Every teacher will experience in their careers at one point or another, their carefully planned lesson going completely awry.
Maybe the material was too complex for the age group you were working with or technical difficulties spoiled best laid plans to watch an educational video.
Whatever the reason for the apparent ‘failing’ of your carefully planned lesson, in that moment where you are staring at a classroom full of blank faces, it is your job as an educator, to pull your class from the brink of distraction and get everyone focussed again at the task at hand.
This post will provide teachers with tips for adjusting failing lesson plans on the fly, so that you can get some quality learning out them before they notice that you’ve messed it right up!
The signs of a failing lesson plan
Any teacher with a bit of experience will quickly recognise the signs that a lesson plan isn’t working as well as it should. These warning signals include;
- Students become distracted and start chatting amongst themselves instead of working.
- Getting the same questions from a number of students in your class who all don’t understand the same aspect of the task you have just set
- A technical glitch is preventing you from carrying out your planned lecture at the start of the lesson
- Your students vocalise their displeasure with the task set, saying things like ‘this is too much to read’ or ‘you haven’t given us enough time to do this’ etc…
- The task that you originally estimated would take 20 minutes, is finished within 10 minutes, your class found it too easy and now they’re sat there twiddling their thumbs and chatting.
Rescue remedies for the failing lesson plan
- Listen to Feedback and act on it – If your pupils are all complaining about the same particular aspect of the lesson plan, then take on their feedback and see if you can make some adjustments to please the majority of your pupils. For example, if the students are complaining that a chapter you have given them is too long, offer to read it aloud to the whole class instead of making everyone work through it individually. This is the great thing about working with children; usually you will get some sort of automatic feedback, allowing you to adjust to suit their learning needs.
- Use group work – Getting the class to collaborate in small groups or pairs can aid comprehension for those who are struggling with the work. As the old saying goes, ‘two heads are better than one’.
- Pause for a minute – Sometimes when a lesson is descending into chaos, it can be easy to become flustered and lose control. Pause for a minute in those moments and get your class’ attention, then ask them to recap what they have learned thus far in the lesson. Once you have done that you can get a gauge on what aspects have been ‘learned’, allowing you to go back and ‘fill in the gaps’ of their knowledge from there.
- Simplify – If you are finding that a lesson is too complicated and convoluted; simplify the task by going back to your key lesson objectives and think of some alternative ways for getting the learning concepts across. In this example, Ms Wessling’s class found her stack of hand-outs too overwhelming to tackle in the lesson. For the next period then, Ms Wessling ditched most of the paper and asked her pupils to make a simplified travelling mind map instead.
- Have some back up activities – For students who are ahead of the learning curve, completing activities early can in certain cases, cause them to disrupt the other pupils who are still working. In these cases, make sure that you have an extension activity to give them. Back up activities also give you the opportunity to completely ditch lesson plans that are either too easy or too difficult without your class noticing the change.
- Ice Breakers –There are many examples of ice-breaker activities (aka starter exercises) which teachers can use to regain the attention of a distracted class. Starter exercises can be used at any time within a lesson and provide enough light relief to calm everyone down and get them back into working effectively quickly.
- Trim the fat – If for example, your class are working through a worksheet that on reflection may be a little too easy for them then get them to do only half of the questions instead so you can move onto the ‘meatier’ task sooner.
Often when lessons go wrong, it provides teachers with a wonderful opportunity to learn from their mistakes and become better educators as a result. For more information on outstanding lesson planning techniques, check out this great resource.
If you have any experiences of a lesson going badly wrong, share your stories with us in comments below.