25 comments on “How long does preparation take YOU?

  1. Oh no! This is particularly relevant as I should be marking Delta assignments at the moment – well obviously very easy to get distracted and procrastinate!

    Anyway, my tuppence’s worth. I often find, as you said above, that in preparing to give talks I follow a very similar pattern – spend weeks of ‘trawling’ information before merging/editing it down to some kind of cohesive block. I also find that it takes two or three times before I’m fully confident with what I’m saying – I find (honest) feedback really helps here.

    Unfortunately, since my proposal for IATEFL this year on Language Play got turned down (rrr!), I won’t be faced with this problem for now.

    As for lesson planning, if I’m really honest, I don’t spend very long on it. However, on the rare occasions that I do, I find i really get a lot more out of lessons (not sure if it’s the same for the Ss!). There seems, to me, to be a direct correlation between amount of time spent planning and how well I’m genuinely able to tailor material to my Ss’ needs.

    • Hi,

      really sorry about that IATEFL talk. Horrible for you.

      You and me both – trawlers, I mean. Hours of it. Until things start to coalesce around the themes I want to express.

      Of course that’s different from reporting on experience and stuff like that.

      As for lesson planning…well I think it helps, but it’s what teachers DO with the plan they’ve made that matters, I reckon. And then we re-use lessons and change them when/if they work.

      I reckon!


      • Thanks for the reply – good point about lesson planning, I mean about it being what teachers do with it. Have observed numerous teachers making a dog’s ear out of stunningly-produced material (on balance though I’ve also seen a lot of teachers use fairly standard material in an excellent way). So proof of your point, I think.

        For what it’s worth – a tip on preparing for talks. I’m currently planning a talk on Critical Thinking in Teacher Development for this year’s Braz-TESOL in Rio, where I’m based (assuming it gets accepted of course – getting a bit paranoid about this now!). Had a few ideas to start with, but yesterday I was lucky enough to have my suggestion on this for #eltchat accepted, and wow, what a ‘hot’ debate! I got tons of great ideas and things to think about, so wrote the summary by way of a ‘thank you’ (available here, btw: http://www.tmenglish.org/index.php/blog.html). Writing the summary really helped in formulating some clear avenues for further investigation, so definitely a useful preparation tool for me.

        Anyway, good luck with your upcoming talks – sure they’ll be great as ever!

  2. I am glad you asked. I am a blogger who has had to take a hiatus because I am wrapped up in my first love, teaching. This is my 6th year in my district, and I feel like I am just hitting my stride. I go to work on Sunday morning for a few hours to get caught up on plans and I grade papers every evening while I watch TV with my husband. I tried going paperless last semester, but that was a total bust! Now I am grading papers and lesson planning daily just to keep up. For the first time ever, I am not putting things off or getting super-behind on my work. Nevertheless, I am working harder than ever! My workload has not decreased,but I’m happier because I don’t have to deal with the stress of being perpetually behind, and I can see how my work is benefiting my students.

    • Hello Tinashe,

      thanks so much for coming along and telling us about your situation.

      You are working really hard, I reckon.Do you HAVE to plan all the time – and do some plans become recyclable I wonder. I guess the question I’m asking is whether planning time gets less with experience, or whether, on the contrary, we have to plan more and more.

      And what of yeaching without planning at all? Some teachers do it. I wouldn’t advocate it myself!


  3. Hi Jeremy – it takes me forever (as you know). And it’s interesting because, like you, I find that the first time I do a new session (like I did this weekend) there are lots of things I decide to change about it. These changes come from reflections on what seemed to work best, where the audience looked a little lost, where I felt the session was getting too slow. In my reworking, I’ll look at ways in which I might try to up the pace, or be clearer in getting my point across. After two or three goes at it, I tend to feel that I’ve got it just about right. However, this also seems to be the stage when the talk starts to feel stale. I get the feeling that I’ve said it all before, and it loses its freshness. And for me, it’s exactly the same when I’m teaching. The first time I try out a new piece of material, or idea for an activity, I get very excited about it and experiment with it in class. If it works well, I’ll tweak it and use it with some other classes, and pass the idea on to other teachers. Really good material can then be filed for use at a later date. But I definitely can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, however well it works.

    I agree with what you say about Scott’s talk too, and how you would be happy to watch it again. I’m sure it’s the same for all good performances. It’s a bit like watching a good film, or reading a book for the second time. You’ll pick up on different aspects, and things you didn’t notice first time round. And I can’t help thinking that the amount of preparation, or rehearsal, has a lot to do with the quality of the performance. It’s one of the things that worries me about some proponents of dogme, who seem to suggest that teachers should spend more time reflecting on lessons after they’ve happened, rather than planning them in intimate detail beforehand. Surely, we need both. I obviously don’t know how people are going to react to my talk or lesson until I do it, but I can try to plan for it, allow space in the session for discussion to develop and people to shape the direction we’re moving in. And I certainly want to spend time making sure I have suitably engaging material, and I’ve given thought to how I can best exploit it.

    In terms of the help you asked for, I have only one suggestion; stop multitasking, displacing and procrastinating, and focus. Two weeks is still quite a long time 😉

    Now, what was I supposed to be doing…?

    • Hi Antonia,

      thanks for coming along – and yes I know you spend hours preparing too. That’s why I am panicking at the moment. Absolutely no idea how to proceed with the talks I am supposed to be doing!!

      But I do prepare and then change and change until a talk settles down. And that is very like teaching isn’t it.

      It is difficult to know how to stop a talk getting stale. It shouldn’t happen because after all that preparation we should be able to use it quite a few times. But the talk you saw the other day – only the 2nd time I’d tried it – already feels a little stale and what should I do next? But I HAVE to use it for a bit; there just isn’t time to plan a whole lot of new ones.

      That was great. Easier than trying to catch up on work!


  4. So far it has taken me 15 years to prepare for my next class.

    In all seriousness, it doesn’t take me long topreapre a class, but that is down to my experience.

    I am currently preparing a talk for the next Braz-TESOL event in July in Rio de Janeiro. I have been thinking about it for a few months and will continue to develop it over the next few. However, I am not working on it constantly.

  5. Hello Jeremy

    Preparation definitely takes a WHOLE lot longer if it’s for colleagues. Like Antonia, I get excited about things, develop them, and recycle them. However one of the side-effects of getting long in the tooth seems to be a reluctance to file away the mountains of ‘stuff’ that I used to. It’s quicker to work something up from scratch than to find it again.

    Why longer for colleagues? Paranoia partly, but also I think the nature of what I’m trying to do is different. In class I aim to enable students to engage with the language and use it – I don’t want to get in the way of their learning, and so I am more concerned with accompanying their ‘learning journey’ (Oh yikes, that sounds dreadfully pretentious) and therefore with adapting to what happens. If I’m presenting to colleagues then that’s a whole new ball game ..

    • Hello Catherine,

      thanks for coming along and for making that clear distinction between presenting to colleagues and teaching. Colleagues do provoke us into thinking and preparing hard I think!

      But your ‘long-in-the-tooth’ comment really rings true with me. We DO need to do some new stuff don’t we – to keep ourselves alive!


  6. Jeremy,

    Thanks for the chance to think about my own time-management skills while avoiding prep for next year’s courses. I’ve never presented. But, with the help and encouragement of my Dip instructor, I am reworking a paper I hope to present in October. The idea of trying to add something useful to the dialogue, when sitting right in front of me will be the very people who helped shaped my ideas, makes my palms sweaty. So I am doing a lot of reading. On the train. While eating lunch. Before dropping off to sleep in bed. But I wonder if all this preparation isn’t also a kind of procrastination. Eventually I will have to say enough is enough and work with what I have in hand (or maybe my instructor will do that for me?) I thought this was just a problem of lack of experience. But if you and Anotonia and so many others haven’t found any short-cuts, I guess I should probably just enjoy the fact that preparing is feeding my curiosity and keeping me motivated to improve not only the paper, but the way I work in the classroom.

    As for lessons, I love to prepare. If I have time, I gather boat loads of material (videos, dialogues, simplified newspaper articles) and then I walk into class, try and gauge where the students are at, and often times use none of the materials I’ve prepared. Most of what shapes my classes are my post-class notes, pretty detailed information of where the students were at the end of the last class. And all of the prep I do before class is my way of thinking about the students so that I’m better able to meet them where they are at in the next class. The actual materials I end up using to do that are pretty secondary.


    • Hi Kevin,

      so sorry that I haven’t replied before. No excuse except serious travelling and talk-giving. I am typing this as the evening call to prayer (quite a few versions) sounds over the city of Jakarta…

      I don’t think all that reading is procrastination. well I hope it isn’t because that’s pretty much what I do. Read, take notes, read, and then suddenly something inside you tells you to stop ‘faffing around’ and get on with it. A hair-raising but exciting moment!

      I agree that lesson prpearation is never wasted if it involves really thinking about our students.


  7. ah … preparation and procrastination … what a great double act 🙂 I guess both feed into each other. I like (or at least find interesting) the way time expands and contracts as I prepare a workshop or talk for a conference. First there’s the deadline for submitting the proposal. Sometimes I have a bee in my bonnet – an area I’m exploring, students I’m teaching, material I’m writing – that makes it easy for me to focus on an area. But sometimes it’s the deadline itself that pushes me into making the decision. Writing the abstract and the outline is sometimes an exercise in creative writing (mm … maybe I shouldn’t have confessed to that!) but it helps me to clarify why I’m interested in the topic, what I want to put across, maybe what I want participants to be able to go away with, It’s more pressure than preparation usually as the deadline looms. Then it gets put aside. There are usually months and months before I have to give the talk/lead the workshop. The details of the actual session are pushed to one side, but a kind of “noticing” phenomenon is happening – materials, blogs, experiences in class, conversations with colleagues, musings over the washing up, all seem to feed into the topic. A kind of amorphous mass of thoughts, impressions, examples, opinions grows almost unconsciously. These days I work through some of these thoughts on my blog and that really helps me prepare, I’ll probably also create a bookmark for links and references and material, and a growing word doc of notes. This kind of “farming” of input goes on for months – definitely leaning more towards procrastination than preparation – but, for me, I can’t have the one without the other. And then, finally, the time comes to sit down and find a shape. I usually go back to my “creative” outline and force myself to adjust to its framework. It’ll be far from perfect, no doubt, but the discipline of conforming to a framework helps me see its weaknesses and the end product usually turns out to be a variation. And as I repeat the session, it changes again and again, in response to previous audiences, to future audiences, to changes in me and my thoughts and working context. Just as Antonia described – but does it get better? No,I don’t think so – just different. And stale? Again I don’t think it does necessarily – I’ve revisited talks I gave as a DOS ten or fifteen years ago. Or at least the basic premise. Times have changed, I’ve changed, but the basics are the same. I guess it’s the perception of repetition, or of rapid repetition in quick succession with little time to “procrasinate” in between that can cause staleness. Sorry … I feel that I’ve been rambling, and it’s time to go off and do some maternal multi-tasking. Thanks for the food for thought, Jeremy.
    Oh yes, and a word of advice (!) ? as Antonia says, two weeks is a long time and I reckon you’ll find the talks have been quietly writing themselves in the back of your mind.

    • Can’t apologise enough for not replying before,. Ceri, especially you took the time to comment on my post. But as I keep ‘saying’ I’ve been living in airports since Barcelona. Great fun and interesting, but not conducive to catching up with things.

      I agree about the fun of changing, gradually adapting a presentation if you do it more than once. By about the 3rd time it’s really beginning to ‘work’. And then you give the talk a few times and finally you have to abandon it because 9a) people have heard it and (b) it has lost its sparkle. But it’s like losing an old friend. Horrible!!

      Deadlines! The WORK!


  8. Thanks for this thought provoking post!
    After pondering upon it, I find that I can’t really compare the time/effort invested in preparing for classes I teach and presentations.
    My classes are mine, all year, several times a week and I have a very clear picture in my head of the classroom dynamics.
    Presentations are much trickier as I don’t know the audience as a group. it doesn’t even help if I know a few friendly faces in the audience! Preparation always more time consuming!


    • Hi Naomi,

      yes I know what you mean. When preparing talks you have to try and work out how to get across what you want without really knowing who’s going to be around.

      It’s always a problem and the upshot is that you can’t really expect to please everyone. You just have to do your best!


  9. I just attended your “Dickens thing” in Tel-Aviv. It was wonderful!
    Truly a great experience!
    The preparation time you describe in your post was certainly appreciated as the results were impressive!
    Thank you!
    P.s. – those bells were such a nice finishing touch!

    • Naomi,

      thanks you so so much for your comments. We LOVE doing that show. I am so pleased you liked the bells. Like a lot of the best things in the show they were Steve’s idea!


  10. Hi everybody
    Watching you Jeremy, Scott and Ceri at the Barcelona was a lesson for me in how to give good presentations. I don’t know how much time is appropriate for preparation. It probably takes me too long. I like to run through it a couple of times as well, usually on my poor long-suffering husband, to make sure I’ve got the timing right.

    But I only give one teacher training talk a year, so it has to be what James Dean Brown calls the ‘CBS’ or ‘current best shot’. There are plenty of things I would change about the talk I gave at the IH conference but I won’t get a chance!
    Still it was worth it to see all of you in action!

    • Hello Jessica,

      I am so so sorry that I didn’t comment before. I have been insanely travelling since Barcelona. My excuse.

      As for CBS, I LOVED watching your presentation, being in it. It was terrific.

      It IS nice to get a chance to refine talks when you do them more than once. But last week in Vietnam and here in Indonesia I’ve done 3 ‘first time’ talks, and that’s seriously scary each time. Changes needed!


  11. Hi Jeremy 🙂

    This post touches really close to me, as I feel I spend too much time on preparation. I have spent as much as 4 hours preparing for a 1-hour class – but it turned out out to be an awesome class, thankfully!! It would have been “worth it” to most people if I had been able to use the same class for other groups – which I haven’t.

    Many times preparation for classes takes little time – familiarity with the level/track/group. But at other times I just have an unusual idea or a new view on the topic, and I go for it. Would a less planned class have the same effect – that is for us to wonder, bu I can’t help myself. Many times it takes hours for a lesson that will take much less time to be delivered.And I still do it, because I think it’s worth it.

    As for presentations, well that takes a whole different level. Being a not-so-experienced presenter, presenting takes a big toll on me. I worry about them, I work on them – even if I have given the same presentation before – I change the slides and make it as personalised as possible. And I completely freak out on the day I am supposed to present. It helps to get feedback from fellow presenters (before doing it!!!), but I am still super nervous.

    Will it still go away? People say it will, but I’ve been teaching for 15+ years and I still feel very nervous on the first day of class each semester.

    Is it fear of being judged and evaluated by students and peers? A need for approval? Maybe…I just know what I feel.

    Great post, Jeremy. As usual

    Cheers. X

    • Hi Cecilia,

      will it ever go away? Probably not. This morning I gave a new talk on reading to a group of about 150 Indonesian teachers. The 10 minutes before (and yesterday when i was thinking about it) made me incredibly nervous. Amazingly, ?depressingly, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. However the rewards in terms of satisfaction, pleasure at doing something well (when/if it DOES go well) are much more pleasurable than the nerves that preced the event.

      I think.

      As for planning lessons? Well that’s the planning paradox….


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