Sunday, October 2, 2016

How Do You Build Modules?

students carve pumpkins
Since this weekend marks the end of one month and the beginning of another, I have spent much of my day completing my September reports and designing the modules for October. I thought you might like a peek in side my brain too see how I go about the planning. In a future post, I can share all the materials I created to make one of these modules come together in the classroom.

I begin by looking at our needs assessment, which looks something like this. This time around students want to learn about food first. Thanksgiving and Halloween fall in October, so this aligns nicely with food as a month-long theme.

My rough plan looks like this:

October 3-7: Share a simple recipe for acorn squash with tie-in to Canadian Thanksgiving; make a Language Experience Approach book when we cook and eat the squash.
October 11-15: Skill building, vocabulary building around food staples and making a shopping list
October 17-21: Our recipes (help students choose a recipe to present to the class using colour pictures and large poster paper, markers). Make a Language Experience Approach book about our recipes.
October 24-29: Food safety and Halloween. Make masks from paper plates and go to Maria's room to "trick or treat." Her students will come to us, as well.

For each week-long module, I will plan the lessons by working backward from the end objectives. I will mentally tease them apart, asking myself what skills we need to build before attempting the task. I also layer modules this way, so that the skills acquired one week help learners with the following week's objectives. For example, a module with the objective of making a doctor's appointment could be preceded by a module on calendar and clock skills, one on the body and one on symptoms. Each module has its own objectives, but they also build toward being able to perform a final real-world task.

Each week I will introduce no more than twelve new words and twelve terms recycled from a previous module. We will spend the entire week working with this language, creating as many linguistic affordances as possible for the learners. I will try, though it is not my strong area, to give each lesson and each module a kinaesthetic component. For example, we will really prep and cook a squash using the microwave off room 105. During week two, the classroom will look like a grocery store, with food packages all over the place! During week three we will use glue, pictures, and markers to make our posters. During week four we will check actual bags of candy for allergies, ingredients that are not Halal, and will throw out suspect items with broken packaging.

Of course the LEA books will make the language so much more meaningful. Students love to see themselves portrayed in the books. "We wash our hands (picture). Hanaa cuts the squash (picture). Mukai mixes the spices (picture). AnLe puts in the butter (picture).  And so on. This becomes our little reader for the week. With lots and lots of daily practice reading it in 20-minute sessions--chorally, individually and in pairs, most learners can read it with fluency by Friday.

When I sit down to fill out my module planning form for my supervisor and our funder, IRCC, it helps me find the gaps in my plan and flesh out a more detailed syllabus for the month that includes activities designed to give learners opportunities to gain specific competencies. This is also when I will think about when assessments will take place and how.

How about you? How do you plan lessons and modules?


  1. Would it be possible for you (Teacher Kelly ) to share your modules as an example to others. IT really doesn't help if we can't see your results...sort of how we lead our learners with exemplars:) Many are interested to see what Svetlana Lupasco thinks is a shining star example. I know I am. Can't wait to see so that I can aim for it and reach it by 2019.

  2. Hi, Anonymous,
    I am afraid I am no shining star example when it comes to PBLA. I am struggling just like so many of us are. I'll blog about that soon. In the meantime, you certainly can see what my **attempts** at module planning look like today. Maybe in six months and again in a year we will be able to see improvements in my module plans. Today I uploaded one for Sara to the Literacy - Dates and Holidays page of and for you I have just uploaded my module plan for September. I taught personal info and calling 911 that month, and so I've uploaded that to a new page: Literacy - Emergency Services. Go check those out and let me know what you think.

    Do you have access to the Manitoba Module Planning Frameworks? They have some examples filled out for various themes and topics that are way better than mine are. Let me know if you can't find them and I'll ask my manager where she got them.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and resources. My process for voting on themes is very similar to what you do but I am wondering from this post how much input your students have into breaking down actual modules. Do you engage in a similar voting process with students to select modules or do you build those after a theme has been selected, based on the calendar, material you have, informal interactions with the class, and their learning goals?

    1. Elizabeth,
      It depends on the group. With literacy, I try to gather as much information as possible about their needs before planning each module and lesson. For example, I poll them to find out how many are having difficulties with Windsor housing or landlords before deciding which components of "Housing and the House" to teach after they have chosen that theme. I will always teach rooms of the house and a few key items in each room, prepositions and colours. But from there I tweak the module on complaining to the landlord depending on the exact needs of each cohort.

      My seniors participate in a general needs assessment and then we do further polling and voting to narrow it down. For example, this fall / winter we are starting up our HEALTH theme once again. (Seniors never tire of health; I think we will all be doctors by the time we finish.) After a basic module on body parts and body systems, I give them another checklist and they get in small groups to decide which topics are important: making an appointment, health histories, directions in the hospital, calling Telehealth Ontario, etc.

      I have not had much success at all getting literacy students or seniors to choose realistic goals and tie them to study habits. For literacy class, this is because we don't have enough common language and would need an interpreter to have that conversation. With my group of seniors, most of whom are from China, there seems to be a big cultural mindset hurdle for me to cross with them.

      An anecdote: Seniors all arrive early every day. So by 8:45, we are all already present, though I might still be running up and down between classroom and photocopier, making myself a coffee, hole punching and clipping handouts, whatever. They are chatting and we are all waiting for the minute hand of the clock to hit that 12, at which point I say, "Good morning," and class begins.

      So one morning I was glancing at my watch, the clock on the wall and the computer clock, which were all a tad off from one another. I asked, "Is it 9:00 yet?" One Chinese student said, "It's 9:00 when you say it's 9:00. You're the teacher."

      In the beginning it took me six months to convince them I really wanted their input into the syllabus by way of needs assessments. It was a true paradigm shift for them. We talked about classroom democracy. They get it now, but it wasn't an easy journey. Now I'm faced with that same journey all over again trying to convey goal setting. We were able to conclude that getting jobs and passing the citizenship test were NOT among their goals and that social integration was. However, they are stubborn and set in their ways. It's very hard for them to change habits.

      That being said, I'm looking forward to having them write module-specific goals. Later we can reflect and see whether we reached those goals. We are already doing reflections, so all we have to do now is get in the habit of moving the same checklist to the beginning of the module. We'll use it twice, each time in a different way.


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