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You that feeling of scrambling last minute to plan for a lesson? Searching through hundreds of web pages and flipping through books trying to find something that your students will find enjoyable and you’ll find effective?
I hear you!! Today’s post is about exactly that – how to organize your semester lesson plans and be a no-stress lesson planner.  Finding resources that are appropriate, authentic and engaging can be so difficult sometimes, can’t it? Actually, that’s why I created this site in the first place – but that could be a whole other post!
Read on for expert tips for no-stress lesson planning!
(By the way, if you don’t have access to my free printables library, click the button below. There are new free printables there every month!)
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Why I’m a “Pre-Plan” Lesson Planner

So, I came up with a solution to the on-the-fly and night-before lesson planning crisis about seven years ago, when I decided to dedicate my career to teaching and tutoring English full time.
I got tired of late night planning, scrambling to find authentic ESL lesson plans, and trying to fulfil the needs of my diverse students. I was teaching students from the age of 5 to teens, university undergraduates to professionals who had recently immigrated to Canada. How could I keep all their needs straight, and still have time to breathe?
Semester lesson plans are the answer!
I spent 30 to 60 minutes per student, per semester planning out exactly what we’ll do each class.  Well, developing a guide is more accurate. Of course, it does need to be modified along the way, but this simple method saves a ton of time later in the year.

5 Ways Not To Do Semester Lesson Plans 

Here are five ways not to be a semester lesson planner.
These are the mistakes I made quite a few years ago and my go-to-semester lesson plan template has saved the day many times.

1. Last Minute

As I mentioned above, last minute stress is not what you want before an English class. Throwing something in your bag and hoping for the best is not the world’s best idea either, of course.
I’ll admit that this year I was quite a bit behind my tutoring lesson planning in September since I started at a new teaching job during the day. It threw me back seven years and inspired this post, actually!  Wow, is it ever a pain to plan every lesson during the week (or a bunch on a Sunday) when you’re swamped with a lot of other work.
Instead, grab a trusty Excel file, make a spreadsheet, and put in all the dates you have class each week, per student.


2.  Without Goal-Setting with Your Students


Of course, I always set goals with my students before making their personalized plans. Goal setting is a keyelement in lesson planning.  I simply have each student fill out a Goal Setting document each year (even if it’s only a few lines). Then, I base my semester lesson plans around that.


So, the first week of classes I don’t have a sure-fire plan, but I do try my best to get that together within the first couple weeks of term. Sometimes, when I have the same students year to year, I can create their plan based on goals we discuss at the end of our Winter/Spring semester.




3. Without Pre-reading  Books/Films

Before you can know what books, documentaries or films to add to the semester plan for each student, we need to preview them.  Now, I know that this can take some time – but it’s a great excuse to watch some Netflix and check out new documentaries.  In fact, whenever I’m watching a tv show, short film or reading a book, my mind jumps to “lesson planner mode” for a few minutes.

I usually grab a Post-It-Note and jot down the ideas when they hit  – they often come in handy for the next semester’s lesson plans!


4. Forgetting About Time Management

Remember, many of your students are as busy as you are!
  •  If you’re teaching kids – they have homework, extracurricular activities and family time
  •  If you’re teaching adults – they, too – have jobs, after-work commitments


Here are a few questions to ask your students before getting in lesson planner mode:
  •  How much time do you realistically have for homework I give you each week?
  • What other commitments do you have  (work, extra-curricular, etc.)
  •  What is your most important goal in life at the moment? Where does English fit in? Why are you learning English?


I always leave a column in my planning spreadsheet for homework, but I leave a few weeks of homework blank. You can always use a “catch-up day” or two in every plan  😉

5. Being Too Rigid Of A Lesson Planner

Now that I’ve told you all to make your own Excel files, I must say we’ve got to be flexible.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in years of tutoring, it’s that plans are definitely open to change. Sometimes, we can hear a really great news story in the morning and adapt that for a lesson plan in the afternoon.  Other times, I’ll discover a fellow teacher-blogger with printables and use a few to complement my own lesson plans.
Also, I find it’s important to watch and see how your students feel on a particular day. If they are exhausted, it might not be the right time for a grammar lesson, for example.  So the dates and homework columns of my spreadsheet often change based on what I think students can do during a session.

How To Go with the Flow 6 Simple Ways To Organize

Now, my semester lesson plans are never set in stone and are especially flexible for new students. I organize my resources in such a way that I always have extra lessons on hand in my tutoring bag or backpack.
For example, just last October there was a political crisis here in Catalunya (remember this?).
Trust me, a lot of my lessons that week were speaking on the crisis, the economy, class debates and argumentative language.  We reviewed past tenses, discourse markers, persuasive argument techniques, and the role of the media instead of doing our planned class.
We can always see an English teaching opportunity in every newsworthy event – and why not turn that into an innovative lesson plan?

My Secret Lesson Planner Method

Well, this is great – but what about the nitty gritty details of putting together a weekly plan and homework as an Excel or Google sheet?
How do you decide which lesson to give students who have certain goals?  Most importantly, how do you organize all of the aspects of an English tutoring business without feeling overwhelmed?
I’ve given it away as much, more complete guide to lesson planning in my Profitable, Organized English Teacher course.

In fact, you even get the exact spreadsheet I use included!  Plus, you can always hop into the exclusive Facebook group for course members and ask me any teaching-related question you have!
The course has:
  • 3 sections with a helpful introductory video for each one
  • 9 modules with video slides to keep you engaged
  • All the secrets I’ve used to run successful tutoring businesses
  • A handy 29-page student workbook with homework sheets to keep you on track
  • 2 quizzes to keep you on track


Oh, and there are 3 awesome bonuses, too:

  • Access to the Exclusive POET Facebook group so you can get personalized help, stay motivated and connect with others on this course. That means personalized support for you!
  • Keeping Up With Business Trends video to help you become the best teacherpreneur you can be
  • My Go-To Budgeting Spreadsheet – so you can organize your finances, too!
If you have any questions about the course, feel free to email me or drop a comment below this post.
What is your favourite method for lesson planning? Do you create semester-long lesson plans for your students, or do you prefer to be an on-the-fly lesson planner?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! (I read and respond to every non-spam comment).
Happy Teaching!
P.S. Photo lovers, the photo for the main image in this post is one I took in Amsterdam in 2016.

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