Published 25th February 2021

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Lesson plan ✔

Materials ✔

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Ready to step into the classroom to teach English as a Foreign Language?

Maybe you are, but sometimes nothing can prepare you for your TEFL lesson. Sometimes not even the best, most appropriate, most well-thought-out lesson plan can save you from a flop of a lesson. And at some point in our TEFL careers, we have all experienced that stomach-dropping moment when you realise your lesson is just about to bomb. And there’s no worse feeling, is there?

How can we prevent these catastrophic lessons? How can we safeguard our TEFL lessons against failure? How can we preserve our sterling reputations as TEFL teachers of the month?

The key is to know and understand why sometimes your lessons do fail. If you can get to the bottom of that then you will be able to make sure to prevent that same car crash from happening. Again.

So let’s look at five reasons your TEFL lessons don’t work out the way you planned.

1. Your lesson plan is flawed

There are a number of ways your lesson plan may not be as good as it needs to be. In order for your lesson to be effective:

  • your materials need to be appropriate and relevant
  • your lesson must have a logical flow
  • your activities must be engaging
  • your language aims must be at the right level

If any one of those is not 100%, then your lesson is going to fall down in some way. But of course, you cannot ensure that your lesson plan is perfect every single time.

Read more: Top Tips for Effective Lesson Planning

What you need to do: Have a Plan B.

Your Plan B needs to include extra activities in case you finish your lesson quicker than you thought and you have a few extra minutes to spare. You will need some alternative activity ideas in case the activities you’ve planned don’t work well with your students. It should also have extra practice materials in case you find that the language work is too challenging for some learners or too easy for other learners.

2. You don’t know your students

Knowing your students is the foundation of all your lessons. You cannot plan an appropriate lesson without really knowing and understanding your learners. You cannot choose topics or activities that will interest them if you don’t know what they are interested in. You cannot plan relevant activities if you don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. You cannot build rapport with your learners if you don’t show any interest in them as individuals.

What you need to do: Teach your students, not the book.

When you first meet your students you will do a needs analysis. This will help you gauge their level and get an idea of their learning styles. However, you really need to be open to getting to know your students on a regular basis in order to get to know their personalities. Don’t underestimate the power of casual conversations, and really pay attention to what they are saying.

3. Your students are not the same level

A frightening scenario, but more common than you think. Even though we may have students who are all, say, Intermediate level English in the same class, by no means does this mean these students are all at the same level. There are many different levels within a level, so to speak, and if you’re only prepared to teach some of the students, then your lesson is doomed to failure.

What you need to do: Take this as the norm.

Expect this scenario for every lesson. Always assume some learners are going to be stronger and others are going to be weaker. Assume that some learners will grasp a concept immediately, while others will take more time and need more help. Make sure you have considered this and have at hand activities that will act as a challenge or a reinforcement.

Read more: 5 Effective Strategies for Teaching Mixed Ability EFL Classes

TEFL lesson

4. Your classroom is chaos

No matter how fabulous the lesson plan, if your students aren’t paying attention, your lesson is going nowhere fast. Discipline is important in every classroom, but it can be tricky to control sometimes. This is especially a problem if you are a new, inexperienced or shy teacher. There may be times when you teach students who are even older than you which you might find intimidating. Age is not important. You are the person in the classroom who is responsible for managing the classroom dynamics and ensuring all the learners are attentive and focused.

What you need to do: Take control.

Whether your students are in kindergarten or university, never forget that you are the teacher. If students are giving you trouble, you are the one who needs to solve the problem. Make sure the rules of the classroom are clear, but also, don’t be a disciplinarian. Forge a relationship with your students so that they want to listen to you and engage with your lesson of their own accord, not because their parents told them to.

5. Your students are falling asleep

If there is one thing you are not allowed to be in the EFL classroom, it’s boring. Boring lessons will result in disinterested and unmotivated students, who could very easily turn into disruptive students. Plus, if your students are bored it’s going to be very difficult for them to learn anything.

What you need to do: Don’t be boring.

It’s quite simple really. If you would find the lesson boring, chances are your students would find the lesson boring. So plan lessons that you are going to enjoy teaching and your enthusiasm will rub off on even the most reluctant students.

Read more: 5 Tips for Making Language Learning Meaningful

One thing you must remember, no matter why or how your lesson is turning into a dumpster fire, if you see that it is, drop it and run! Do not keep teaching a lesson that is imploding before your eyes. We’re not saying actually run away, but don’t give a second thought to tossing your lesson plan out the window and moving into rescue mode. In other words, do whatever you can to salvage the rest of the lesson. The earlier you recognise the signs, the easier it is to save, and one day you might find you’re having to save fewer and fewer lessons.

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