Reflections on lesson planning


Today, I would like to offer my perspective on lesson planning. Now that the school year is about one-quarter of the way through (wow, that was fast!), it might be a good time to pause, reflect, and incorporate new strategies. My goal in this post is to shed some light on the lesson-planning process for teachers who are just getting started with comprehensible input-based methods, and who may be feeling overwhelmed about how to take all of the awesome things they’ve been learning about this method and turn that knowledge into practical action.

If you are one of these teachers, I hope my process will provide you with a little relief— and some new ideas! If you are a seasoned CI veteran, perhaps you will find fresh material here. (Or maybe you will share your own planning process with us in the comments section? That would be wonderful too!)

In general, my intention is for my lesson plans to reflect my wish to teach from the heart. To me, teaching from the heart means that when we are in class together, my students and I feel open, calm, happy, and engaged. The best way I know how to do this on a regular basis is to keep things simple.

Here’s how I try to make that simplicity a reality:

A bird’s eye view

When I approach my lesson planning, I try to keep a few different things in mind. First, I like to take a “bird’s eye view” and think about the unit I’m teaching and how it links to my overall goals for the year. This is the “backward planning” part of the process. My main question is, “As we move through these units, are my students getting quality input and appropriate practice in the areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking?” (I use the word “appropriate” intentionally, because in my Novice-level classes, I believe that it is appropriate for my students to be doing more listening and reading than writing and speaking. Grant Boulanger has a beautiful explanation of this here.)

To ensure that the answer to this question is “Yes!” I aim for a balance of consistency and variety. I rely on a routine of tried-and-true CI techniques to make sure my students are receiving a steady diet of input, and then I spice things up with new activities so that they don’t disengage.

Depending on your own unique situation, you may have clearly defined units or themes set out for you, or you may be following a more student-led, untargeted path. The nice thing about teaching with CI is that, as long as you are exposing your students to messages that they understand in the target language every day, you can rest easy knowing that they will progress on the path towards proficiency.

The “Big CI Activity”

Second, I like to consider things from the perspective of the week as a whole. My organizing question is, “Do my plans flow in a logical progression over the course of the week?” In other words, does each lesson build upon the one that came before? If so, the week will feel coherent and satisfying. If not, things will feel jumbled and disorganized.

To create that feeling of logical progression, I like to plan one “Big CI Activity” per day. This activity will be the main focus of the lesson. In my experience, the easiest thing to do is to start the week with a class-created story. The story can be related to a thematic unit, or based purely on student suggestions. Starting with a story gives us a solid jumping-off point from which to do other activities, like retells, dictations, listen-and-draws, readings, and free writes.

Here’s how I typically like things to flow through the week:

  1. Monday: Storyasking This story can be based on targeted structures and a thematic unit, or it can be totally free-form. If you are new to storyasking, you can read about the method here.
  2. Tuesday: Listen-and-draw or dictation of yesterday’s story For this activity, I write a quick summary of yesterday’s story and read it aloud to the class. (This is easier if I jot down notes right after class, to help me remember the key points.) Depending on whether I choose to do a listen-and-draw or a dictation, students will illustrate what they hear or actually write down the words in a composition notebook that I have them keep in the classroom for all of our written work. If you want to combine the two, you could do a dictation-and-draw as well! For a more detailed description of dictations, you can read this post.
  3. Wednesday: Write-aloud retell of the story Here, we retell the story as a class. I write it on the white board at the front of the room as we go, and the students copy it down in their composition notebooks. It’s listening, reading, writing, and speaking all in one!
  4. Thursday: Reading task based on the story                                                                       For my reading tasks, I typically write up the story we’ve been working on for the week, but with a few added twists. I might change the location, the characters, or the plot. In these readings, I like to make sure to really hammer in repetitions of the specific vocabulary or grammar features that I want my students to focus on in the story. To see some examples of these stories, you can visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.
  5. Friday: Authentic resource AND free write                                                                        On Fridays, I like to share an authentic resource that connects to our story-of-the-week or thematic unit. This can be a music video, a commercial, an article, a blog post, or any other type of resource made for French speakers. I love incorporating authentic resources because they give my students a taste of the culture of the French-speaking world. In addition to the authentic resource, I typically end the week with a 10-minute free write, so my students can have a chance to see how much they are learning. I find that this combination of authentic resources and free writes on Fridays gives my students a bit of a break and motivates them to stay strong through the week.

The daily plan

In the last phase of lesson planning, I think about the details of each lesson individually. I’ve already planned the “Big CI Activity” for each day. Now I simply have to fill in the rest of the time. Luckily, there are so many interesting CI activities to choose from. The question I focus on as I do this part of the planning is, “Do my plans allow for variety, so my students will stay engaged?”

Note: These plans are  for 45 minute lessons. The times that I’ve listed are rough estimates, and are meant to be flexible depending on the specific activities of the day. 

  1. Storyline Bell ringer (5 minutes)                                                                                         You can read more about this activity here.
  2. Calendar routine (2 minutes)                                                                                                For this activity, I simply ask my students to tell me the day, the date, and the month in French. Then I write it on the board. It’s kind of funny how much they love being the one to volunteer the answer! It’s the little things in life, right? : )
  3. Free reading (10 minutes)                                                                                        Depending on the level of your students, this reading can be in the form of typed-up class-created stories, easy readers, magazines, novels, etc.
  4. Big CI Activity (25 minutes)                                                                                                  This is where we get into the real meat of the lesson. Just plug in the “Big CI Activity” for the day and let the good times roll!
  5. Recap (3 minutes)                                                                                                                      At this point, I like to bring closure to the lesson with a quick recap of the lesson. For this, I might ask a few volunteers to remind the class what we did in the lesson. If I’m crunched for time, I might just give this summary myself. I find that the recap is a nice place to reflect as a class on the work we’ve accomplished, while adding in some past-tense repetitions at the same time!

There you have it—my approach to simple, CI-based lesson planning. I hope you find it to be useful in your own instruction in some way. And I would love to hear about the way you plan for success in your classroom! Feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to share.

Merci et à bientôt!




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