First up, let me make it absolutely clear – planning lessons, at least in your head and preferably a few jottings on paper, before you go into the classroom is highly recommended. Even with Dogme you’re thinking about your likely reactions and you probably know the learners so have a good idea of needs. However, all of us at some point, and quite often for a few of us, have to wing a lesson because of any of the following reasons:
We are covering a lesson at the last minute with no cover work left by the regular teacher.
There are unexpected occurrences that mean the planned lesson (or planned tea break) can’t happen and you need to do something, preferably with a quick decision.
IT has failed or materials are not available.
What can you do?
If you have a textbook, you can do one of the other units. This will likely be a choice of nothing or the worst unit in there. Pay lip service to it by generating vocabulary from pictures in there and then set up a task or activity related to that theme. My favourite lesson when I worked for a rubbish school was an At the Airport unit which became a roleplay with feelings and personality eccentricities. I did this by selecting the only lesson a last-minute addition to the lesson hadn’t already studied.
Otherwise, you can Dogme your lesson and start a conversation. Think at each stage, what can the learners do? What can they almost do? The almost stage is great – try something that will enable this to be further developed.
This gives you the ideal opportunity to focus on weak points of language that manifest themselves in learner output. It could be grammar but it doesn’t have to be. How often do you think students get help with pronunciation? How about use of reference to sound more natural and concise? Don’t just pick a random grammar point for the sake of it. It’s nice to have gone in winging it and come out having taught something a bit unusual. I’d also say, don’t be afraid of going wide with the language focus in your lesson instead of deep with one thing. Students like it and you can always suggest further study on that point for homework (such as finding more examples online or from a newspaper or something).
The old chestnut is, the best lessons we teach are ones we didn’t plan. Write it down: what would you do differently? What worked well? Could you substitute any part into another lesson plan to make it better? If it was without a book, your students might appreciate time to talk with each other. You’ve had a really good opportunity to teach reacting to students and not worrying about keeping to a plan. It might have been a bit rough but what were the redeeming features?
Any other tips or concerns for winging it? Leave them in the comments.