Friday, 11 January 2013

What makes a lesson great? - an #eltchat summary

This is a summary of the first #eltchat of 2013 which took place at 12 noon on 9th January.  It felt good to be back after the Christmas break and exchanging ideas again with colleagues old and new from around the world.  The full title of the chat was:

What makes a lesson great?  Favourite lessons - the ones we do over and over again that always work.

This was my favourite kind of chat - a lively and informative conversation between enthusiastic teachers with few links to external sources.  It was expertly moderated by @Shaunwilden and we were pleased to be joined in the closing stages by @Marisa_C.

The hour kicked off with a tweet from @teflrinha which resonated with many of us - 'I find favourite lessons like jokes ... I can never remember more than a vague impression and have to reinvent the wheel ... should keep a note.'

So what does make a lesson great?

Some ideas:
  • When I think of the lessons I like to run year after year, they are the ones that allow the students to surprise me - @kevchanwow
  • Any lesson when students have that look that says 'I got it and can use it!' - @PaulIhcordoba
  • Lessons that are engaging and involve all four skills - @worldteacher
  • It flows effortlessly, completely engaging the students and leading to a satisfying outcome. - @teflrinha
  • Lessons which are well-planned, engaging, energetic and fun - @TPMcDonald85
  • Interesting tasks that bring out lots of language from the students - @eltknowledge
  • Lessons in which students collaborate and learn from each other with some help from me - @BrunoELT
  • A great lesson has room for us as teachers to really learn and stretch as well - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons with games or any kind of competitive element
  • Adaptability is a key issue for a successful lesson, both in terms of the lesson being adaptable for different groups and also being able to adapt a lesson as you go along according to circumstances on the day
  • Lessons that take advantage of sudents' dynamics - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons which are coherent, stand alone, and where the students come out feeling they have learnt something concrete - @jo_cummins
  • Tasks pitched at the right level, just by the sense of challenge and chance of success, generate interest - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons which include student-generated materials - @teflrinha
  • Any lesson involving drama or role-play
  • Being creative and having fun while problem solving sounds like a good combination - @AlexandraKouk
  • Lessons where students are doing most of the work - @SueAnnan
  • A great lesson is a combination of material/students/teacher/planets aligning... - @jo_cummins
  • Lessons which give the students something to chew on, which have the shock factor, even - @ColeenMonroe
  • The most successful lessons I have seen or designed always had a powerful context/story and great memorability - @Marisa_C
  • I know it's a good lesson when students forget to remind me that it's break time! - @worldteacher
  • .....or don't notice the bell! - @GemL1
  • .....or ask, 'Has the lesson ended?' - @prese1
  • .....or if I myself say, 'Is it over already?' and don't notice the time passing! - @eltknowledge
Do teachers and students agree on what makes a great lesson?

@yitzha_sarwono began this thread of the chat by making the comment that her favourite lessons to teach are sometimes very different to her students' favourite lessons, adding that, whilst she favours pronunciation classes, her young students prefer learning grammar!  There is clearly a danger of teachers teaching lessons they love, but which don't teach much of use, as talked about in this article by @hughdellar.  However, most participants agreed that if students enjoy a lesson, the teacher does, too and vice-versa.

Examples of favourite lessons

Most of the contributors' favourite lessons seemed to involve an element of collaboration and teamwork and many were project or task based.
  1. 'How to murder your teacher' - students hotseat the teacher, then plan the perfect murder (via @eltknowledge).
  2. 'Teacher Disappears, Students Suspected' - a news story based lesson which uses all four skills (via @worldteacher).  (I'll write this activity up as a separate blogpost now that I've been reminded of it!)
  3. 'Create an alien' - great for reviewing/expanding parts of the body vocabulary (I can write this one up, too, if there's sufficient demand!).
  4. 'Describe your house' - pairwork activity where student 1 describes where he lives and his partner has to draw it (via @chiasuan).
  5. 'Show and tell' (via @yitzha_sarwono).
  6. 'Redesign a house' - a group task which can be simplified by providing lexis or shifted to different conversation topics (via @kevchanwow).
  7. Student presentations - allow students to present on topics they've chosen - a totally student-centred activity (via @eltknowledge).

Great lessons are not necessarily the ones which have been meticulously planned - sometimes they just happen, but they are the ones which are relevant, engaging and varied with a clear learning outcome.  We also acknowledge that a lesson that works incredibly well with one group could just as easily fall flat on its face with another!  The most important thing, therefore, is to know our students and tailor our lessons for them.  We cannot control what our students learn, but, by keeping them engaged, we can provide the potential for learning.



  1. "We cannot control what our students learn, but, by keeping them engaged, we can provide the potential for learning."

    What a great chat you guys had. I especially loved this quote. I'll keep that in mind as I the year goes.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Rose. Yes, it was a good chat - a great start to 2013!