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Monday, 4 January 2010

When Is A Lesson Aim Not A Lesson Aim?

A lesson without an aim is like a boat without a rudder or a traveller without a map: there's very little chance you'll get to your destination because you don't even know what it is!

When you start teaching it is particularly important to know where you are trying to get to (or get your students to) by the end of the lesson.

How can you do this? Well, there are different ways. One of the best is to imagine what you would like them to be doing at the end of the lesson, such as confidently ordering a meal in a restaurant. This could otherwise be called The Aim of the lesson.

Once you have decided what you would like them to be able to do at the end of your lesson, you then need to work out all the steps necessary to get them to the point of being able to do just that with the minimum of teacher intervention. Why with a minimum of teacher intervention? Because out there in the real world you won't be there to hold their hands and their confidence will be much higher if they have already 'done it' in the classroom without you.

 So now let's try a little practical exercise. I'm going to give you some sample 'lesson aims', below. Tell us which you think are good lesson aims in terms of how well they will keep you focused on planning a lesson which will take your students 'directly to the goal' of performing the given task successfully, and why.

Consider a lesson aim a good one if it's...
   - clear and easy to understand
   - not too detailed
   - not too vague
   - doable for the students
   - teachable for the teacher
   - useful, fun and ultimately satisfying for all concerned

Sample lesson aims: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

1) We'll do holidays

2) Students are able to ask for and give direction in the street, using take the first right, go around the roundabout, go straight on, turn sharp left, and the other key vocabulary given in the lesson plan. They will also be able to ask relevant questions using functional language such as Excuse me, can you tell me where the ... is? / I'm afraid I'm lost..., etc. They will also know the names of relevant buildings and shops (such as bank, station, car park, baker, church, hotel, restaurant, and so on).

3) Students are able to write a postcard, using the present perfect tense (I have... but I haven't ... yet) and referring to London sights such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square.

4) Students can present themselves simply in an informal situation, giving their name, their nationality and their home town, and asking the same questions such as What is you name?.

5) Talking about the weather.

6) Past simple lesson.

7) Students can use the same modal verbs (should, must, might, etc.) for both giving advice, e.g. He should go home, and for talking about probability, e.g. He should have arrived by now.

Do feel free to comment on others' comments, and why not try to get a 'best' and 'worst' lesson aim out of the above list?

I look forward to reading your ideas...
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre


Sab Will said...

Yep, it's me again, Sab, just saying that this is where you leave your comments and thoughts on this very important aspect of lesson planning. And why not offer a future lesson aim of your own and see what others think?!

Brianna said...

Ok, well I guess I get to leave the first official comment. I'll start with the obvious; number 2 is extremely long for what is meant to be a brief description of your AIM. In contrast, number six is rather vague. The lesson may discuss the past simple, but that does not really describe the AIM of the class. Number 3, 4, and 7 seem more appropriate as they give a brief description of the goal and the method to achieve the goal. In other words, they are brief but still cover the essentials included in the lesson.

alban said...

Hi everyone,

I think that for beginners, a good starting lesson would be to present themselves simply. We can focus on the basis of the language, using simple vocabulary, the basic verbs and Simple Present tens.We can make them easily understand the meaning by the gesture and make them repeat, then let then practice by pair.The aim is to let them introduce themselves whoever they meet.

Same exercise would apply to beginners to medium students with the lesson on giving directions.
Wherever they are, they can try to give or to find their way.

Simple Past lesson is also interesting to start to see regular and or irregular verbs.
We can know more about the students knowing what they enjoyed, saw,went did or didn't do the day, week before.
We can make a link between simple present and Simple past.

Then the Postcard lesson allows to make a connection between the 2 previous lessons and talk about a period of time that continues from the past until now.
The students are so able to discuss things that they enjoy like sport, travel, aso...

alban said...

Forgot to say,
If the question is about how to keep US focused on planning a lesson, then i think that the Q 2 and 6 are not either to long or to vague as each teacher has a different way of seeing or solving a problem.

But if we take it strictly as following the general 6 important points to consider a lesson aim a good one, then I agree with Brianna.

Larry said...

I am inclined to agree that #2 is not really too long, although it is perhaps a bit too detailed, since one could put some of the information in other categories (vocabulary to be used.) The person is giving us too much information for a lesson AIM and is going into how the lesson will be presented.

#3 sounds good to me... it could be fun. An analagous exercise could present modal verbs (thank you, No. 7) by asking the students to tell an American friend about the "must see" sights of Paris (or London, for that matter.)

I would agree in general with Brianna's analysis, though.

Joseph said...

I like #2 myself. The description is a bit long winded, but it has a very practical use and is important. It would, however, need to be a lesson aimed more toward the intermediate to advanced student of English. It would give the them the vocabulary to confidently traverse a strange, English speaking city with little hardship on themselves.

From a beginners point of view, #4 would be a decent starting point followed immediately with a combination of #'s 6 and 3.

Hermann said...

I'll have to pick #3 as the best lesson aim. It is simple but precise. It does also give hints of how to get to the aim which is quite interesting from the teacher's point of view. I agree with Larry that it could be used with #7.
#1 would be the worst lesson aim as it is far too vague! And well, I like #2 even though it is a bit too long and way too detailed. Still, I think it is a nice topic for students to practice and enteract on their own.

Paris Set Me Free said...

I agree with Brianna who said that aims 3,4 and 7 are good because they give a brief description of the goal and how to get there.

Alban's comments about each teacher having ' a different way of seeing or solving a problem' is extremely valid.

I think Larry's right about saying that Aim 2 is going into too much lesson planning detail to be useful as a motivational aim. And your second point, Larry, that Aim 3, the post card writing activity, could be fun is spot-on.

Sab Will said...

What we're doing here, don't forget, is analysing the way the aim of the lesson has been worded, not the actual topic of the lesson itself!

We're discussing whether the stated aim for the lesson will help the teacher plan a focused and effective lesson.

The analysis of what makes a good lesson topic will come later!

Nicko the Sailor said...

Me thoughts Captain:-

Aim #1 – Pretty much the vaguest of the bunch, with only the basic topic of ‘holidays’ defined without specifying what particular aspects of ‘holidays’ will be addressed e.g. choosing a holiday, negotiating an airport, the choice of cocktails on the beach bar menu etc. In general the subject is too large to cover in one lesson and therefore one should focus on a well-defined subset and perhaps cover the topic over multiple sessions. Additionally, the aim provides no information about what the student will be able to perform after the lesson. This makes it more difficult to know if the lesson will actually be useful and if by the end the teacher & student have met their goals.

Aim #2 – A well-intentioned aim but clarity and precision are lost due to superfluous inclusion of example vocabulary. An aim should be short and concise, something memorable and driving. Removal of the example vocabulary would perhaps be all that was needed to improve it. Example vocabulary could be detailed in the remainder of the lesson plan.

Aim #3 – Almost my favourite. Like #2, I don’t think the example vocabulary and tenses are required. Can’t think of much more to add to this.

Aim #4 – My favourite. Nothing more to add to this.

Aim #5 – Like #1, however because the subject of weather is somewhat smaller than that of holidays, the aim appears less vague in comparison, so is perhaps more suitable.

Aim #6 – Sets out an aim but again doesn’t detail what the student will be able to perform at the end of the lesson. The goal is generalised (applicable to multiple lessons) and not specific to a single lesson.

Aim #7 – Not bad and with a clearly stated aim. The examples in this case are possibly useful to remind the teacher how modal verbs can be employed, since this is one of the harder aspects of English to understand.

Andrew said...

I would say that number 6 is probably the worst lesson aim. It appears to focus on only 1 language system at the exclusion of the others and makes no mention of which skills are likely to be used or developed. Also a lesson which focuses solely on one grammatical point is unlikely to be much fun for the students involved. An idea of what content is involved in the lesson and the contexts in which the students will be using the past simple would be useful. While lessons 1 and 5 would be useful in terms of developing the student's functional language skills, again they give very little detail on how this would be achieved or where the teacher would like the class to be by the end of the lesson.

I also agree with Larry that lesson 3 sounds as though it could be a lot of fun for the students if the teacher handles it correctly. Lesson 4 looks as though it would be excellent for a basic beginners class as these often tend to be the first sentences we learn in a new language and it seems to have clearly defined aims. For intermediate level students I would say lesson 2 could be extremely useful as it offers a lot of functional language and could also easily be adapted to bring in different tenses by, for example, asking the class how they got to somewhere they have already been. For more advanced students I think lesson 7 would be very useful as it explains a rather nuanced grammatical point which has the possibility to cause confusion to non-native speakers of English. It also seems flexible enough to allow plenty of room for improvisation when students are producing the language and for the teacher to bring in new vocabulary if required.

Morna said...

I think lesson aims 1 and 6 are too vague. They give an indication of the general topic of the lesson, but not exactly what the teacher hopes the students to know by the end of it. For instance, number 1 doesn't indicate what aspect of holidays is going to be explored - it could be the weather, hotels, countries visited, ordering in a restaurant etc. Thus, it isn't clear what the students should be able to do by the end of the lesson.

For me, numbers 3, 4 ad 7 are the best lesson aims. Number 3 details what tense will be taught as well as the vocabulary which will be used in the lesson. The aim is clear - by the end of the lesson the students should understand the grammar and vocabulary and be able to write a postcard independently of the teacher.

Paris Set Me Free said...

These are excellent points Andrew, Morna and Nicko (didn't know you were a sailor..!).
Careful not to get confused between whether the aim is clearly stated and whether the lesson looks like it'll be any good! Number 7, for example, seems to be quite clearly written, but whether combining different uses of phrasal verbs is a good idea all depends on the level of the students and the teacher's assessment as to their ability to take on those different uses.
As you say, Nicko, modals are quite a tricky sea to sail in for many of our learners...


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