Long, long ago, I made a discovery that changed my teaching. At this point, I don’t remember exactly how it came to be, but suddenly, one day it appeared. In fact, for me, it is an all in one Teacher’s Aid that, for the benefit of my students, I call Today’s Plan. Today’s Plan has addressed a number of weaknesses in my classes: Students had trouble focusing on the lesson, transitions between activities were slow, and I often had to stop and redirect the class.
Looking at Figure 1, you can see there are 12 different components, in the form of activity cards, that represent different parts of the lesson which sometimes change and have evolved over time. I also have found some effective and fun classroom management strategies and established important routines. Today’s Plan is quite easy for teachers to use.
Another crucial thing I did was to share my lesson plan with my class. I put Today’s Plan up on the board and introduced each activity to them. This made a big difference. Now the students could see what was coming, make smooth transitions, and focus on the activities.
Using Today’s Plan
We use Today’s Plan for our 4-6 year-old students (Ss) in our 40-minute after-school English classes. We greet the students at the door and remind them of the first four activities they should attend to before we start class. On the whiteboard is Today’s Plan, which is a vinyl CD pocket holder that showcases the class activity cards for all to see. Once everyone is seated, we ask if they have completed the items shown in card #1: Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Drink something. Crisscross applesauce (sit on the floor).
In the first term, we created a call-and-response chant to check on what Ss had done:
Teacher (T): “Did you go to the bathroom? Did you go to the bathroom?”
Ss that went to the bathroom speak first and say, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did” (shaking both thumbs up).
Then, Ss that didn’t go say, “No, I didn’t. No, I didn’t” (making an X with their arms in front of their bodies). The T asks the following questions and the Ss respond as above.
T: “Did you wash your hands?”
T: “Did you drink something?”
T: “Did you crisscross applesauce?”
Further into the term, Ss will form two groups and call and respond to each other.
Group 1: “Did you go to the bathroom?” Group 2 members respond with, “Yes, I did.” or “No, I didn’t.”
Group 2: “Did you wash your hands?” Group 1 answers and asks the next question and so on.
Next, the T says, “Let’s check!” Ss say, “Today’s plan!”
In the beginning, T says all activities while Ss listen and repeat if they like. Later, Ss will start repeating on their own and will build enough confidence to initiate answers. In the beginning, we use the words “first” and “next” as we go from card to card and later on add “then” as a new prompt.
We have activity cards for the Hello Song, Rocket (number counting), Weather Song, Alligator Chant (phonemic awareness chant), Crisscross Applesauce (XXAS-sit down), Mystery Box, How Are You, Dottie Chan (virtue messages), Story, Game, Craft Time, Lapbook, Let’s Sing (specific song cards are behind the generic song card), and the Goodbye Song. At certain times in the lesson, we will point to Today’s Plan and ask the Ss, “Did you do the Hello Song?” and if they have, they’ll answer, “Yes, I did.” Then we’ll go through all of the activities in the plan until we get to the one we haven’t done yet, listen to them say, “No, I didn’t,” then we will do that activity and the rest that follow.
The beginning portion of Today’s Plan is called the “Greeting Block.” These activities include the Hello Song, Rocket, Weather Song, Alligator Chant, XXAS, How Are You, and Dottie Chan, and are always on the schedule. The numbers used in Rocket will vary between the day’s date or a specific number found in a story or activity that comes later. The vocabulary and other items will change in Weather Song, How Are You, and Dottie Chan, depending on the activities that follow the Greeting Block. We do not use Mystery Box, Story, Game, Craft Time, Lapbook, or Let’s Sing in every class, so these cards will change as needed.
Over time, the students become accustomed to the features of Today’s Plan. They respond well to our class management strategies, such as getting their attention, transitioning quickly between activities, coping well with the grouping of more active and quieter activities, and celebrating the power of collaboration we bring to our class. Around this time, as their confidence grows, an interesting thing happens. Students feel at ease enough with the plan and the specific language and activities that we use, that one child or more feels confident enough to line up beside the teacher and face their classmates in the role of teacher. That first time is electric as the little boy or girl steps in front of their peers to lead them. In subsequent classes, more children will move to the front until the adult teacher becomes the only student in front of a class full of very young teachers. The students may take on the role of teacher to lead the activities alone or in pairs (it takes four little hands to handle the rocket!). They choose the activity that they would like to do and attach their name tag to the appropriate activity pocket. The teacher initially helps the students to make decisions, but after a few classes, the students work together to decide who does what. The goal is to have everyone, on their own accord, try to lead every activity in the Greeting Block sometime in the classes remaining.
Benefits of Today’s Plan
Preparation: Activity cards allow Ss to see what’s coming so they can prepare quickly for the next activity. This helps in making smooth transitions from step to step. It is also easy for the T to work a good balance between high and low energy activities.
Repetition: There is ample opportunity to repeat to remember and remember to repeat. Using the same language consistently, along with scaffolding, builds comprehension and confidence.
Curiosity: When Ss see the cards, they immediately discuss with each other what is on Today’s Plan.
Cohesion: Ts are able to construct a cohesive lesson plan that flows from point to point by linking the Greeting Block elements with new activities. For example, in Rocket, Ts match the final rocket number with a number that appears later in a story or another activity. For How Are You, Ts can use the emotion flashcards that will appear later in a story or activity. For the Mystery Box, Ts put in an item or clue that will be used later in the lesson. Ts can also use a class mascot to highlight a virtue that comes later in a story or activity.
Learner Autonomy: It gives Ss choice and leadership opportunities for them to become teachers. Ss can choose the content, their own leadership role, and learn how to negotiate and cooperate in running their own lessons.
Trust: The structure of Today’s Plan provides an environment for comfort and safety through a routine process of learning, repetition, and practice. This develops automaticity, where responses can become quick and fluid, and self-confidence can flourish.
In the past, I kept my materials face down in a corner of a table where they could not be seen until I pulled them out to show. I liked being the “magician,” but my students did not have a North Star to guide them, so there were bumps in the lesson that did not need to be there. Today’s Plan smooths it all out, giving both the children and the teacher anchors and wings and providing pockets full of fun and mystery for us all to enjoy.
P.S. Stay tuned for Part Two in the next issue. I will show you how to incorporate several books and activities into the plan’s structure and introduce Dottie, our beloved mascot, who shows us many ways we can be kind and brave in the classroom.
Kim Horne teaches at Izumi Chuo Kindergarten in Gifu City. While in the Peace Corps, she did agriculture extension and English teaching projects in the Dominican Republic (DR), then served as an academic director for SIT’s College Semester Abroad in the DR. She enjoys giving presentations, photography, and writing haiku.