Fragmented lessons

Published on 23rd September, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

In last week’s tip, we looked at how to choose appropriate practice activities. One of the recommendations mentioned was to select tasks which gave an overall sense of continuity. I thought this planning-related topic could also be the springboard for a related tip.

Fragmented lessons are inevitable from time to time: perhaps different elements need to be finished off as it is the end of the course or students have been away. You end up giving a lesson with three or four distinct and unrelated parts. I think this is unavoidable, yet as a lesson template it should arguably be used sparingly.

A few years ago I attended a talk by Scott Thornbury* in which he discussed the shape of a successful lesson: the fact that it usually has a beginning, middle and end. A good lesson, he argued, is rather like a good story. This struck a chord with my own views. Creating a rounded, developmental lesson is not something that students will consciously be able to recognise or articulate. However, a well-shaped lesson carries with it its own sense of purpose, organisation, even beauty. As human beings we tend to be drawn to well-rounded, symmetrical and conclusive events of this kind. I find that when observing teachers teach, this ability to make lessons feel whole on a subtle, almost intuitive level, is one of the features that distinguishes a very good teacher from a good one.

* Teacher Trainers’ Conference BC Damascus Autumn 1999