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The ABC of ELT

Why You Should Try Bulk Planning Lessons

bulk lesson planning home desk

While I was out in Spain, I started doing planning my lessons in a new way which lead to me planning (in my opinion) better lessons, faster and which fit a syllabus better. That was by bulk lesson planning.

Bulk lesson planning is where you don’t just plan one lesson in isolation, instead you plan a group of lessons together. This could be planning several classes for the same class in a row or planning a day or two’s worth of classes in a row. In my case, I aim to plan the whole of the upcoming week’s classes (including several groups who have a couple of classes) on Friday afternoon. This isn’t always possible and doesn’t always happen but it’s what I aim for.

The benefits of bulk lesson planning

As I stated at the beginning, I have noticed some real benefits from this approach.

  • quicker planning
  • lessons which flow together better
  • A greater awareness of the syllabus
  • less pressure and stress during the week

Furthermore, I sometimes come up with an activity for one lesson, then realise that it would be better in the subsequent lesson so I can move it to that topic.

I don’t always follow the plan

Of course, during the lesson, it may become apparent that what I had planned won’t work. Sometimes I realise we need to move more slowly, and so I might have to plan a new lesson to repeat the material. Or it might be better to move quicker, in which case I may steal material that I had planned for the subsequent lesson. In fact, I’d say that most of the time I change my plans for the second lesson I have for a group. However, I still find that having planned a set of classes in one go makes it much easier to adapt.

Bulk lesson planning as Deep work

I’ve been going through Deep Work by Cal Newport recently, and although I started this practice years ago, it fits in with the deep work mentality well. Deep Work is work which requires focused attention on a specific task without distractions. It is also work which produces the most rewards in our work. It is the opposite of “busy work” like responding to emails, paperwork and so on. Lesson planning falls nicely into this area and as such it is important for us teachers to invest time and attention into our lesson planning to maximise our results.

Bulk lesson planning helps to get into a “deep work” mindset where I focus all my attention on the task at hand. I choose Friday as it is our slowest day at work, there is no pressure on me to have a class ready for that evening or the next day so I have time and attention to afford.

[More on deep work coming soon]

Bulk lesson planning might not be for you

Although this has served me very well, I understand that this might not work for you. Some classes require collaboration with another teacher and so you may have to wait till they have completed their planning or lesson. You might not have a clear block to time to spend on planning and might have to try and fill in planning whenever you can. You also might have to adapt your plans at the drop of the hat without a syllabus guide.

All of these are good reason to be critical of bulk lesson planning. However, you may find it useful to experiment with and see if you notice any benefits.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

4 Replies

  1. Hi Chris,

    I know I’m not entirely suited to this type of planning, though I wish I were. One thing that I think could go wrong with some teachers doing this is that they might get precious about their plans and feel they have to cram everything into the lesson because it’s in The Plan. I like that you made it explicit that you deviate from your plans; everyone should be willing and able to depending on the situation.

    Thanks for sharing this and I am looking forward to your Deep Work post.

    1. I think that’s a good point Marc and I know I’ve fallen prey to that, but I guess it can occur when you plan at the last minute too. Personally I think bulk planning helps (me) to avoid this more as I can see how the activities I’ve prepared fit into a bigger picture, so If I think this is too easy I can skip something, or if it’s too difficult, I know I need to adjust the next time and do something else. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Kamila

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for this article. Because I teach about 15-20 different classes in one week, each at a different level, syllabus and location, so there’s also a lot of commuting between classes, I am always really interested in any preparation/planning hacks. As much as I would love to have two afternoons to bulk plan my lessons, it is, sadly, not possible, so I usually prepare my classes in the evenings/weekends and fine tune while I commute.
    My LP is different on the type of client. For those who use a textbook, I usually follow the syllabus of the book in the order as it is. Preparation itself consists of looking at what is coming up and tweaking the activities the way I want to use them. Then I add some extra practice, listening, reading or whatever is needed and fine tune the procedure while I travel to the class.
    My classes that do not use a book, because they don’t want to or as I convinced them not to, are a bit more interesting/challenging to prepare for. Here in Prague, students very much value prepared teachers. Nevertheless, students are also often quite passive as to indicating their needs and being in charge of lesson content, perhaps, maybe, because they are usually very busy professionals.
    I soon realized that creating syllabi for such classes was not as easy as I’d thought. One way to plan a sequence of lessons for me is to have Ss indicate vocabulary topics they’re interested in from a list, combine them together and focus on those they all shared. Then I add some speaking/reading/listening activities around the selected topics and every now and then we throw in a grammar lesson, the topic of which is chosen on the basis of their needs/errors/lack of knowledge or we might just do a simple revision. The fact that I have a pre-planned list of topics is a real time saver.
    Another way that I like to work is to let one topic flow into another. That would be more with my 1-1 classes. Let’s say we work on car vocabulary, and then move onto driving vocabulary and verbs, which will lead to a lesson on story-telling and looking at strategies for telling or writing stories, next we will listen to a radio programme on “road rage”, which will naturally lead into looking at words and expressions for “anger”. I find it highly satisfactory to look at these possible connections. Spotting the next coming step is always really pleasant. Then I will suggest it to the student and if they agree, we move forward that way. Here also, I think, a sequence of lessons the way you described could be planned.
    The last method I use for students who like plans and like working hard is to prepare a syllabus in advance, for instance for 10 lessons. I draft it, have the student amend it, and then we work according to it. If anything else turns up for the student (e.g. they need to prepare for a job interview), we change our plan. I must say, these classes are the easiest to prepare on a weekly basis, because everything is outlined, but somehow I prefer the latter, less structured way
    To sum up, I’d say for me, the most important thing is looking individually at each student or group (and the individuals within it) and trying to tailor the lessons to what they need/not know/want to learn.
    Thanks for reading
    Kamila

    1. Hi Kamila, I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner but I wanted to give your comment the attention it deserved!
      I think it is completely true that this kind of planning is no possible in every situation and nor does it suit every situation. For the conversation club I cover, I let the students dictate the syllabus and encourage them to decide the next weeks topic at the end of the class (I do influence that discussion though espeically when I suspect a topic is too vague or too specific). I only have that group once a week which influences factors.
      In every country I have taught (Spain, Ukraine and Poland) students have been terrible (with rare exceptions) at indicating their needs or wants (to be fair I’ve been terrible as a student too!) so I wonder if it is a European or even student trait. I think there are some ways we can help guide students but in my experience the groups where that kind of self directed learning really takes hold, is with highly motivated and challenged students who have that need consistently stressed to them, starting with small steps and growing much larger. Everyone says they are too busy nowadays but we have more time than we care to admit (says the teacher who didn’t submit his Polish homework last week as he was too busy due to cover classes..)
      I think it would be a really interesting blog post to see your mentality and thoughts on lessons planning Kamila, please do write it and notify me. I’d love to see some examples of classes and syllabi (if you have the time and have the freedom to publish such things.) Thanks once again for your insights.

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