Pre-service teachers hear a lot of terms for describing lesson planning. They might be told to divide lesson plans by pre-learning, learning, and post-learning, for instance. For new teachers, though, those terms are pretty vague. Student teachers may be able to think of fun activities or ways to use multi-media, but may not have a clear idea of why they would do certain activities.
I’ve heard the pre-learning stage described in a number of ways, for instance, as a warm-up, as a way to “get students’ attention,” as a way to “relate the lesson to their own experience,” as an introduction to the theme, a way to activate schema, a way to help students feel comfortable. All of these ideas may be valid but they also take time and may or may not actually contribute to the learning stage. Pre-service teachers also tend to devote a good deal of time to them because they are engaging and fun.
In an educational system where class time is very short (35 minutes/class in Gujarat), I think it’s important that the entire teaching time be devoted to learning, including the pre-learning time.
There’s similar confusion about the learning and the post-learning as well. “Learning” is often lecture or workbook type activities, often something prescribed by a syllabus or exam, none of which necessarily shows any learning taking place. Post-learning is often labeled as a conclusion or even the homework assignment at the end.
As teachers gain experience, they will develop their own styles of lesson planning. While they are learning, pre-service teachers may find it helpful to lesson plan BACKWARDS!
1) Begin at the end: Objective as post-learning stage.
By “backwards,” I mean, decide first what you are trying to teach. This idea seems obvious and some will know something about learning objectives, but let’s get away from the abstract terms and be very specific and concrete, because many pre-service teachers are confused by “objectives.” When asked what their objective is, they might say things like, “the students will know about farms.” Or “My objective is to explain to them about pollution.” Even the least experienced teacher will realize, though, that she can never really know what her students know inside their brains! And everyone knows that explaining something doesn’t mean anyone learned it.
To determine your objective for the entire lesson, decide exactly what your students will be able to DO at the end of your lesson that they couldn’t do before it.
Let’s say you are teaching a lesson on describing or adjectives or writing a paragraph about animals. In all these types of lessons, the real goal may be to have students learn some new vocabulary that they can then use to describe animals and other things. So, let’s pick something very specific as a goal: let’s say, at the end of your lesson, students will be able to write three sentences using at least 10 new adjectives. That’s specific enough. And ta-dah, you now know what your post-learning stage will be.
The post-learning stage is where students actually do something that shows what they learned in the learning stage. Simple enough?
2) Pre-learning: Input they will need to accomplish the objective.
Now that we’ve got the end of the lesson, let’s go back to the pre-learning. Pre-learning is where you provide the information they will need to do the post-learning. In language teaching, that’s often some sort of input, such as listening to a poem or reading a text, or, as in this case, perhaps just some new words written on the board.
Pre-learning is where we combine getting students engaged with giving them input that will help them reach the learning objective.
For our imaginary animal lesson, let’s start the class immediately by showing some pictures of animals. Let’s speak to the children in English and get them to say what few words they know to describe the animals. They might, for instance, know the word “big” or “small.” They might know colors or names of a few animals. The key here is to set up a quick, fun conversation where you begin to elicit vocabulary from the children, first a little of what they already know in English, then bridging to what they don’t. As soon as a child says, for instance, “furry,” in the mother tongue, you act terribly excited and say what a great word that is while rushing to the chalkboard to write FURRY in English. You will quickly have the children spouting lovely words they want to use to describe all the animals, you provide them in English written on their board for all to see. These are the words that the children will learn.
The key to this type of pre-learning is that you begin to get the children thinking about the topic and quickly bridge to providing input, usually vocabulary or a grammatical structure. Now our imaginary class has a number of words on the board, many that they’ve supplied, some you’ve added. The input is there for them to draw from for the learning stage.
3) Learning: Where they use the language to make meaning.
Now we must talk seriously for a moment about language learning, because the learning stage should include some learning, right? If we subscribe to the view that language learning or acquisition occurs best when students use the language to create meaning, we have a wonderful blueprint for the main part of our class. Pay special attention to that phrase “the main part of our class.” Learning involves making meaning, thinking with the language, and that is the MAIN PART of our class. The pre-learning is often the most active for the teacher and the post-learning activity should consolidate learning, often producing some product for evaluation, but you must provide time and encouragement for the students to think and do on their own between you giving them some input and expecting them to produce output. It is the best way for them to learn; indeed, it may be the only way.
So the learning stage should be some open-ended activity or task that allows time and stimulates the students to use the language meaningfully. For our imaginary activity, for instance, you might give each small group of students a SECRET animal picture. “Don’t tell anyone what animal you have.” Then we set up something of a little game, where each group must describe their animal with as many accurate adjectives as possible so that other students can guess the animal.
Students will be comparing their pictures with the words on the board. They may discuss with each other how to describe their animal, etc. There is no “right” way to describe the animal. There is no uniform answer that will work for all the groups . This is the kind of open-ended, scalable activity that skilled teachers can milk for as long as the students are engaged with it.
You might repeat it, taking the pictures and quickly redistributing them so groups can describe new animals. You might require each group to say only three adjectives, so that they must pick the most descriptive ones. You might turn it into a guessing game so one group of students practice questioning another group with use of the adjectives, “Is it furry? Is it tiny?” And, of course, tomorrow, when you want to teach words on clothes or vehicles, you can do the same activity with new pictures and the students will enjoy it just as much. Later, or for more advanced classes, you can pair it with dictionary activities so students find new words themselves.
And back to the beginning, or the end, or… Finishing Strong: Showing what they can DO! as the post-learning stage.
Finally, as excitement and time wind down, you do the quick post-learning activity that shows what your students can now do. Perhaps you have them choose their favorite animal and write three sentences, or label a picture of their favorite animal with only the adjectives, or perform some matching sheet you’ve designed. Anything that shows they’ve learned the words that you’ve just allowed them time to use is a good finish for your lesson.