Course Planning and Organization

Planning and organizing your courses will help you effectively and successfully teaching swimming lessons. In fact, trying to teach without a plan is like going for a trip without having a destination. And teaching without good organization is like going on your trip by driving in reverse down the wrong side of the road.

Planning Your Class

Skill Outline - LTS Level 2

Skill outline - LTS Level 2

Effective planning is the best way to make sure your classes are a  success.

Planning tools

You need 4 tools to build an effective plan:

  • Skill outline with completion criteria
  • Block plan
  • Lesson plan
  • Skill/participant matrix (skill checklist)

The Skill Outline lists all the skills required for certification. Usually, the completion criteria for each skill (i.e., the distance to swim, the number of repetitions, etc.) is also included. The skills are often grouped in categories, not in presentation order.

Block plan excerpt

Block plan excerpt

The Block Plan reorganizes the Skill List into a single page of class segments. In many cases, the Block Plan looks like a calendar page with lists of new and review skills for each class meeting. The goal of a Block Plan is to show how the entire content of the course could be taught within the allotted number of classes. This makes it a standard or benchmark by which to measure the progress of that course when you teach it.

Sample Lesson Plan

Sample lesson plan on an index card

Lesson Plans expand each class meeting from the Block Plan with talking points, logistics, time estimates, etc.  Ideally, each daily lesson plan should keep pace with the corresponding class segment on your Block Plan; however, each time you teach a particular class, this will differ. For this reason, you should expect a fluid the Lesson Plan, created from day-to-day and class-to-class. The more your Lesson Plans keep pace with (or leap past) the Block Plan, the more likely your participants will pass the course by the end of the session. Conversely, the  farther your lesson plans fall behind the Block Plan, the less likely your participants will pass.

Sample skill checklist

Sample skill checklist

The Skill Checklist is a matrix of participants and the skills they must master to complete the course. At the end of each class meeting, you must check off the skills that each participant has passed so that you have an exact record of each participant’s performance.

Planning step by step

To plan a swimming class:

  1. Determine the following important numbers:
    • Number of minutes in the course (e.g., 30 min x 10 lessons = 300 min).
    • Number of skills in course skill sheet (e.g., 30 skills).
    • Number of minutes per skill on average (e.g., 300/30 = 10 min).
  2. Organize the block plan.
    • Arrange skills in presentation order (what comes first, second, etc.)
    • Estimate the number of minutes you need to teach and practice each skill so the average participant will pass the skill. The total must equal total course minutes minus 5-10 minutes to test participants on Day 1 and 2 minutes per day for safety.
    • Divide each skill into manageable units of 5 minutes or less
    • Plug skills into the block plan so that each skill appears the first time in the “New Skills” column and then in the “Review Skill” column.
    • Select 2 or 3 critical skills from the previous level as Review Skills on the first day.
    • Enter a short safety topic for each class meeting .
    • Enter equipment and materials needed each day.
  3. Prepare materials for the first class meeting.
    • Obtain the names of your participants.
    • Fill out the skill sheet for the class.
    • Using a 4×6 index card or equivalent, create your first lesson plan by expanding the first day of your block plan with key words, strategies, times, etc.
  4. Track participant progress using the skilll checklist
  5. Create a new lesson plan each day.
    • At the end of each lesson, check your progress and create the next day’s lesson plan.  Be sure to include any skills from Day 1 not completed.
  6. Continue to track participant performance and build daily lesson plans.
  7. Compare class progress with the “pace” of the block plan to determine participant status (pass/fail) at the end of the session.
Block plan, lesson plans, and skill checklist

Block plan, lesson plans, and skill checklist

Following this procedure will help you to effectively track the progress of every class and participant. If you fall behind the “pace” of your block plan, don’t worry; your class just needs more practice.

Class Organization

Course planning and class organization go hand in hand, but they are not exactly the same thing. In fact, you have a good plan and poor organization. Class organization consists of principles and patterns.

Principles of class organization

Principles of class organization are basic concepts that help a swimming instructor formulate best practices for implementing a class.  A list of important principles of effective class organization includes the following:

  • All participants are safe and supervised 
  • All participants can see and hear instructions
  • All participants can see and hear demonstrations
  • All participants have adequate time and space for practice
  • All participants receive positive and corrective feedback

As you carry out your swimming class, think about each of these principles to develop strategies for making them happen. For example, keep all participants in front of you at all times, have participants wait their turn, etc.

Patterns of class organization

You can improve class organization principles by choosing patterns of organization (also called “formations”) for explaining, demonstrating, and practice.

The Glump

“Glump” formation

Line formation

Line formation

When giving instructions or explaining a skill, arrange participants so all can see and hear you. This can be an arrangement as simple as a semi-circle, a line along the edge of the pool or on the steps, a V at the corner of the pool, or a “glump.” The important thing is that you can see the eyes of each participant and that they can comfortably see and hear you. Keep the sun in your eyes so that it is not in the eyes of your students, and face the class away from the pool and other distractions.

Corner formation

Corner formation

When demonstrating, organize the class in a similar way as when giving instructions/explanations above. To show a skill in the classroom, you need to either bring participants close (e.g., a standing semi-circle around a CPR manikin) or you need to demonstrate from a position higher than participant eye level. When demonstrating a skill in the water, participants should be above you in a line on the edge of the pool or in the corner.

When organizing practice, keep all the following in mind:

  • General concepts
    • Drill types
      • Deck drills - Dry practice while standing or laying on the deck. The benefits include being able to watch arm and leg movements out of the water and giving practice of a new skill without needing to stay afloat, etc.
      • Static drills - Drills in the water without movement (e.g., holding the side of the pool to kick). The benefits include isolating certain movements, being able to watch participants practice in a line or close structure drill, and allowing participants to feel the movement through the water.
      • Fluid drill - Drills in the water that include movement (without or without equipment).
    • Age/ability considerations
      • Individual instruction (one at a time) is for new learners/young learners/new skills/complex skills that need extra safety measures.
      • Advanced drills are for experienced students/older students/space and time considerations
        • Stagger is a fluid drill in which swimmers start one by one with each swimmer starting after a few strokes of the previous swimmer.
        • Wave is an advanced fluid drill in which swimmers count-off by twos or threes and swim in groups.
        • Circle swimming enables advanced learners to continuously swim while sharing a lane with up to about 3 swimmers.
    • Practice structure
      • Whole approach - Practicing the whole skill at one time.
      • Part-Whole approach - Dividing a skill into parts, practicing each part individually, and then putting the parts together in the end.
      • Progressive-Parts approach - Dividing a skill into parts, practicing one part, adding a second part, then adding a third part, etc. until students practice the whole skill.
  • Logical organization
    • When presenting a new skill-
      • Go from deck to static to fluid drills
      • Choose ability-level fluid drills
      • Go from simple to complex, breaking complex skills into parts
    • Select proper practice activities
      • Simple guided practice, including individual instruction and guided discovery
      • For more advanced participants, try reciprocal drills (e.g., watchers and doers) and station practice.