Using a Fellow Teacher’s Lesson Plan

[Another between-courses post here, written while I’m mostly doing office and planning stuff and teaching the TP students, trying to keep…and grow…our community of learners]

Some teachers in the ELT world create unique, inspired lessons and then freely share the lesson plans on their blogs. I know. It’s pretty darn cool! We’re talking full-scale usable lesson plans here: nicely produced printable class materials, links to online media, even expertly-crafted teacher’s notes.

One of those teachers is Cecilia Nobre. She’s on twitter here and blogs at the highly recommended, which includes interviews with fellow teachers (including me, a big fat honor!). Every post is smart, fresh, and insightful. What more can I say, Cecilia simply rocks!


On November 7th, 2016, Cecilia shared this very well put together lesson plan with the world:

Conversation lesson: Do you mind if I take your picture? A lesson based on Humans Of New York


Now, this isn’t actually a post about the topic of using fellow teachers’ lesson plans. I think there’s something – perhaps LOTS of things –  to say about how and why teachers freely share lessons, what it means for other teachers to use them, how this could be one harbinger of the eventual downfall of the coursebook industrial complex, and oh! how about a helpfully listing the various lesson super-creator-sharers, out there…

Yeah, that’s all good but…for now, in this post, I’d like to simply share a bit of what I did with Cecilia’s lesson and how it went. Call me simple. ;P

The idea for this post came out of just wanting to get some feedback to the OLC (Original Lesson Creator), Cecilia. I was thinking maybe I should just send her email or a comment on her original post…but then, perhaps others might find it interesting to see for some reason? So here we are.

The learners, by the way, were around the B1/B2 level at the higher end. There were 8 of them in class that day (yesterday). Ah, this was last week now that I’m actually getting this posted – last Wednesday.

First, I’ll add my notes to the “Lesson Plan Outline” Cecilia shared in her post. My notes are in bold red:


* Describe pictures beyond the use of adjectives

Achieved: Ss used adjectives to describe the pictures, but also, when prompted constructions for speculation like “she might be a model/perhaps she’s a model”, etc. 

* Create meaningful stories through storytelling

Not achieved: I wish it had been! I ended up focusing on listening and lexis during the 2nd half of the lesson, rather than giving students a chance to do much speaking/storytelling. 

* Discuss reasons to share or not to share intimate thoughts with strangers

Mostly achieved: when prompted, Ss (to varying degrees) got a chance to express their personal views on ‘opening up’ to a stranger (many were mostly focused on how trustworthy/”normal” the stranger seemed). 

* Listen to details

Achieved: plenty of listening practice with the video. While I wasn’t thrilled with bringing Fox News into my classroom 😉 the clip was quite nice, containing some nice vocabulary and a nice arc as a text.  

Next, more text from the procedure section of Cecilia’s lesson outline and my notes:

Before I moved into Step 1 below and the first slide (I used the PPT and also gave the Ss the slides in a double-sided packet to take away with them), I linked this lesson to the previous lesson by writing

Do you mind if I…

on the whiteboard and elicited the learners’ understanding of this phrase from last week’s class (use: everyday semi-formal polite/indirect request, meaning: asking for permission for something usually immediate and usually small, pron: connected speech happening, form: + base verb and do can become would, etc.). 

I then asked pairs to come up with common examples. Then, leading into this lesson, asked: imagine some random person, someone you never saw before, a stranger, walked up to you and used this phrase? Imagine what they might say? 

The predominant thing Ss were thinking of, it seemed, was “Do you mind if I ask you for directions?”. So we briefly discussed this kind of ‘requesting to make a request’ and why that could be used to be extremely indirect. 

Then I said: now, what if that stranger had a camera around their neck? and maybe even looked like a real photographer? What might they ask? 

Unexpectedly to me at the time (but with the luxury of hindsight somewhat predictable), the Ss had quite a hard time getting to “…take your picture?”. Because I’ve learned to deal with emerging learner language issues to some degree of success we spent some time here, teasing apart confusions about who’s taking what for whom exactly! Not at all an obviously ambiguous construction there…

OK! Then right back to it. Show Slide 1 with the title of the lesson…

Step 1
Prime students with the three questions from slide two before showing them the two pictures. Give them enough time to observe and hypothesize (Slide 1). 

Step 2
Show them each picture separately and give them a few minutes to discuss the initial questions with their peers. They might jot down some ideas if needed be ( Slide 3 and 4)

The 3-question prompts got them talking about each of the 2 pictures for about 3 minutes each. I floated around giving prompts to some of the less productive chatters.

Step 3
Share the three pictures related to the woman’s story ( the wedding dress, the hair stylist, and the dog) and, in pairs, they should come up with a story. Help them with vocabulary if needed be ( Slide 5)

Then this, which was fun…however less productive than I’d hoped. That’s not the lesson’s fault – but only one of the pairs really jumped into imaginatively constructing a possible story line and coming up with rationales for why it might apply to one or the other person from the photos. Next time, I’ll energize this by switching up pairs, maybe have them in standing and rotating pairs instead. In fact, I only switched up pairings during this whole 2 hours lesson towards the end! 

Also, some of these students are not as used to this kind of lesson. Admittedly, it’s got quite a different dynamic than the somewhat more highly structured CELTA TP lessons they get during courses. The amount of speculation and inferencing I prompted them to attempt was a stretch for some of them. I ‘sold’ it and scaffolded it as best I could at the time, but nevertheless think heard the odd stomach growl for a bit more solidity. 😉 

Step 4
Then, share the three pictures related to the couple’s story ( the subway, the cookies, and the Black Label). Students should come up with a story using the three pictures in pairs ( Slide 6)

Same as above. 

Step 5
Show the two pairs of sentences to the students. They are supposed to match the sentences to the pictures.
“I wasn’t even planning on going out that night” and “I just started dancing by myself” are related to the couple’s story.

“I quit my job” and “everything is one big question for me right now” are linked to the woman’s story ( Slides 7 and 8)

Perhaps oddly, this got a bit more buzz then the pictures above. Again, I should have switched up the students. I can think of one imperfectly matched pair who I left stranded with each other most of the day. Doh. Maybe it’s not odd…maybe the pictures seemed just a little bit too random to build logical bridges between, but these two pairs of phrases seems more coherent to them. 


Step 6
Next, students are supposed to read each story.

Ask them: Did you use the pictures correctly to make sense of each story? Were your inferences accurate? Were your initial questions answered within the texts?
Some phrases and expressions you might need to go through:
Story 1 – The woman
I feel like I’m about / I can’t help but… / to mess up / nothing has come of it

Story 2 – The couple
cookie dough / to make out with someone / to run into someone

I didn’t pre-teach that vocab, but I soon had the sense I should have. When I post-taught, I found only cookie dough was thoroughly known. The phrase that we actually had the best time focusing on was “I chopped off my hair” – looking at how this word choice conveyed a sense of violence, conveying the act as an emotional reaction to something difficult. You’d never hear, I got a new job! To celebrate and prepare, first I’ll chop off my hair, then…;P

At one point I asked the Ss which story they liked most. Most chose the woman’s story, I think simply because it’s a bit richer and more involved. 

Step 7
Have students join small groups to open the debate with their peers. Allow them to agree, disagree, make jokes, etc.

This particular step (7) didn’t really happen – at least there was no ‘debate’, and not really any S-S ‘joking’. Thinking back to my reading this plan before the lesson (about 30 minutes before, when I decided at the last minute to try it instead of something I’d had slotted in but wasn) 

Step 8
After the debate, they should click on the links to leave a comment or reply to a comment from the post. Help them with new vocabulary and monitor what they write. Ensure their opinions are respectful and supportive.

We didn’t go online, but the Ss did seem to want to check out HONY through their personal facebook pages outside of class (I’ll find out tomorrow who actually found and followed it). 

Photo 1 : Link here

Photo 2: Link here

Step 9
Listening to details: Tell your students they’re going to watch a three-minute video about Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York. Let your students read the topics that Brandon might tackle in the video ( Topics mentioned: Why he thinks people open up to him, his most popular photo and the questions he likes to ask people). Let students share their guesses.

This news clip was nice. As I mentioned above, I have several reasons not to love using Fox News in my classroom, but clip was nice and I could grin and bear it. It’s very a typical/conventional ‘human interest’ news segment. It’s a good length, has a good pace, and a nice arc. Some nice varied lexis, which we treated a bit after the gisty listening task included in the lesson. At this moment I’m a bit too busy and lazy to recollect exactly what and how. 

Watch the video here.

Step 10
Questions about Brandon Stanton and Humans of New York. Let your students make questions in pairs or small groups. Share their answers with the whole group.

Here’s where we did a productive skills activity (speaking), and it was pretty straightforward: walking around, one of you is Brandon with his camera and his questions (we had his types of question on the whiteboard from the video). Ask, as politely and friendly-like as you can, to take a picture (act that out – ‘click! click!’) and then follow up requesting to talk and asking a question or two (can you tell me about the time in your life when you felt guiltiest?). I encouraged students to share personal stories to the extent they felt comfortable (this group is generally pretty open, even confessional). 

This was a bit rushed. We had only 14 minutes left in class by the time this began, which is ridiculous given the task and the potential for multiple longer, open-ended interactions. But some nice stuff came up and some animated conversations ensued. 

Thanks for the great materials and lesson plan/ideas Cecilia! As you can see, it was a pretty decent success. And it went from blogpost to live classroom in just +/- 30 minutes! 

Finally, I’d like to applaud Cecilia’s efforts in the area of PARSNIPS. This lesson is one of a handful that contain content that is either a little bit or a lot “parsnipy” (see this lesson dealing with domestic violence and rape) and I, for one, love it. In the last-minute rush to prepare this lesson I regret that I didn’t gather myself to include an intentional, specific way to address this in class. I kind of ‘made space’ for students to react/respond to the gay couple in the 2nd pic, but didn’t force anything. I guess that WAS my approach, and it felt comfortable. While I think perhaps some learners were quietly surprised to find something less whitewashed than they usually do in these classrooms (we use the standard heteronormative mainstream coursebooks during CELTA courses on which they are the trainees’ TP students), there was a nice sense of recognition and a ‘not-a-big-deal’ vibe. 

I look forward to the chance to use another one of Cecilia’s shared lessons and maybe one day even get the chance to return the favor! 🙂 


7 thoughts on “Using a Fellow Teacher’s Lesson Plan

  1. I am without words to be able to thank you for this thoughtful and kind feedback, Matthew. It blew me away! Thanks so much for that! You have no idea of the boost of motivation you have fueled me. Sharing is caring indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s