Want to plan quickly, profe? It’s totally possible, but I didn’t start there. When I started teaching, planning took me an entire day. I spent every Sunday hunkered out in a coffee shop or at my dining table, planning my classes and materials for the week. It was too much. Teaching multiple levels? Forget it.
Now, after ten years, I can plan quickly – in thirty minutes – or less. I plan engaging, interactive lessons that encourage my students to acquire and practice language skills during class and for homework. I learned how to prep multiple levels, too – check out this blog post for easy planning.
My classes average an hour long. Some are longer, some are shorter, but they have averaged an hour over the past decade. I’ll break down how long it takes me to plan each activity and how much time it takes out of our class period.
Focus on what they need to be successful.
This seems like a no-brainer, right? It’s not. My first year of teaching, back when I taught English Language Arts, I wanted my students to write a newspaper article. I thought it would be a fun spin on the task, but my co-teacher stopped me in my tracks with one simple question: “Why?”
Did they need this for the assessment? Would they write a news article on the state exam? Was it a state standard? Nope, no, and definitely not.
Now, I focus on what my students need to actually succeed. I want them to be able to communicate in the target language, so all homework is production-based. They record videos (love Flipgrid!) and write emails or stories. If that’s too much, I stick with Duolingo for homework. This helps me plan quickly for assessments and opportunities for my students to succeed.
Build backwards from your assessment.
In order to plan quickly, build backwards! Thinking backwards from your assessment can mean planning based on your exit ticket or the next quiz, unit test, or final exam.
In my class, my students need to speak and write for their weekly graded work. I plan quickly by sketching out each day from this end goal. During class, we read and listen, but they speak and write to practice their skills. We practice speaking with a partner or in stations, and they write independently, with partners, or in small groups. We usually spend about 15-20 minutes on this practice.
Considering what I want students to do at the end of class saves me planning time because I know exactly where my students are headed, and I plan two or three activities that will prepare them for this final assessment so they can practice the skills in class.
For example, if I expect my students to write a description of their favorite game for their graded work, we practice in class by describing other sports. I recently did a fun lesson where students described lotería – stay tuned for this product in my TpT store!
This takes a few minutes to plan, and student practice in this case might take 10-20 minutes, depending on the activity.
Model your expectations.
I always show my students what the end product should look like. If I expect them to write, we’ll read a text that is modeled after what I want to see them produce at the end of class. We’ll often break it down, and I’ll ask them “What do you see here?” We’ll outline the requirements for the task by identifying what they see: specific vocabulary, structure, etc. This is also an opportunity to highlight what I expect from them. This is also a really easy way to build Spanish into my instruction, and expect Spanish in response.
If I want students to present an idea, we’ll do the same thing with a video or a mini-presentation. We’ll watch a youtube video, or I will model a short presentation using student-friendly language. Again, this is an opportunity to show students what I expect and make a brief list of what they see or notice in the video or presentation.
By modeling my expectations, I’m showing students exactly what I want them to do and helping them succeed. They have a great example right in front of them, we’ve discussed what they can do to be successful, and they know exactly what their finished product can look like.
It might take me five minutes to prep an example that meets our rubric’s standards, and then five to ten minutes to review in class. It takes a little more class time if we review it twice.
Encourage support and extensions.
We all have classes where a handful of students “just get it” and others are always a little late to connect to the ideas we are presenting. Planning for these supports and extensions allows every student to be successful, and makes it easy to adjust what you’re doing.
For example, if my class is watching a video, I might assign some students to identify words that we’ve heard, and assign other students to identify helpful words that we can use, but haven’t seen before. This way, every student is engaged in the video and will have something to share after we’ve finished watching. Looking for news ways to differentiate? Check out Differentiation 101.
Again, this gives every student an opportunity to succeed without placing the extra pressure on me to make sure they all connect with the materials.
Finding a video usually takes a little longer, but I’ll often use the movietalk database or allow myself up to ten minutes to find a video. This takes maybe 5-10 minutes to teach because I always show videos twice for comprehension.
Students do the heavy lifting.
Repeat after me: Students should be working harder than you. Are you working harder than your students?
Students are learning, they are acquiring language. It’s hard work! They should be putting in the work to acquire and demonstrate their knowledge.
Yes, you have to prepare materials and give student feedback, but students should be putting in the work to show off what they know. It usually takes me 2-3 minutes to plan quickly and develop activities that my students can do independently; I write these directly on my slides and do not prepare worksheets for independent work. My students can usually write for 15 minutes.
You don’t need worksheets.
There are two reasons I don’t often use worksheets*.
- They target very specific skills – I want to see everything my students can do.
- They’re a pain to prepare. I want the formatting to be just right, I want the questions to look a certain way, and I often notice a mistake after I’ve printed and made copies.
*I know, there are worksheets in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop – what a hypocrite! I want you to know that I take the time to make those worksheets perfect for you, and they are way better quality worksheets that I would make on a day-to-day basis for my students. Good worksheets take time and consideration, and I’ve done that for you so you can save your time.
The reality is: you don’t need worksheets! If you want to plan quickly, grab some scrap paper to keep on hand, or use those typo-filled copies or extra handouts, and have students write the materials on their own. This is good practice for the future when they’ll be taking notes in future classes or trainings, or when they need to prepare ideas for a job interview or presentation they’re preparing. All of our students will be writing at some point in the future, and encouraging them to write in class prepares them for this.
Writing in the target language, even copying, is good practice because it allows for more exposure to the language. By writing in a foreign language, they’re practicing spelling, accent marks, and sentence structure.
If you have a student who needs handouts or support for an IEP or 504 plan, I suggest printing out your slides with notes space so they have something tangible but are still held accountable to put in the work. You can support them in the moment by giving them specific tasks to focus on or modifying what they have in front of them.
Students create the vocabulary lists.
Making vocabulary lists, for me, is a hassle. Sometimes we don’t use or get to every word on the list, and my students often ask for related words that we should add to the list. That’s why I have students write the vocabulary list. There are a few ways to do this, and this is an activity we can plan quickly in thirty minutes (or even five!).
Option 1: I ask students what they learned at the end of class.
Usually, I’ll add a chart to my slides and will ask them to identify new vocabulary terms and their meanings. This encourages students to write down new words during class and share them at the end of class. It also holds them accountable for their knowledge and notes.
Option 2: I tell students what we’re going to be talking about, and ask them what words we’ll need in order to discuss this topic.
This helps us develop a more dynamic list and pushes students to take ownership over their learning. It’s also much more creative than offering a vocabulary list because students tend to “think outside the box” more than we do, and we’ll have a more comprehensive list at the end of class.
Option 3: We make a list together as we progress through a lesson.
I usually do this on the board, or in the chat if we’re online. This way, we can acquire new words that are relevant as we move through the lesson. We have just the words we need, and students aren’t overwhelmed by a long list of vocabulary. They “see the need” for the terms that we’ve added to the list throughout class.
These vocabulary options require zero prep and take 5-10 minutes of class time.
They should be producing language.
The goal of a language class is to be able to use the language, right? In order to do that, our students need practice. Learners should be writing and speaking! Luckily, production doesn’t require copies or lots of resources – give students a few choices for their writing, and encourage them to get started!
Here are some easy ways to get your students to produce language:
- Model production for them: Remember when I mentioned modeling earlier? It’s so important!
- Start writing together, and encourage them to finish the story or activity on their own.
- Allow pair work. Purposefully pair students together based on level and support. Encourage them to help each other out!
This takes a few minutes to plan, and student practice in this case might take 20-30 minutes, including modeling, co-writing, and independent work.
Work time is a good thing.
I used to feel guilty when I give my students work time. But now I build it in when I plan for my Spanish class. Seriously, I’m sitting there or wandering around and they’re doing all the work. But then I remind myself: I did all the hard work to set them up for independent work time. I already put in the effort; it’s their turn! This is one trick that helps students do the heavy lifting and helps me plan in thirty minutes or less.
Get ahead on homework.
Students LOVE to get ahead on homework – less to do at home! We love that too, right?
We can offer them the opportunity to practice their skills during class time by starting their homework during class – homework is for practice, isn’t it?
I know, “homework should be done at home.” Honestly, I don’t love the idea of homework. I prefer to let my students get ahead, give them time to practice the skills they’ve just acquired, and support them as they do it.
Encourage work revisions.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing my students realize how much they’re learning. Seriously, them seeing their own growth is truly amazing! This is why I allow students to correct their work and turn in revisions.
In my class, a B is meeting expectations, so I usually encourage students to resubmit work that has earned a C or lower. When they do quiz or test corrections, I encourage them to explain their new answers. I also encourage them to resubmit videos/speaking based on my feedback, even to make small changes like pronunciation corrections.
This helps my students grow and learn from their work, and they improve their language skills along the way. They also earn higher grades in class because they’re submitting higher quality work.
Use this time to check in with students.
Student check-ins are crucial for relationship building and everyone’s success. Let’s face it: students enjoy your class more and you are more responsive to their needs when you’ve taken the time to build relationships with your students.
During work time, I meet with students one-on-one (I try to get to everyone over a two-week period) and check in about their grades, their errors and improvements, and their goals. At the end of each unit, my students do reflective activities. This helps us keep our conversation focused on their goals and their success, and gives us a starting point for our chat.
All of this usually takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the day and what students are working on.
I know, I just dumped a lot on you and promised “secrets” to help you plan in thirty minutes. Taking everything from this page and trying to implement it is going to make you CRAZY. Instead, scroll back through, grab the one thing that you’re eager to try, and use that in your planning this week. Effective, efficient planning takes time. You’ll get there. Start small, and make changes as you go to find what works best for you. You’ll be able to plan quickly before you know it.