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How to Cut Down on Your Planning Time

Do you feel overwhelmed every time you need to plan and prepare lessons for all your student groups? Even though it’s a crucial element of teaching, lesson planning can be exhausting, especially when you need to differentiate and adapt activities to your learners’ needs. As a beginner teacher, I would plan out my units for the entire semester and would get frustrated if I had to change something due to unforeseen circumstances. Over the years, though, I’ve learned some of the ins and outs of effective planning from mentors and colleagues, and I’ve also developed my own strategies to render my lesson plans flexible and nonetheless shorter. In this blog post, I’ve decided to share some of these ideas that you could use this year.

1. Get to know your students.

As much as it would be ideal that all learners meet the expected language requirements or standards in your groups, you will most likely find mixed-ability students in your ESL classes. Some will be bilingual, some will manage, and some will have almost no idea what you’re saying in English. That is why you shouldn’t spend your summer planning too far ahead. You need to know your students’ proficiency level first and prepare lessons accordingly. If you have a replacement contract, for instance, you might be obliged to use a workbook that the teacher you’re replacing has ordered.

2. Create short-term plans as much as possible.

Some admins may ask for detailed yearlong plans, but if you’re fortunate to have the flexibility to choose course content without needing to provide a lengthy plan for the entire year, you could just outline the main objectives, the topics, and grammar points you wish to cover. In some schools, yearlong plans need to be submitted by departments or grade levels, thus teachers could share the workload, but if you’re all alone, I recommend you planning out your units for two, three or maximum four weeks at a time. Therefore, you can easily adjust your lessons and evaluations depending on students’ progress and understanding of the subject-matter.

3. Use post-its and short notes instead of lengthy lesson plans.

If your school doesn’t ask you to provide detailed daily lesson plans, keep your lesson notes short. Outline the topic, objectives, time management, procedures, and practice activities in your teacher planner, and/or use post-its and place them in your workbook as guiding notes while teaching.

4. Plan 20-30 minutes a day or choose a specific day to plan.

I’m sure you know the feeling that everything must be perfect and well organized to make sure your lesson goes smoothly; however, having a rigid plan leaves you with no room for flexibility. Certainly, you’ve heard that you must have a plan A, B, and even C in case something goes wrong, but preparing so many options for a lesson only drains your energy. Set aside 20-30 minutes a day or choose a specific day when you plan your lessons for a few days, a whole week, or a month if you wish. In addition, prepare some extra activities students could complete in case your class ends early or you’re facing technical issues. Bell-ringer activities, discussion task cards, and writing journal prompts organized by skills or competencies are great to use in case your lesson doesn't go as planned. Keep printed copies in a box or have a digital version ready and assign them as needed.

5. Don’t bring work home.

I know it’s easier said than done. For years, I used to bring student papers home to grade, and this habit always made me sick and tired of correcting and marking half-way through the school year. So, I've made some changes. I've got into the habit of leaving all my schoolwork at work and getting things done during my workday. If I feel remorse for not marking at home? Often. But I can tell that I'm a lot happier and a more relaxed teacher than ever before.

6. Reuse your teaching materials.

If you have some of your own teaching materials under your belt, reuse them instead of creating new ones for the next year. You might need to adjust, improve, or change certain things, but at least you don’t need to spend a lot of time on designing entirely new projects or activities. Plus, you get the chance to be more familiar with the content and deliver your lessons like a pro.

7. Plan and collaborate with colleagues.

Teamwork is always appreciated by admins, so why not take advantage of it? If there are teachers who are teaching the same grade level as you, you could plan or create new teaching materials together. Don’t be shy to ask for resources from your department colleagues as they may have plenty of activities they would be willing to share. In addition, join teacher groups on Facebook where people freely share lessons and activities created by them. Finally, you can find plenty of teaching materials online. For instance, the Teachers Pay Teachers website has both free and paid resources that might come in handy if you’re looking for ready-made activities. also has a vast selection of reading materials you can assign online or print out for your students.

For more planning tips, read my Backward Planning in the Secondary ESL Class blog post here.

Happy teaching!

Kynga C.

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