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One of the most important aspects of lesson planning is defining clear aims. A good lesson aim should define what you want students to get from coming to your lesson. If you know this, it is easier to make good choices about what happens in the lesson, both at the planning and the teaching stage.
Writing a Good Lesson Aim
Generally on a CELTA course, your tutor will expect you to write a communicative lesson aim. Ideally this will describe what communication a student can have because they came to your lesson. The lesson aim should not be a description of what students do in the lesson.
Let’s look at some example lesson aims and see if we can make them more communicative.
Some Not So Good Aims
Look at the five aims below. Why do you think these aims might not be so good?
- Students will learn the present continuous.
- Students will complete a doctor-patient roleplay.
- Students will learn some new words about transport.
- Students will have a good lesson and enjoy the activities.
- Students will read a text and be able to understand it.
There are a number of problems with these aims, which will be addressed here in a slightly different order.
Firstly, the 4th aim is clearly something that you would hope is an aim for all lessons. If you aren’t aiming for students to have an effective and enjoyable class, you probably shouldn’t be teaching. Of course, “good” is also very wide in terms – if you could narrow down what would make it a good lesson, this could be a good personal aim.
The 2nd and 5th aims are weak because they focus on what the students will actually do. They are in fact more like objectives (the points you need to hit in the lesson) or even the evidence that you have hit the aim. Some CELTA centres may ask for this in your plan. The 5th aim also lacks any specificity of the type of text students will read. If we changed text to a specific genre such as “a menu” or “a review”, it is already much improved.
As for the 1st and 3rd aims, these have several big problems. One of them is the word “learn”. What does it mean to “learn” a grammar point or a set of vocabulary? Is it enough to recognise the present continuous, or to form it, or to actually use it? The word learn doesn’t really tell us enough. In fact, the word “learn” often seems to imply that if a student couldn’t correctly form a tense or word in a controlled practice activityAn activity is any part of a lesson which involves students … More, that would be enough to satisfy the aim. In that case, such an aim is falling short of where we should be aiming.
Another problem with the approach in the 1st and 3rd is they imply that a grammatico-lexical syllabus is being followed. This assumes that learning a language involves mastering a number of discrete grammar points and lexical sets.
As mentioned above, a better aim focuses on what students will get because they come to your lesson. Typically therefore, a good lesson aim will start with this wording:
By the end of the lesson, students will be (better) able to…
After this, we should describe the improvement to a student’s communicative competence. The following could all complete this sentence:
- describe what is happening in a picture;
- identify and describe modes of transport in their city;
- visit a doctor and explain their symptoms;
- read an article about alternative medicine.
As you see, this does not describe what the students will do in the lesson, although they do suggest some activities that would fit well with them.
We could also add the language that will be used, for example:
By the end of the lesson, students will be (better) able to use the present continuous to describe what is happening in a picture.
Note the use of the word “better” in these aims. If students are doing something that they have never done before, then you may leave “better” out.
As mentioned, you may be asked to list lesson objectives or the evidence that shows you have achieved your plan.
If your aim is the one above about students being better able to describe what is happening in a picture, what will be the steps they progress through or the evidence that they can do this?
The students will:
- Look at some pictures and brainstorm vocabulary
- Complete a gap-fill about a picture, forming verbs into the present continuous
- Look at several more pictures and describe them using the present continuous
Having a clear, communicative aim helps you to be effective as a teacher. By defining the aims and objectives as we have above, we have a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve and the important steps that get us there and how we can evaluate the success of the lesson.
This should help us to stay on track and not get distracted from the main aim while also allowing us to reflect on the lesson.
Some More Communicative Aims
Here are some more communicative aims (these should be used as examples, not to copy):
By the end of the lesson, students will be (better) able to:
- make small talk about the weather;
- order food and drinks in a cafe;
- interject in a conversation;
- boast about their achievements;
- listen to a news report about a crime;
- write a postcard.
Personal aims were also mentioned above. Many CELTA centres require you to have several personal aims for the lesson. These are quite simple because they should come from the feedback the tutor gave you before.
Of course, if it is the first lesson, you will not have any feedback. If you have teaching experience, you may know something you should work on. For many teachers, the personal aim for the first lesson is simply to get through the lesson without any critical incidents. You’ll get away with writing words to this effect on the first plan (if you’re required to produce one), but you shouldn’t be writing this on any other TP.
Instead, you should take the feedback that your tutor gave you which is relevant to the lesson you will teach. For example, if your tutor told you that your instructions are too long-winded, your personal aim should be to make your instructions simpler.
You do need to keep in mind what type of lesson you’re doing. If your tutor made a point about drilling for pronunciation and you are now doing a writing lesson, it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to have a personal aim about drilling.