For Teachers

On the nonlinearity of lesson planning (Part 2)

I previously wrote that when lesson planning, often a great idea comes when we least expect it, such as right before going to sleep, or during our commute. If we wish to be creative in our lessons, we must use the part of our brain that excels at free association, brainstorming, and thinking outside the box (or the textbook).

Because lesson planning involves creativity, it often doesn’t work well when it’s forced. We can’t always sit down for the 30 minutes we have blocked off between classes and create an effective lesson. Conversely, we might find that the entirety of a great lesson comes to our mind in one sudden realization while we’re jogging after work.

The Default Mode & Lesson Planing

Psychologists talk about the “default mode” of the brain, activated when we’re not focused on what’s currently happening, but instead daydreaming, brainstorming, or being generally introspective. Meditation and mindfulness (focusing on what’s happening now) are considered ways to calm down the default mode. We don’t want to always be contemplating our future, for example, so sometimes the default mode can be a hindrance. However, it is where new ideas are generated, and thus an important part of lesson planning, in my opinion.

Flow & Lesson Planning

The opposite of the default mode is sometimes referred to as “flow,” a state of complete concentration, when we are most productive and focused on a task. This state is of course necessary for lesson planning, but I would argue that it’s only necessary as far as the small details of the lesson. We need to be in flow when we create a PowerPoint, determine the stages of a lesson and how much time to spend on each, and when we create materials and preview texts, videos, or vocabulary that we will present to learners.

Balancing the two

To sum up, both the default mode of the brain (where creativity sparks engaging activities for students) and the state of flow (where the “meat” — materials and procedure of the lesson — are created) are necessary to create an effective lesson. The thing is, these modes of the brain become active in different situations. Give someone enough coffee and they can focus on watching a video, crafting a vocabulary list, and thinking up some comprehension questions, but in order to create an interesting post-listening task or thoughtful discussion questions, it’s necessary to activate the brain’s default mode. How can we do this? A brisk walk outside, stepping away from the computer screen for a break, or even waiting until after dinner might help. Still stuck? Go to sleep and plan the rest of your lesson on the train in the morning, ideally while listening to A Tribe Called Quest.

Hanging out with friends over coffee can sometimes help generate lesson ideas

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