Are you overwhelmed with the time and effort it takes to plan your teaching lessons? If so, this article is for you. Teaching does not have to be as stressful as it may seem now, especially when teaching higher skilled, advanced children. In this piece, I will show you how to make your job as a teacher less difficult, and also more beneficial for the students.

When planning lessons – even in the seminal work about lesson planning in the Cambridge series entitled Planning Lessons and Courses, the author makes it clear that there is no one right way of lesson planning. I kid you not, they actually say this in a 200-something page book that I took the time out of my precious life to read. This was their ultimate conclusion. And they still, even to this day, make so much money from telling people these silly statements: “There’s no right way!” Thanks, jerk, I just paid $14 for you to tell me that! Thanks a lot! Anyway, to give you some of the major lessons from this wonderful little number…

Below I will discuss five concepts to keep in mind when creating your lesson plans. These concepts will be full of advice on how to make teaching less complicated and less time-consuming.

Work smarter, not harder

Some people will just scribble a list of words on a sheet and call that a “strategy”, while others will be more elaborate and create extensive bullet points that branch out into other bullet points ad infinitum. You can probably guess what my personal philosophy is with this lesson planning: take the path of least resistance. Lesson planning takes time and, in my experience, even with rehearsal, will never be perfect. Things will bomb for many reasons, some of which are entirely out of your control. For example, the students feeling crummy about a test they took could lead them to loathe your activity and then cause it to bomb. The truth is: you won’t always know why a lesson fails, so it’s in your best interest to just generate a list of activities with the lessons they are going over in their curriculum and review it with students regularly (particularly during those weeks when you just don’t want to be bothered).

Some might even argue that today what I am recommending is still too much work. And maybe they’re right. In the past, for example, I have hired Virtual Assistants to handle a lot of my workload, from finding worksheets to making them themselves. I will explore this idea of outsourcing a little bit later, describing the whys and the whats and the wherefores.

Plan according to their level

In my training program for teaching English, we learned the mantra of teaching form-meaning-use of any particular grammar structure. In South Korea, the students were already familiar with many words and grammar structures and were just at the point where all they really needed was to be gently reminded of how they were formed (not necessarily what they meant). Thus, I would structure many of my classes as review classes, even without having pre-taught any of the material. The students almost always knew how to form the grammar structures anyway! It wasn’t the grammar they needed much help with, just the speaking.

Activities with no preparation

There are many grammar-based games that you can give to students. Again, much of which is already supplied in the Cambridge series. Penny Ur has written extensively about grammar practice activities. Her book Grammar Activities I highly recommend that you check out because they have literally saved me hours of time (heady texts which, of course, you won’t have to read thanks to me).

Some grammar games literally require no prep, while others are more work than they are worth planning for (Battleship, anyone?). Point blank, any grammar activity that involves you explaining the form and the meaning of the words does not belong in this article, and I have excluded it purposefully because it’s just too much energy to put into this. It’s just off topic. I am only looking to provide you with no-prep activities, the touch-and-go kinds that liberate you from having to strain your face all the time from emoting so much while you hold that sock puppet in your hand and talk to it like it was your last girlfriend. Any activity, grammar or otherwise, where you have to explain anything is completely against what I am seeking to provide you with this article.

When searching for the particular grammar activities that I have in mind, I get the kind that allows the students to generate their own work while you sit back and observe quietly. Ask your colleagues about what grammar structures they should know already. Run some sentences by them and ask them if the students will understand.  If you get a confirmation that they do know the structures, then that is the green light for you to move forward and start considering the various activities that could be refresher courses for the students, the kind that provides all sorts of ping-pong practice that students just love because it confirms their expertise already.

Simplicity is key

Use only grammar that the students are already familiar with and structure your lessons as a “Review with the Native English teacher” class. The students and even the colleagues will appreciate this especially since it may be argued quite forcefully that your job isn’t to teach new material but rather to help the students reinforce exercise material that they should have already learned with the real teachers.

Once you’ve found a grammar structure to review, there are different types of activities you can give the students to keep them busy: fill-in-the-blanks, cloze activities, and word bank activities are probably your best bet of worksheets that you can give to your students to get them to practice the form and meaning and use without you. It will literally take you 15 minutes to write a paragraph with blanks on the board and then give it to the students.

You don’t even need to decorate worksheets because most students will doodle on the worksheets no matter what you do and the pictures you might wish to add don’t really add to the experience. It’s just extra work for you that you don’t need. Simply write a paragraph on the board and take out some words. Or even better: Copy a paragraph anywhere in the English-speaking world and put some blanks on that baby. You can use a word bank if you wish or you can make it even harder for the students by not giving them any hints aside from telling them that the material is a review. For younger groups, you can make word searches with the missing words in the grammar structure or crossword puzzles with the structure in them.

Easier for them equals easier on you

The more you provide material that is familiar to the students, be it a test that they recently had to take or some activity that they recently did with another teacher, the more relevant the students will feel the grammar exercise is. You could even use the book that the students are using and just make your own activities based on the book. And if creating worksheets takes up too much of your time, just farm the whole darn thing out to someone in the Philippines who will do it for five dollars an hour. Using these sorts of activities with grammar is usually the best way to get the tykes off your back while also pleasing administrators who give you free reign in your classes, let me tell you.

After lesson planning, a long week at the bar, more lesson planning, and then meetings with other teachers that go nowhere and that you can’t understand anyway because you don’t speak the native language, trust me when I say that you will be 100% spent in most areas of your life by the time you actually are in the classroom. So, do what you can. Lesson plan the smart way; give them a puzzle and let them figure it out.

The author
Todd Squitieri has taught in over five countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam, where he is writing a book about his experiences, called "How to Teach Without Going Insane". Follow him on his journey on his website.