- What has gone before. Each lesson will need to balance the recycling of previously taught material – if this is not done items will easily be forgotten – with new items. For example, a beginner level lesson focusing on the infinitive of purpose might start by recycling place names (supermarket, garage, post office, library etc) in an activity where students match flashcard pictures and words, go on to incorporate these names with the present continuous ( each student has a flashcard – they have to ask and answer Where are you going? I’m going to the supermarket.) in order to find the other person in the class who’s going to the same place, and only finally use the same context to introduce the infinitive of purpose (Where are you going? I’m going to the supermarket to buy some milk / … to the library to change some books etc). The lesson has therefore included two recycling objectives and one new item.
- Assumed Knowledge. Recycling will involve you thinking about your assumptions for the lesson. If you are recycling something as the basis for introducing a new item, how sure are you that your students will remember it and therefore how important is it as an objective? There will be times when recycling is the main objective for the lesson – for example, if at intermediate level you decide to bring together all the ways that learners have previously met of referring to future events. At other times, you may be pretty sure that the students will remember and be able to use the recycled items – but only if you include a focus activity before you attempt to combine them with other material. In this case, they will probably form a secondary objective of the lesson. And finally, you may be sure that the student’s will be able to use the recycled item without any specific prior focus. In this case the item is Assumed Knowledge. Keep in mind, however, that if your assumption is wrong, it could destroy the whole lesson. If in doubt, it’s always best to include an activity focusing on just that item first.
- What will come next. In some lessons you may wish to introduce something because you know it will provide a useful basis for what is coming later. For example, if you are teaching a course where the present simple precedes the present continuous, you might decide to insert a lesson on likes and dislikes (love/like/hate etc + Ving) in the middle because having the students meet the –ing form in this context, and learn the names of a variety of activities, will make it easier to introduce the present continuous later.
- How limited should the objectives be ? They need to be limited enough both to fit into the timescale of the lesson, and to avoid creating overload for the students, but not so limited that the students go away feeling that they’ve not achieved much in the lesson. Learning is like eating – too much at one time produces indigestion, but not enough causes dissatisfaction. If you’re introducing the present simple for instance, trying to deal with the affirmative, negative and interrogative all in one lesson would almost certainly create overload. But that doesn’t mean that the affirmative needs to be your only objective. It may well be introduced in the context of a lexical area that needs to be taught first, providing another objective for the lesson.
- Variety. This last example focuses on another aspect of setting objectives – the need for variety. A lesson which focuses on one thing and one thing only risks becoming boring. To go back to our eating analogy, you may like chocolate gateau but you don’t necessarily want it for all three courses. This is a particular risk with specific types of lesson – lessons which focus entirely on phonology are, in my experience, rarely successful (though there are exceptions to every rule.) But in general, a mix of different types of objective usually provides for a more balanced and enjoyable lesson.
- Anticipated problems. When you’re defining your objectives you need to think not only about what you want to teach, but also the problems which each item will create for your students and what you need to do about it. For example, if your objective focuses on place names : library, garage, railway station, pizzeria, etc the words would create different problems depending on who you were teaching. If you were teaching French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese learners, one problem you would have to face would be students presuming that library meant bookshop, because of the existence of a false cognate in their own language. If you were teaching Japanese learners, the problem would be the /l/ and /r/ sounds which the words contain.
In the next part of this article, we’ll look at the different types of objective which you might want to include in your lesson, and how they might be written out in a lesson plan.