Published 19th April 2017

In short, yes – even though it might seem counterintuitive. After all, you spent so much time and energy on lesson planning on your TEFL course and learning how to carefully construct a thorough and detailed lesson plan, why would you want to chuck it all out the window?

Well, sometimes all your good intentions for an amazing lesson should be derailed because there may be an opportunity for an even better lesson.

We know this can be hard to get your head around, but lesson planning is not the be-all and end-all of your EFL lessons. What is more important is trying to make your classroom as learner-centred as possible and trying to let go of control of the lessons in order to create a more personalised, effective learning environment for your students.

But what exactly do we mean?

As a teacher, even though you should always be well-prepared, you also need to be open to learning opportunities when they present themselves. These may not always be what you were planning to do for the lesson but it is probably something which the students are open to and ready to learn. This is why it (whatever it is) will come up organically.

Basically, you can walk into a classroom with a very nice lesson plan on linking words – because this is the next unit in your coursebook and your students need them to improve their essay writing for university – and a student makes a comment about a movie he saw the previous night, except he is not able to communicate what he wants to say as clearly as he could. The other students don’t notice his poor vocabulary choice and all seem very interested in what he is saying and start asking him questions.

Now, should you cut the conversation short (politely) so you can move onto the lesson you have prepared?

You could, and most of the time we probably would. But you could also realise that this is clearly something your students are interested in, and run with it.

  • Interest
  • Motivation
  • Usefulness

Which is why it’ll be a good idea to scrap your lesson (and save it for another day) and instead craft a lesson based on talking about films. The student has already done the lead-in for you so there’s no need to introduce the lesson. All you have to do is think of a way to present the language that is lacking (using elicitation), come up with a practise exercise and an activity they can do to produce the language themselves and voila!

You should find that the students don’t even notice that they have hijacked the lesson because they are so busy talking. Plus they will appreciate the fact that they are learning language that they can find immediately useful in their everyday language.

Of course, it’s not always this easy and if you don’t feel comfortable straying from your lesson plan then don’t. Or maybe just for a little while, not an entire lesson. With experience you will find that you have a bunch of these dogme-style lessons up your sleeve for just such occasions so you’ll have no problem going with the flow.