When Should You Abandon Your Lesson Plan?

The art of improvisation: when and why language teachers should go rogue.

David Weller


The most magical learning moments are often unplanned.

I’m sure all teachers have experienced this. The lesson takes on a life of its own and goes off-plan, but the students have an amazing learning experience.

Of course, the opposite happens too — a plan goes off the rails and is a complete disaster.

Why do these occurrences happen? How can we encourage more of the positive and less of the negative experiences?

Today we’ll look at what we can learn about abandoning our lesson plans, when we should do it, and when we shouldn’t. Plus, when we do, how do we ensure it’s a positive experience and not a flop.

Let’s start.


Why should we be flexible with our plans?

Every experienced language teacher knows that teaching isn’t an exact science; it’s more of an art form.

I remember I watched a talk from educator Adrian Underhill many years ago, who discussed the difference between being prepared and preparedness, and the importance of improvisation in the classroom.

No two classrooms, lessons, or students are exactly alike. So while we can prepare and plan as best we can, we can’t factor in all the variables that we’ll encounter in the lessons.

Maybe there’s been some celebrity news everyone’s talking about, or the students are particularly tired after sports day, or some other factor that affects your students.

Indeed, the ability to adapt is what separates a good teacher from a great one. It’s about knowing when to hold fast to your plan, and when to set it aside in favor of a teachable moment that just walked through the door.

So what are the reasons we should improvise?

1. Respond to the pace and understanding of students

Learning is not a one-size-fits-all process; it’s a journey where each student paces differently. Sometimes, the rhythm of this journey differs from the tempo we’ve set…



David Weller

Lessons, stories and visuals to develop your language teaching and learning. 20 years in education, 3 books, and a twice-monthly newsletter.