The Art of Lesson Planning

 by Mike Cattlin. Reviewed by Paul de Nagy, IH Lisbon

In the past two weeks of my teacher training work, I’ve been asked several questions by teachers of all levels of experience:

  • DELTA candidate:  How do I improve my definition of aims?
  • CELTA candidate:  But what is the ‘receptive skills’ procedure?
  • State School teacher on the IHCYLT course:  What do you mean by ‘assumptions’?
  • State School teacher in a developmental session:  What do you mean exactly by ‘monitoring’?
  • Experienced teacher of many years:  I want to do some action research on ‘anticipating problems with language’.  Can you recommend anything?

I suspect that if I’m asked these questions in the future, I may be tempted to reply to them all by saying:  Why don’t you look at your copy of ‘Cattlin’ and read the section …

So, with this book, it seems that there is now a new arrival in the closed group of authors that most people in English language teaching know by name:  Scrivener, Harmer, Willis, Thornbury and now…Cattlin.

Mike Cattlin has produced an extremely useful book which trainees, trainers, teachers and Directors of Studies are likely to refer to on many occasions. He has used his considerable experience in a variety of contexts to spell out what he feels is “sound advice” in terms of planning.  I totally agree with him. Those of us who have had contact with him in the past know him as someone who is meticulously thorough – this e-book reflects his systematic approach and close attention to detail.

Mike has organised the book into 13 sections (including the introduction and conclusion) and each one covers many useful aspects of planning that teachers of all levels should think about:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background information
  3. Assumptions and aims
  4. Materials
  5. The procedure page(s)
  6. Staging
  7. Lesson Frameworks
  8. Language Analysis
  9. Anticipated problems and solutions
  10. Professional Development
  11. Rationale/commentary
  12. So what else can you include in the procedure
  13. Conclusion

In addition, there are many useful appendices which can be used as templates or examples for discussion.

There may be some disagreement as far as what should be expected at different levels of experience.  I, for one, disagree that this book should be recommended to applicants to a CELTA course:  I think many of them would be put off taking the course if they met this level of information without a tutor to help them prioritise. As a CELTA tutor, I would love it if my candidates were able to plan in this much detail but I also want them to have some free time during this very demanding course. However, I have already recommended it to select CELTA trainees already on a course where I felt that they needed additional guidance.

There are some other minor issues that could be improved in the next version:  an appendix would make the book even more useful; some occasional checklists or summaries of what has already been covered would make the inexperienced teacher’s experience more manageable and lastly, a printed version would make this book much more appealing in certain contexts.

However, personally, I think this book will be incredibly useful for teachers who

  • have done a pre-service course such as the IHC or CELTA course and who would like a clear, unambiguous guide through the challenges of teaching on a daily basis
  • have been teaching for a while but are thinking of taking a course such as the IH CAM or the DELTA
  • have been teaching for a while and while not planning to do a course, would like to hone their planning skills.

For those of us whose job it is to guide and support teachers, this valuable addition to any staffroom should be useful in a variety of ways:

  • for additional reading either in preparation for an observation or to provide models after the post-observation discussion
  • as the basis of a seminar where teachers read selected areas and discuss them as a team
  • to help a team of teachers reconsider their own planning and to open up a discussion within the school as to what is or isn’t acceptable in terms of planning documents
  • to review the principles of sound planning before running a session on the topic.  I think those who are new to training or Director of Studies work will find this book invaluable.

Mike has done himself proud and I’m sure he is bound to have many readers in the coming months and years.