Recycle or recycle?

Feeling tired at the end of the school year? With a mountain of things to recycle?
Another academic year has come to an end. Another year of learning, experimenting, and developing. Another year of juggling and balancing different demands (including yet more blogging lulls when the workload got cranked up - I still have several IATEFL related posts in draft form!)

And now I find myself having another clearout - going through my shelf in the teachers' office and deciding what to file and what to throw away.

As usual, I emptied a file of lesson plans and notes (I'm not very organised with these kind of things so I had a mix of printed plans following a template, notebooks with lesson outlines on each page, and scraps of paper with lesson notes) and took them off to the recycling bin.

One of my colleagues seemed taken aback.

"Aren't you going to reuse those?' I was asked.

"No, why would I?" I replied.

"But those are all your lesson plans for this year. What if you get the same levels again?'

"You're right," I said. "These are all my plans and notes for this year. Even if I get the same levels, I won't have the same classes again. If I have the same classes, I won't have the same levels."

It seemed there was a clash of approaches between me and my colleague. We both saw an opportunity to recycle. However, they identified a chance to reuse the same notes and plans, or at least refer back to them to save time and refresh ideas when teaching the same level again. I took the point of view that these were fit for recycling of a more literal kind. I had planned my lessons for each individual class, incorporating the interests of my students, emphasising certain language points that they had been struggling with, and only quickly touching on other areas that they seemed more comfortable with.

Even if I teach the same level next year, I won't teach the same class. The students will be different. The group dynamic will be unique. My relationship with them will not be the same as with this year's groups. They will have their own unique interests and their own strengths and weaknesses that I will need to identify and address. Even though the syllabus and the core material will be the same, I will have to approach the course taking all of the above factors into account.

This issue was also raised when re-organising the shared computer drives was discussed recently. Some people were in favour of standard materials being stored on the drive with a lesson by lesson, course by course breakdown of IWB flipcharts, handouts, and extra digital resources available for teachers to pick and choose from. This would help us avoid several teachers having duplicates of the same or similar material.

But I found the idea to be a strange one - surely, we would rather have each teacher keep their own personalised materials tailored to the needs of their classes on the storage drive, even if that means five teachers with the same level saving 5 different sets of resources. Encourage planning to meet each class' needs or save space and time with standard materials?

I am curious as to what other teachers around the world would do - would you archive your lesson plans and notes for possible re-use? (I do keep materials I have made by the way as they are resources that could potentially be re-adapted) Would you prioritise saving time and virtual space over having unique and tailored resources?

Please share your thoughts and experiences through the comments!


  1. Interesting. While I appreciate that you take the stance that all classes are of different make-ups, I have to say that I tend to recycle material from one year to the next because skills don't change that much. Having said that, the texts I select as a foundation do tend to change, so lessons related to them have to also by definition. I'm not sure I ever really take copious amounts of notes on what worked or didn't, aside from team briefs at the end of terms, but not about particular student issues, etc.

    1. I do make use of material again (more repurposing that recycling, however) - I just think that we should take the same critical approach to 'old' material as we do to new stuff (even if it's our own creation).

      I find the planning/course management thing interesting though. During a recent super-busy period, for example, I was told that at least I had two classes the same level, which would reduce my planning time. I tried to point out that it didn't and that both classes were working on different things...

      It is a worry I think if a teacher or group of teachers are teaching different classes of the same level in lockstep. That suggests not enough meeting of needs is being taken into consideration. However, it is something I have commonly come across in different schools I have worked at.

    2. Yeah. We have 20 classes all working on more or less the same skills and assignments at the same time. Of course, it's a uni course. But still, I've had classes in private language schools that were both "high intermediate" levels, for example, and it's true that I used the same material in both classes. Why wouldn't I? It's just how much time I spent on a particular part of it or what practice or explanations had more focus would adapt per class. Maybe you're right in that individual needs may not be met quite as much as ideally, but then one also has to consider their own well-being and sanity...


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