"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable."
--Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
This famous quotation by President Eisenhower neatly sums up my personal philosophy about lesson plans and lesson planning. I strongly believe in the importance of planning, and I never go into battle (for teaching is often a battle--a battle with time, a battle of ideas, a battle to balance an emphasis on meaning with an emphasis on form, a battle to get struggling students engaged...) without a mental roadmap of where I am and where I hope to lead my students. However, I have found lesson plans to be far less helpful than lesson planning (I hope that there is some room in the field for what may be this less-than-orthodox view). My personal teaching style is a meandering one that takes many turns, tangents and detours; I encourage my students to explore and this exploration often necessitates deviation from the original plan. Based on this style, one might argue that I need well drawn up plans more than most, yet I still find myself wondering how to best balance lesson planning, which I take to essentially be a mental journey, and lesson plans, which are the physical (or these days, electronic) manifestations of the aforementioned mental process.
I think a "good" lesson plan is one that actually works in the real (not the idealized) world. Given the reality of my teaching context, in which teachers are always pressed for time and most teachers have to manage a variety of course types and formats on any given day (typically intensive group classes in the mornings and/or evenings, with private tutorials and small corporate groups in the afternoons, sandwiched in between the intensive international students), a good lesson plan is a concise and flexible roadmap with clear, succinct directions, realistic objectives and suggested tasks. However, it is not a long narrative filled with rhetorical questions or interesting theoretical points to ponder, nor is it a detailed schedule with every single minute of class time accounted for. I have noted among some of the lesson plan templates I have seen that their developers included a detailed schedule (sometimes down to the minute) for each lesson segment and activity. Although I trust that this type of lesson plan is effective for the teachers who developed them, I must admit that they leave me somewhat puzzled. In the language teaching contexts I have experienced, things never seem to work out so neatly and precisely "off paper." So as to the value of this type of precise temporal planning, I am skeptical.
In creating and adapting lesson plans for my teaching context, I prefer to focus more on conceptualizing instead of detailing the lesson content, considering possible patterns of classroom interaction rather than prescribed or expected ones. I do not try to time the lesson down to the minute, but instead outline (not narrate) the most likely courses the class will take and how I might best adapt the instruction to the evolving situation in real time. In short, I believe in turning lesson plans into flexible roadmaps rather than tightly-scripted series of events.