Backward Planning in the Secondary ESL Class

Why should you first map out the specific skills your ESL students need to achieve instead of blindly following the textbook?


Essentially, backward planning is the act of defining the learning goals your ESL learners need to achieve by the end of a unit, a term, or the year. Most beginner ESL teachers I know, however, follow the units in the activity book without mapping out the specific skills that students need to master so that they can accomplish complex performance tasks. Yet, relying solely on a textbook does not always equal with doing everything by the book. Some workbooks might seem to follow the required standards or the progression of learning (in Québec), but it is not always the case, or students simply perform below the expected level, thus, not being able to fully engage with a unit/theme. That is why the standards or progression of learning should be the starting point when it comes to designing a learning situation focused on a unit in the workbook or an engaging topic your students are interested in.


Let us consider the stages of backward planning:


1) Identifying learning goals and what we want to measure or assess at the end of a unit


During this stage, we need to select essential content and the skills we want our students to master, for example, at the end of a unit. Once we defined the learning goals, we may proceed to organizing and selecting relevant activities that will guide and help our students achieve those goals.


2) Preparing texts, mini lessons, and activities


This phase is about selecting and preparing relevant texts, grammar concepts, and various activities that will assist students in developing the skills needed to complete the final task to showcase their learning. We should also consider planning differentiated activities, offering lots of feedback and using formative assessment to be able to adjust our lessons or to offer more support to students in need.


For instance, if I want my students to write an opinion text on school uniforms as a final complex task, I will select reading material and videos presenting both sides of the issue. To support students’ understanding of the selected texts, they will also complete various activities requiring them to explore the texts alone and with their peers. Since learners must demonstrate their ability to write a specific text type, I will also look at the features of an opinion piece. Therefore, I will provide them with mentor texts and will offer plenty of opportunities to practice writing captivating introductions, well-developed supporting paragraphs, and engaging conclusions. Since an opinion essay is generally written in the present tense, except for personal anecdotes, I will also need to review or teach the use of simple present, present perfect or even present continuous tenses. Of course, I will also give a grammar test - formal assessment - to verify if I need to teach any of these grammar concepts again.


3) Measuring/Assessing learning


This phase assesses students’ ability to autonomously reinvest what they have learned during the learning situation. The final complex task demonstrates learners’ mastery of the targeted content and skills so that we can evaluate to what extent they have attained the desired learning goals.


To help you with backward planning, you may download a free template from my free resources library. You will need to subscribe to download any of the freebies available.


Happy planning!


Kynga C.




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