Lesson 3: Between Planning and Improvisation

How Much Improvisation?

How much of the classroom activity should be planned, and how much room should we leave for improvisation?

The improvisation of which we speak here is used in reference to the idea that a language instructor, while planning for lessons should:

  • intentionally leave a certain portion of the time allocated to each lesson unplanned
  • allow herself to improvise or react spontaneously in response to developments that take place as the lesson unfolds
  • let the students dictate, to some extent, what happens in the lesson, without compromising the integrity of the curriculum or feeling that she is falling behind

Leaving room for improvisation in response to the developing dynamics in the class can become a planned part of the curriculum as a whole. Planning for the unplanned, so to speak, is a critical component of a successful language curriculum and an excellent tool for establishing agency of both instructors and students.

How much should be left unplanned depends on a variety of factors that have to do with everything from expected learning outcomes and programmatic structure to the personality of individual instructors. One way of looking at the planning process is something like the following: Plan your curriculum as desired, then assume that you will only be able to deliver, say, 80% of it. Go back to your plan, then, identify the 20% that you will take out, revise your curriculum, and feel good about it. Another way might be to view only forty out of the fifty minutes allotted to the lesson as the time available to you, leave the rest open, and still feel good about it. Whatever approach you take, be disciplined, thoughtful, and careful not to view this strategy as a mandate for designing a loose curriculum.

What percentage of your planned curriculum do you usually deliver? If close to 100%, what is the main factor? If much less than that, what is the most common reason?