Month: October 2013

Are Detailed Objectives Really Necessary in Lesson Plans?

Lesson planning is usually a key component on English Language teacher training courses.  However, practising teachers rarely draw up such detailed plans as they are taught to on training courses. Thus questions arise as to whether it is really necessary to describe course, lesson and activity aims in such detail and what the benefits of this practice might be. 

The background literature is full of statements aboout how beneficial detailed lesson planning is, and mostly regard it as a vital part of teaching. Here are some of the most pertinent comments:

Bailey (1996, p.18): “Lessons are intended to help students accomplish the objectives of the course and program.”

Woodward (2001, p.2): characteristics of a ‘good’ lesson/course include that Ss and T are aware of what there is to learn and of why they are doing the chosen activities

Williams & Burden (1997, p. 82):“teachers first need to be clear why they select [an] activity and then help their learners to see the value for them.”

In order to provide some answer to the question which forms the title of this post, beyond theoretical perspectives found in the literature, I undertook a small-scale action research study and would like to present a summary of my findings, to provoke further consideration and discussion of this topic.

My study was based on teaching EFL to advanced learners on English Studies degree programmes at Trier University (Germany). I kept a developmental record including detailed tabular lesson plans for language lessons, my post-teaching reflections on these lessons and the success of the activities, plus student comments from post-lesson feedback.

From my collection of reflections in this record, the findings can be summarised as follows:

Why include aims in lesson planning?

  • it helps teachers organise their thoughts
  • it increases teachers’ self-confidence
  • it provides a yardstick to help evaluate materials
  • the teacher can evaluate tasks’ effectiveness/contribution to aims
  • the long-term value of skills and language taught is concretely considered
  • it helps to highlight the links between the lessons of a course
  • it thus prevents the course/lesson from being an end in itself

Why not?

  •  it is time consuming
  •  it may be a waste of time if need to change course goal
  •  it may lead to inflexibility



Generally, what I’m saying is that considering and contemplating the overarching aims of a course, lesson, or activity, and the relationship between these, IS NECESSARY, and is more important than the actual form the lesson planning takes or when it is done.

I don’t wish to advocate that we, as teachers, should always formulate the aims using staid old statements e.g. by the end of the lesson, learners will be able to…”, as these are often quite unrealistic when you think about them. I mean, in just one lesson, they’ll be able to ‘do’ something or ‘know’ a language point? Maybe your lesson is just an introduction to the language point, or a bit of practice or repetition, but to truly ‘learn’ and ‘know’ something and be able to do it, we would all need more than 1 lesson!

So what I’m saying is, a ‘plan’ doesn’t have to be a long, typed up document for scrutiny by someone else. Indeed, ‘planning’ can be everything – scrappy post-its, discussions over coffee with a colleague, or typing up a scheme of work schedule. But I do believe that writing down can be very useful, in any form, especially at beginning of career.

Indeed, what my study has really found, is that trainees’ books such as that by Harmer  are definitely pointing new teachers in the right direction when they say that “[t]he actual form a plan takes is less important than the thought that has gone into it; the overriding principle is that we should have an idea of what we hope our students will achieve in the class, and that this should guide our decisions about how to bring it about” (2001, p.311).


This post is a very brief summary of the following article, due for publication shortly:

Fielder, C., ‘Are detailed objectives really necessary in lesson planning?’ TTT Journal (expected Dec 2013)