This post is designed for MFL teachers who, like me, are always on the lookout for tips to make lesson planning more efficient, maximise effectiveness of resources and be able to confidently plan lessons that are sharply focused, engaging and varied. I recently read some fantastic posts on Steve Smith’s blog which inspired me to consider this issue more seriously and create a system that would help me plan more efficiently.

Reasons to streamline planning:

  • More time to study your own subject, learn new things and improve your subject knowledge
  • More time to do quality CPD and reading to enhance your teaching practice
  • More time for other projects that you always mean to do but never get round to eg. co-curricular MFL ideas and events, displays, curriculum planning, organising resources better or having a clear-out, finding nice resources online…
  • Goes without saying, but… better work-life balance –> more time to look after yourself, sleep properly, eat properly, take part in leisure activities and relax, play with the dog, spend time with family, friends and loved ones –> less stress –> better emotional wellbeing –> better relationships –> better concentration and increased productivity generally + better behaviour management (I certainly manage the kids better when I am feeling relaxed and happy!)

Where does planning time go? I am answering this from my own experience, so this may be very different for other teachers. I started to notice that planning time would often be taken up not just by creating resources, as many of us love to do, but by decision-making, trying to work out which activities would be most appropriate for the lesson objectives, sifting through resources on TES, in textbooks or in departmental folders, finding something that looks almost ideal but then spending ages adjusting it slightly and then realising it’s still not quite what you want, starting to create a resource for an activity and then changing your mind and going with something else etc. (Perhaps I am just very indecisive, which may be attributed to my inexperience as a teacher and therefore slight lack of confidence when I am planning.) I would always think to myself, I’m sure other teachers don’t spend anywhere near as much time planning a lesson as I do, why do I take so long!? If you can relate to this, then I truly hope the following will help you as much as it has helped me. Instead of having that slight nudging feeling of dread of having to plan x number of lessons hanging over me each day, I now look forward to the idea of planning my lessons and can fully enjoy the process.

The solution? I’m sure many teachers already do this in some shape or form: make yourself a lesson planning mat / recipe / menu / formula / builder, whatever you want to call it (I tried pretty much all of those formats but this one was my favourite). In other words, create a list of possible activities for different stages of the teaching sequence that will work for pretty much any lesson objective. Whether or not this can work for you may depend on the methodology you have espoused. For me, it is loosely based on Gianfranco Conti & Steve Smith’s style of teaching sequences. You can read more on this on their blogs, The Language Gym, and Language Teacher Toolkit, but for a thorough introduction I highly recommend their books ‘The Language Teacher Toolkit’, ‘Breaking the sound barrier’, and ‘Becoming an outstanding languages teacher’. To give a brief summary of how this approach can work: I start with the learning outcome, eg. ‘be able to describe personality of family members’. I then quickly come up with my set of target sentence patterns or chunks (good further reading on this: why you should ditch word lists and focus on patterns and factors to consider in creating sentence builders). Once I have my set of chunks that I want students to be able to produce for that outcome, all I have to do is stick them through my ‘lesson builder’ and out comes my lesson!

For now, I use these ‘lesson builders’ for the ‘MARS’ part of Conti’s MARS EARS sequence. The ‘EARS’ part is a work in progress.

Put simply, I made a list of all the different activities I like to do with my classes (many of which you can read more about here) and then sorted them into the different stages of the teaching sequence and ranked them according to roughly how long they take to prepare – that way, on a very busy day, I can easily find the quickest activities. To plan a lesson, I then go through the table from left to right, decide 1) what kind of ‘knowledge organiser’ and activity I will use to do the ‘modelling’ stage of the sequence, and 2) choose a variety of receptive processing activities, or, if it’s a ‘structured output’ kind of lesson, I choose a variety from the lists on that table…et voilà !

I have never been more excited about planning lessons!

Do you do something similar? I would love to know what other people’s systems and hacks are – please let me know in the comments!

N.B. The vast majority of activity ideas in the lesson builder are NOT my own. Many are standard MFL classics that have existed for years, whilst many belong to Conti, Smith, the Michaela method / Katie Lockett / Barry Smith and possibly Dannielle Warren (@morganmfl).

Edit: I’ve received lots of kind feedback and requests on Twitter to share the template so here is the link to download it


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    1. Thank you, Jane! Yes I don’t explain any of the activities on this post as it’s more just to illustrate this method of planning, but Elbows to Ears I think was something I got from the Facebook MFL Knowledge Organiser group. Once you have spent time modelling the pronunciation of the target items thoroughly, pupils simply put their hands over their ears and elbows on table and all practise reading aloud for a set amount of time. You can then get individuals afterwards to read key bits aloud to praise the good pronunciation. It’s just a very short activity! In case there are other activities you weren’t sure about, I mention quite a few others in this blog


  1. Hi!

    This is fantastic. I’m a trainee teacher so I am looking to get more ideas when planning lessons. I’m confused to a lot of the activities/games you mention. Is there a place I can find out about how to do these activities/games?




  2. This is all brilliant. a very clearly organised way of putting Mars Ears into practice. Can you let us know how you approach KS4/upper school teaching? Do you use the SBs in the same way?


  3. My department and I have just found this sentence builder for exactly the reasons you’re talking about and desperate not to start from scratch on it ourselves – thank you so much for sharing! This one says lower school’ – do you have one that suggests activities for upper school that are very different? How do you approach GCSE years? Thanks! Hannah


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