Learning How to be Resourceful and Cut Planning Time

Lucy is TEFL teacher with a 20 year career having taught in Italy and Japan. Drawing from her experience in the classroom, she tells us how to cut planning time by learning how to be resourceful.

What does it take to be resourceful?

Anyone who has done their CELTA or DELTA knows the amount of planning that goes into a well-polished, externally-assessed TEFL lesson. However, this amount of fantastic, enthusiastic planning often bears little resemblance to the reality of the job. In real life, if you spent 10 hours planning for one lesson when you have 20 lessons a week…well, I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure it would be an impossible task.

This is exactly why being resourceful is something many teachers learn through experience. As a new teacher, I always loved to make my own resources. It seemed that I was forever cutting up pictures and vocabulary words required for the lesson. I had drawers full of cut-ups. I quickly became aware of the fact that many of these cards which I put time, effort and love into, were used once and never touched again.

students in classroom

Adaptable materials

If you find yourself in a similar situation, produce adaptable materials which can be used for a variety of grammar or vocabulary points. An example of learning how to be resourceful is a collage of images. Put lots of random images on one A4 page. For instance, a snake, a camera, a famous location like the Grand Canyon, a piece of rope and so on. If you have been practising narrative tenses, you can hand out the different collages to each pair of students. One of the students in each pair has just come back from their holiday. The other has to ask them questions about their holiday. The challenge is to mention all the images in your collage to build up a story of what happened while you were away.

These collages can also be used to talk about a holiday you’re planning (to practice the future) and also to talk about somewhere you go every summer (to practice present tenses). I would also say that a physical piece of A4 paper is preferable to something online as it gives students a focus.

Test your ideas

Another idea would be that if you are going to use cut-ups, test and try them on paper with a few classes before you laminate them or use nice coloured card. Then, the materials which prove popular can be laminated and made pretty! I remember making what seemed like a few hundred sets of song words for students to order as they listened. The resulting sets of lyrics, each on a different colour of vibrant card, was a sight to behold and I was very proud! When it came to the lesson, however, I realised the task was impossible. The song was too fast and the strips of words were too numerous. Anything over about 25 strips is too many and steer clear of rap (too many lyrics and often very sweary!) and Michael Jackson (great songs but too high and terrible annunciation!) 

woman with sticky notes

While you may be the creative type, remember you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you have ready made, good-to-go cut-ups in the teacher’s book or equivalent online resource, use them. Don’t make your own because you probably won’t have the time.

Use your students

Finally, your best resource is your students. By asking them about their experiences, not only are you making the lesson student-centred, but you’re also decreasing teacher talk time. The lesson becomes meaningful to them and they’re more likely to need the language being taught. A few well-thought-out open questions can monopolise the language point and by learning how to be resourceful you can reduce your planning time. 

Any teacher would probably agree that, it is important to get the right balance between creating your best lessons while still managing to have a life. It’s hard to be a perfectionist and a teacher unless it’s for those few CELTA or DELTA lessons at the start of your career.

woman teaching student

Written by Lucy Holmes. Lucy is a TEFL teacher, materials’ writer and author of Talking Images: idioms. She has lived in Italy and Japan and taught English for twenty years. As well as teaching, she writes for Macmillan and OUP, and is currently working on her second book.

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