A Creative Approach to Lesson Planning
by Hall Houston
Lesson planning is an essential part of any teacher’s work. The act of planning out a lesson helps teachers to clarify the steps of the lesson and see how they fit together. As Jim Scrivener states in his book Learning Teaching, “Planning is imagining the lesson before it happens. It involves prediction, anticipation, sequencing, organizing and simplifying.”
This article is not going to explain the best way to plan a lesson or give some sample forms for teachers to fill out. What I want to share here are some techniques borrowed from the world of creativity training that can add some surprises, twists, and sparks of life to lesson planning, not to mention your lessons. The point of giving a creative emphasis in lesson planning is to encourage teachers to look at their lesson plans from several perspectives, and consider changes that might produce a more enjoyable lesson. For more creative techniques that can be used in class, I refer you to my book, The Creative Classroom, published by Lynx Publishing (www.lynxpublishing.com).
The following are a few suggestions for creative lesson planning.
SAM HARRISON’S FIVE STEPS
In his amazing book, zing!, Sam Harrison explains that there are five steps of the creative process. The first step, Explore, is where you spend time getting some inspiration from books, articles, websites, or just taking a walk down the street. The second step, Freedom, is the brainstorming stage, where you start work on your project. The third step, Pause, gives you an opportunity to step away from your work, take a nap or run some errands. The fourth step, Embrace, is where you return to your work in progress and do some serious editing. The fifth step, Life, is where you present your completed project to the world.
I think these five steps can provide a useful model for planning lessons. Take a look at the notes below for suggestions on how you can follow Sam Harrison’s five steps.
Explore – Think of some resource books or websites to consult for new ideas. Talk to some of your colleagues about what they’re doing in class.
Freedom – Find a comfortable, quiet spot to brainstorm your lesson plan.
Pause – Plan an ideal getaway, somewhere you can completely detach from thinking about the lesson plan.
Embrace – Look for a few ways to improve your lesson plan. Ask colleagues for their opinions.
Life – Consider how you can capture your students’ attention at the start of class. Find ways to motivate sudents to participate in the lesson.
Force-fitting is another way to inspire creativity. Here you take something at random, and try to apply it something completely unrelated. Do one of the following and think about how the answers could suggest something for your next lesson:
Look around you, and write down the first 5 things you see.
Walk into a store you’ve never been into before, and make a note of the first 5 things you encounter.
Grab the nearest book, open to a random page, and write down the first word you see on that page. Try again with other books, until you have 5 words.
With your items, think about each one carefully, and try to come up with several answers. An object, such as a clock, might be useful in an activity, or it might hint that you need to develop better time management strategies. A word, such as “red”, could suggest that you wear red to the next class, or alternatively, give you an idea for a warm-up exercise where students talk about the meanings of colors in different cultures.
Scamper is a famous creativity exercise created by Bob Eberle. It is a checklist of questions that allow you to generate innovative ideas. There are 7 questions, each one that is summarized by a word that starts with one letter of the word “SCAMPER”.
Here is the list:
S = Substitute – What can I substitute here?
C = Combine – How can I combine something with something else?
A = Adapt – What can I adapt from another source?
M = Magnify – What can I magnify here?
P = Put to other uses – What can I put to other uses?
E = Eliminate – What can I eliminate here?
R = Rearrange, reverse – What can I reorder or reverse here?
While these questions can be applied to any situation where you need to be creative, here we will consider some ways to apply them to lesson planning.
Substitute – Consider substituting parts of your lessons with other things. For example, take the listening exercise in your coursebook, and use another activity instead.
Combine – Mix two types of activities together (for example, a Find Someone Who activity with a dictation, or a role play with a competitive game).
Adapt – Explore other areas. Teach material from another subject area, or teach things that are practical (writing resumes, communication skills).
Magnify – Conjure up ways to extend activities. You might want to focus on one skill or one type of activity for a longer period of the lesson.
Put to other uses – You can use a short text from the coursebook as a dictation, a vocabulary exercise, a translation practice, or even a memory game.
Eliminate – Find the weakest link. Which part of the lesson could be discarded?
Rearrange – Try putting things in a different order. If your lesson always follows a predictable structure, you can mix things up and see how your students react.
Now take this list and work through each question with your lesson plan. Take notes of any interesting discoveries.
MAKING SIMILES AND METAPHORS
When you’ve finished a lesson plan, ask yourself
“In what ways is my lesson like _____________________?”
For example, I might think “In what ways is my lesson like a variety show?”
Some answers off the top of my head — My lesson is like a variety show…
because it’s entertaining
because it’s most attractive feature is the variety contained
because it contains a lot of short segments
because I always feel like I’m putting on a show
As I form these metaphors, I speculate on how they might suggest some changes or improvements, as well as think about how they might reflect my own teaching philosophy.
Now it’s your turn. Choose one of the metaphors below (or make your own), and give it 3 or 4 answers. When you’ve finished, see what they have to say about your lesson plan and your teaching.
In what ways is my lesson like…
a game of Kabaddi?
a Aishwarya Rai film?
Write your answers down. Now spend a few minutes to unravel the meanings of these metaphors.
Many people consider lesson planning to be a tedious process. I hope this article has convinced you that it doesn’t have to be. Apply some creative techniques to your lessons and your students benefit from your efforts.
Further Reading on Lesson Planning and Creativity
Planning Lessons – Jim Scrivener (Onestopenglish)
Planning – Callum Robertson (Teaching English)
Idea Generation Methods – Jack Martin Leith
Creativity Web – Charles Cave
Zing Zone – Sam Harrison
Hall Houston has taught at universities in Taiwan and Hong Kong for over a decade. His first book, The Creative Classroom, was published in 2007 by Lynx Publishing (www.lynxpublishing.com). He is currently working on his second book. His professional interests include cross-cultural communication, discourse analysis, creativity and critical thinking. E-mail: hallhouston AT yahoo.com.