Free EFL and ESL Lesson Plans

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Anyone who has been reading my articles for some time will know that I don’t provide a supply of ready-made free lesson plans. I haven’t had anyone ask me about this or comment on it, but recently I’ve noticed a rise in the number of websites and online TEFL communities doing so (both free and paid).

In many ways this is good: an injection of fresh new ideas and (possibly) alternative ways of approaching various language points and skills activities.

Consequently, I thought I’d cover why I don’t do it and some of the broader industry factors which contribute to that decision.

Firstly – and this may seem off-topic (but isn’t), I have a serious problem with coursebooks. Well, more accurately put, I have a seriously ambivalent relationship with coursebooks.

The reason this is not off-topic is because coursebooks are the ultimate source of “instant lessons”. Indeed, Watcyn-Jones even has a supplementary materials book (not actually a coursebook) with that extraordinarily alluring title! Now, on the one hand, coursebooks provide a solid framework for both novice and experienced teachers alike; there are lots of cool ideas and ready-made practice activities, interesting texts to delve into, and so on. There are a lot of really good things about, and advantages to, using coursebooks; don’t get me wrong!

On the other, however, they peddle the same old nonsense, half-truths, and outright falsities about how language (especially grammar) and language-learning works year after year, new edition after new edition. And to make matters worse, each new generation of coursebook writers just comes along and (blindly?) regurgitates all the same old crap yet again. (Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps the writers ARE trying to remove all the garbage, but the editorial team at the publishing houses think it might rock the boat too much, and, as such, fall back on the “standard interpretation”. Who knows?) I find this cycle intensely frustrating, both as a teacher and as a trainer.

As a teacher, I have to “re-train” my students before I can teach them the actual way to approach [whatever it is we're dealing with]. It’s much like I imagine rescuing someone from a cult would work: They’ve been brainwashed so hard their entire lives that any semblance of reason is dismissed out of hand, including clear evidence in STARK contrast to what they have been led to believe!

So I end up spending weeks and weeks “re-progamming” all the garbage they’ve been taught by teachers who didn’t know any better and thought they were doing the right thing following the coursebook (because, as I’ve said multiple times elsewhere: As a novice teacher, I, too, surmised – incorrectly – that if it was published by OUP or CUP, then it must be right… right?”).

And I always end up saying to the students (most of whom inevitably dig their heels in, human nature being what it is) “Look, I understand your frustration and confusion here because, frankly, who are you more likely to believe: the dozens of teachers who’ve all told you [insert typical nonsense here], or me, your new teacher?”

I simply won’t teach students stuff that’s incorrect.

My job is teach them how to use the language correctly. A lot of the nonsense presented in coursebooks (and that’s not even getting into how it’s presented!) not only fails to lead students to the correct understanding, it is ACTIVELY DESTRUCTIVE to their ability to develop a coherent and applicable understanding. One of the many, many cases in point is the old “countable/uncountable” dross. I won’t go into that here, but simply put: If you teach that to your students, they will NEVER build a proper understanding of how determiners work in English!

Anyway…

This heel-digging-in happens irrespective of how crisply and cleanly I’ve debunked the myth, which I certainly don’t do by simply telling students it’s wrong (Ha ha! Imagine the success of that approach?). What I usually do (to borrow a poker metaphor) is take their myth and see it. I accept their myth, build up a couple of contexts, and then delve into specific examples that contradict the myth, concept-check them exhaustively and then lead students to what I hope is an understanding of how [it's usually some ill-taught grammar point or "rule"] actually works.

Which is where the stubborness kicks in because this new understanding directly contravenes their existing “understanding”. The process is perfectly logical in this regard, but no less frustrating for me – having done it literally thousands of times.

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So what’s this got to do with free ready-made lesson plans?

Okay, okay… I’ll get to it shortly, but writing that sub-heading flagged something else for me: free. Even if I were selling my lesson plans (and I have at least half a dozen folders full to the brim with lessons I’ve developed over the years), I’d still be taking the same approach that sparked this article, which is the old “Give a man a fish…”

Sidebar: For anyone not familiar with the reference, the proverb generally goes something like this:

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever.

If you’re a non-native-English-speaking teacher reading this, I’m sure you have a similar expression in your language, right?

Now, the fish proverb is one that underpins everything I’ve EVER done as an educator. Ever. I’m not a religious person so it has absolutely nothing to do with that. Instead, it has everything to do with self-empowerment and enabling our students to ultimately achieve their goals by themselves.

Our job as teachers (of whatever, frankly) is to equip students with the vision, skills, and reflective insight for them to set realistic targets, skillfully and effectively apply their knowledge in a way most likely to lead to success, and navigate the inevitable pitfalls, adversity, false-starts, mistakes and myriad other set-backs along the way in such a manner that they can readily bounce back with lessons-learned in hand, ready to apply. It’s also to provide the right kind of support and guidance and feedback which facilitates the development of this vision/skill/reflexivity combo.

High-minded? Idealistic? Pretentious, even?

Maybe. But that’s genuinely how I’ve always envisioned the role of an effective teacher.

 

So the lessons, Leslie, the lessons, mate… What about ‘em?

The thing about the lessons is that free or otherwise, language teachers need to really understand the fundamental principles and core techniques of good language teaching before I start sharing lessons with my name on them.

If I were to sell or give away my lesson plans, they would probably be misunderstood because people don’t know my methodological approach to teaching language. They would probably be written off as “too hard” or “too complex” or tossed into the “that won’t work” basket.

And, to circle back to the OUP/CUP coursebook hegemony that I started with, that’s because the way I teach is not especially in line with the dominant ideas about how to teach language. My approach isn’t all adversarial or anti-CELTA/Trinity or anything like that, but I DO think there’s an awfully large number of things in the “TEFL canon” which are ineffective at best, and patently destructive at worst.

Sure, I could bang out instant lesson plan after instant lesson plan and probably have thousands of people visiting my website everyday. I could plaster the site with Google ads from top to bottom and rake it in (or, uh, not… talk to Sean Banfield; slogging his guts out everyday and still needing a day job, apparently)!

(Sidenote: Clearly I’m not anti-advertising! I have ads on this site. I have no problem with ads, Google ones or otherwise. It’s just that those “free lesson plans” sites aren’t “Free” in the sense that a lot of people think. But that’s a discussion for another day soon.)

So, in case you were wondering about why I don’t give out lesson plans, that’s the answer. Like I said, no one has ever questioned that on this site, but I’ve noticed lots and lots of people sharing lessons via EFL blogs, Twitter, on Ning groups, etc. along with the steady rise of paid subscription sites and I’ve talked about my rationale for not providing instant lessons with people offline who know I run this site, but I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it with you, my readers. So there it is! =)

I’d be interested to know your thoughts…

Leslie

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