There’s no sense in flogging a dead lesson plan

No matter how experienced a teacher you may be, there are those classes that are simply going to be a struggle to manage. Here’s what Larry Ferlazzo does when things are getting out of hand:

I will jettison my lesson plan and redirect students into some less intensive learning activity that I know they will want to do (a game, get into their book discussion groups) and then make arrangements with teachers of the most egregious offenders to pull them out for several minutes the next day during my free period so I can have a one-on-one reflective conversation with them. For example, we’ll talk about what their goals are and how their behavior is hurting or helping to achieve them — if they want to be an Ultimate Fighter, not being able to show self-control is going to create problems. We’ll revisit some of the life skill lessons we’ve done and talk about what they think might help them develop more self-control (change seats, take their work outside if they feel they are “losing it,” get a stress ball, etc.).

Working in adult ELT poses different (and doubtless less intense) classroom management challenges than working in a high school. But even adult ELT students find it difficult to maintain focus or self-control at times, and there are days–invariably afternoons in 30+ degree heat with a poorly-functioning air conditioner–when all this lack of focus reaches a critical mass. And at this point, as Ferlazzo notes, teachers are faced with a choice: punish the offenders (and presumably push on with the lesson), or adopt the more effective redirect-and-reflect strategy. With adult learners, those one-on-one discussions are great for drawing connections between their long-term academic/career/migration goals and something like classroom etiquette and homework.

[EDIT: The original post contained a reflection on a lesson gone awry, but I’ve chosen to store that elsewhere and focus in this blog on useful “takeaways.” I may include reflections at a future point when I feel more confident :)]

[Note: I’ll use the second person and imperative in the following and future”Takeaways” sections, but the primary audience is myself.]


  1. Jettison the plan if it’s not working, and do something more enjoyable/engaging–but still relevant.
  2. Get students to reflect upon their goals and what they’re doing to achieve them. This means you as a teacher need to know what your students goals are. To add a blended learning component to this, have students share their reflections on a discussion board or blog.
  3. Anticipate whether your students will find the lesson enjoyable/engaging/useful. Visualising the lesson (a method of planning suggested on the TEFL Show podcast-–I think in this episode) might help here.

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