as well as intermediate level speakers. Like most of you have stated, it is very difficult to create lesson plans for students at different levels of speaking and understanding. I also find it challenging to create interesting lesson plans to carry me through an entire semester. Does anyone have thoughts on this?
Lesley LaMarche, M.A.
American International College, Springfield, MA
You noted that you "find it challenging to create interesting lesson plans to carry me through an entire semester." Do you mean in terms of discussion or writing topics? Of course, current events can always be a source of topics, but I think examining values questions like "Should parents discipline their children? If so, how?" or "Agree or Disagree: People should save their money for the future, even if it means depriving themselves of things they want in the present." These types of questions require students to defend their answers, give reasons and examples, and use persuasive language. They can lead to academic writing, but at the same time, they draw on students' own personal experiences so they don't seem as abstract.
RE: “I have taught some classes that have had students from beginning to advanced level and it is hard to know how to design a lesson that will appeal to all of them. Any suggestions on dealing with this?” Kristin Reimer Rojas
How is it going, Kristin!
After reading your posting on Lesson-Planning to students with divergence knowledge of English proficiency, I can’t help but respond to your calling.
Perhaps, the most difficult task we ESL teachers face in the classroom is finding that adequate balance for sufficient learning curriculum—without compromising our students’ different levels of academic strength.
I’m not certain which area in the four domains, [reading; writing; listening; speaking] you are experiencing difficulty with. But as far as lesson-planning goes, I would recommend—you seriously consider assessment. What assessment does, is provide you with some ideas how to create an appropriate learning curriculum for the entire semester. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find some of your students lagging behind with the lesson. There’s no way any of us could compile a perfect teaching plan—students will still have to learn to swim as much as they can to learn new materials.
In addition to teaching your lesson-plan, you may want to consider hand-outs—to supplement those difficult edges students find more challenging. I have had to disseminate hand-outs in my classroom from time-to-time—for my more mature students. There are plenty of available assessment books in the market now for purchase—as well as online. Of course, you can also create your own—if you prefer.
I hope this is helpful. --------------------MerriLee LeonardUniversity TeacherM.A.Ed., TESLUnited States-----------------------
This is an interesting discussion, that I would like to add to.
I'm currently working on a Master's in Education, and in one of my courses (Integrated Planning, Instruction & Assessment) we have been discussing different curricular designs: student-centred, society-culture based, and subject-matter. The curricular design used mostly in ELL is a combination of the first two because they focus on student-student interactions, but in an exam-course like TOEFL, the curriculum may be based on the content of a text and not have much student input.
In a future teaching situation, I would like to try to implement a more student-centred curriculum with input from learners as to what they would like to study, either content or theme. Of course a needs analysis will tell me what difficulties they are having, but I am unsure whether this will increase or decrease the amount of time I spend on planning. I have a few questions that I hope you might be able to answer.
1) How much input or say do learners have in the curriculum that you teach?
2) To what extent does learner input impact lesson planning? Does it make it easier? Are learners more motivated? Does having a flexible, student-centred curriculum impact the amount of time spent planning lessons?
3) How does this flexibility in curriculum impact assessment? Do learners have input into the design of assessment? What types of assessment do you use? e.g. observations, interviews, journals, projects, portfolios, etc.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this topic.
Sincerely, this discussion is timely. I have a situation on hand- I am working towards developing a curriculum in English language for predegree students in my university. The objective is to help them withstand the rigour of university education if they are eventually admitted into mainstream university course of study. My question is: how do I go about developing a curriculum that will best help these students develop the language proficiency needed for academic study at university level bearing in mind that they speak English as a second language?
I will applreci any suggestions in this regard.
Charles (Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Nigeria)
Hello,I teach English as a second language in secondary school in Cote <g class="gr_ gr_7 gr-alert gr_spell gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="7" data-gr-id="7">D'IVOIRE</g>. My primary concern in designing a lesson is timing. I have difficulties in finishing my activities in time. Can someone suggest me a technique for that ?
Hi Nikki and all,
This is a hot topic at our international school in Chennai, South India. We have an EAL Co-Teaching model with every two classrooms sharing an EAL co-teacher. The question is how the English language specialist and content teachers can efficiently co-plan together so that both language development and access to content can be planned and delivered efficiently within the mainstream classroom. Some of our classrooms are up to 90% language learners (average is 75%) at various levels of proficiency.
Thanks for your input!
Do the teachers at your school have the practice of setting both content objectives and language objectives for each of the lessons? That is an important first step.
I teach English on-line to elementary age students, and I have the same problem. I meet with each class 3 times a week. What I did was to begin planning by the week. I have a skills checklist that I fill out as I go through each class. I find that 5 different classes take the same topics in 5 different directions. By going through the checklist, I can be certain that each class has met all of the objectives by the end of the week.
I do have the flexibility of not being tied to a school curriculum and standards, but I hope this principle might be helpful to you.
Do you estimate the time for each activity during your lesson planning process? One way to estimate the time is to complete the activity yourself and to see how long it takes you. Then, you can add additional time depending on the proficiency level of your students. For instance, "It took me 5 minutes to answer the exercise, so it would probably take students 10 minutes".
If you do estimate the time, and you find that students are taking longer than you thought, it would be important to analyze why that is. For instance, were the instructions not clear? Was the activity too difficult given the students' proficiency level? Were there personality conflicts in the group activities which impeded completion of the task? Was part of the activity time used up handing out materials and getting students into groups? Once you identify what is causing the extension of your activities, you can take steps to address those specific issues..
That said, sometimes students are just so engaged in activities that we might make the decision to allow them to keep working! In that case, we have to consider our lesson objectives and what else we hope to accomplish that day.
Hi, Nikki Ashcraft
Ref: “I also happen to be the author of Lesson Planning (TESOL Press, 2014), and I have a strong interest in helping teachers become more confident with the lesson planning process.” “My question for you is: What are the biggest challenges you face when planning your lessons?” Nikki Ashcraft, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Missouri.
I’m anxious to hear from Nikki Ashcraft of University of Missouri to plug-in [hyphen mine] a response for Steve Bryden and Younoussa bangoura on the lesson-planning questions—based on the above invitation.
I myself could use some enlightenment on this inescapable topic—curriculum mapping. ----------------------MerriLee LeonardUniversity TeacherM.A.Ed., TESLUnited States-----------------------
I think the biggest challenge to lesson planning for me is to discover a method of creating a sufficiently detailed lesson plan which will guide me through the day's lesson, but which will not take too long to prepare.
To that end, I am developing a lesson plan template on Excel on which I can write a detailed plan and convert it to a formatted Word document. The Excel spreadsheet becomes a fairly permanent storehouse for the course's plans, and the next time I teach the course I can start with a semester's worth of plans and can adapt them based on my experience with the previous semester's course, but I don't have to rewrite a whole 4 months of lesson plans.
My next goal will be to include the course's Student Learning Outcomes in the Excel document, so each component of the day's lesson will be matched with one of the course's outcomes.
------------------------------David RossAssociate Chair, ESL/Intensive EnglishHouston Community CollegeHouston, TXdavid.email@example.com
------------------------------Nikki AshcraftAssistant Teaching ProfessorUniversity of Missouri------------------------------
That sounds like a great strategy, David! Storage space is minimal and it would be easy to search your plans for relevant info in the future.
I always encourage my teachers-in-training to keep their lesson plans because they never know when they might want to refer to them again. I have 20 years of lesson plans, mostly in notebooks (and yes, that takes up a lot of closet space!). Even if I don't teach the same course again, I might be teaching a course (in another time and place) that has some of the same objectives. Although I most likely would not be able to implement the same plans to the letter, reviewing the old lesson plans can provide some inspiration and remind me of successful activities I might have used long ago (and have since forgotten about).
Does your program have any sort of system for teachers to share lesson plans with each other?
------------------------------David RossAssociate Chair, ESL/Intensive EnglishHouston Community CollegeHouston, TXdavid.firstname.lastname@example.orgOriginal Message:Sent: 04-11-2016 19:06From: Nikki AshcraftSubject: Challenges with Lesson Planning
Currently we do not have such a system. Our program does use common syllabus templates which all teachers are asked to use. A data back of lesson plans does sound like a good idea.