Effective lesson planning doesn't necessarily come naturally. For many, experience teaches them what works and what doesn't, and how to evolve an ethos of teaching through the way they structure their lessons. As someone new to the profession, it's worth reminding yourself of these key points when you're getting into planning
Think about effectiveness:
The first question to ask yourself is what do the children need to learn? Miss out this stage and your lessons will lack focus and purpose.
Next, ask yourself how the children need to learn; who has specific needs, what resources are available, and how can you maximise effectiveness within these circumstances.
How much can you teach?
Develop your lesson framework through the following questions:
What chunk of time have you got?
What needs to be covered?
How does this lesson fit into the overall plan for the term?
How can you give pupils an experience to remember?
Now you need the ingredients: resources, subject knowledge and clear and achievable aims for each child (often these will be shared – only you will know the degree of differentiation required for each lesson).
Develop a stash of extension activities designed to add breadth and depth to understanding in the subject, which can be adapted for the needs of specific children to offer personalised learning opportunities. They will also help you to deal with the unexpected!
Starting and ending:
Pay particular attention to how you start a lesson. The way begin will help set the tone and pace and may ensure your pupils get the maximum possible benefit from your teaching. There are no prescriptions here though. This is about knowing your audience and your specific strengths in the classroom so that you can engage and motivate right from the start.
The way you end a lesson will have an impact on the way pupils absorb and consolidate their learning. Aim to draw each session to a discernible close.
All lessons have to be paced, but there are no hard and fast rules about this… apart from the fact that all learners need time and space to consolidate their learning. Move things on by all means, but always make sure that key points of learning are revisited often.
The pauses are as crucial as the action; and this is when critical thinking can be developed too. Activities which promote thinking, doing, experiencing, consolidating will all ensure that your lessons are varied in pace
Lesson planning isn't about creating a script; be as flexible as you can within certain boundaries. If there's a degree of flexibility about how you achieve your lesson objective, you're far more likely to create a successful lesson.
Make sure that you know what you expect your pupils to do independently, in groups, and under guidance. Identify the skills they need to acquire and develop. Contextualise the learning for your pupils; this means being responsive to their stages of learning and finding ways for them to make meaning from it within their zones of interest
How, what and why you assess pupil progress should ideally be built into your lesson planning. Seek guidance on this from the team you work with. The aim is to ensure that lessons not only enable pupils to progress, but that you are clear in your planning about how you anticipate this happening.
Habits of reflection
Great teachers know that there is little point in drifting through each day, week, term, without taking time to reflect on, and be changed by, experiences. It's important to allow yourself to evolve. This means, specifically, reflecting on the quality of learning that happened as a result of the lesson.
This will be a subjective reflection, but well worth it. Just a few minutes will do, especially if you record your reflections in some way. Remember to look back over them at key points in the term!
There are bound to be times when you have to wing it, but if you are in great planning habits for most of the time, the odd lesson on the fly will be a breeze. Your colleagues will be able to help you with any planning issues you are facing. Ask for help sooner rather than later if you need it
A lesson plan is the instructor’s road map of what students need to learn and how it will be done effectively during the class time. Before you plan your lesson, you will first need to identify the learning objectives for the class meeting. Then, you can design appropriate learning activities and develop strategies to obtain feedback on student learning. A successful lesson plan addresses and integrates these three key components:
Objectives for student learning
Strategies to check student understanding
Specifying concrete objectives for student learning will help you determine the kinds of teaching and learning activities you will use in class, while those activities will define how you will check whether the learning objectives have been accomplished
Steps for Preparing a Lesson Plan
Below are six steps to guide you when you create your first lesson plans. Each step is accompanied by a set of questions meant to prompt reflection and aid you in designing your teaching and learning activities.
(1) Outline learning objectives
The first step is to determine what you want students to learn and be able to do at the end of class. To help you specify your objectives for student learning, answer the following questions:
What is the topic of the lesson?
What do I want students to learn?
What do I want them to understand and be able to do at the end of class?
What do I want them to take away from this particular lesson?
Once you outline the learning objectives for the class meeting, rank them in terms of their importance. This step will prepare you for managing class time and accomplishing the more important learning objectives in case you are pressed for time. Consider the following questions:
What are the most important concepts, ideas, or skills I want students to be able to grasp and apply?
Why are they important?
If I ran out of time, which ones could not be omitted?
And conversely, which ones could I skip if pressed for time?
(2) Develop the introduction
Now that you have your learning objectives in order of their importance, design the specific activities you will use to get students to understand and apply what they have learned. Because you will have a diverse body of students with different academic and personal experiences, they may already be familiar with the topic. That is why you might start with a question or activity to gauge students’ knowledge of the subject or possibly, their preconceived notions about it. For example, you can take a simple poll: “How many of you have heard of X? Raise your hand if you have.” You can also gather background information from your students prior to class by sending students an electronic survey or asking them to write comments on index cards. This additional information can help shape your introduction, learning activities, etc. When you have an idea of the students’ familiarity with the topic, you will also have a sense of what to focus on.
Develop a creative introduction to the topic to stimulate interest and encourage thinking. You can use a variety of approaches to engage students (e.g., personal anecdote, historical event, thought-provoking dilemma, real-world example, short video clip, practical application, probing question, etc.). Consider the following questions when planning your introduction:
How will I check whether students know anything about the topic or have any preconceived notions about it?
What are some commonly held ideas (or possibly misconceptions) about this topic that students might be familiar with or might espouse?
What will I do to introduce the topic?
(3) Plan the specific learning activities (the main body of the lesson)
Prepare several different ways of explaining the material (real-life examples, analogies, visuals, etc.) to catch the attention of more students and appeal to different learning styles. As you plan your examples and activities, estimate how much time you will spend on each. Build in time for extended explanation or discussion, but also be prepared to move on quickly to different applications or problems, and to identify strategies that check for understanding. These questions would help you design the learning activities you will use:
What will I do to explain the topic?
What will I do to illustrate the topic in a different way?
How can I engage students in the topic?
What are some relevant real-life examples, analogies, or situations that can help students understand the topic?
What will students need to do to help them understand the topic better?
(4) Plan to check for understanding
Now that you have explained the topic and illustrated it with different examples, you need to check for student understanding – how will you know that students are learning? Think about specific questions you can ask students in order to check for understanding, write them down, and then paraphrase them so that you are prepared to ask the questions in different ways. Try to predict the answers your questions will generate. Decide on whether you want students to respond orally or in writing. You can look at Strategies to Extend Student Thinking, to help you generate some ideas and you can also ask yourself these questions:
What questions will I ask students to check for understanding?
What will I have students do to demonstrate that they are following?
Going back to my list of learning objectives, what activity can I have students do to check whether each of those has been accomplished?
An important strategy that will also help you with time management is to anticipate students’ questions. When planning your lesson, decide what kinds of questions will be productive for discussion and what questions might sidetrack the class. Think about and decide on the balance between covering content (accomplishing your learning objectives) and ensuring that students understand.
(5) Develop a conclusion and a preview
Go over the material covered in class by summarizing the main points of the lesson. You can do this in a number of ways: you can state the main points yourself (“Today we talked about…”), you can ask a student to help you summarize them, or you can even ask all students to write down on a piece of paper what they think were the main points of the lesson. You can review the students’ answers to gauge their understanding of the topic and then explain anything unclear the following class. Conclude the lesson not only by summarizing the main points, but also by previewing the next lesson. How does the topic relate to the one that’s coming? This preview will spur students’ interest and help them connect the different ideas within a larger context.
(6) Create a realistic timeline
It is easy to run out of time and not cover all of the many points they had planned to cover. A list of ten learning objectives is not realistic, so narrow down your list to the two or three key concepts, ideas, or skills you want students to learn. Instructors also agree that they often need to adjust their lesson plan during class depending on what the students need. Your list of prioritized learning objectives will help you make decisions on the spot and adjust your lesson plan as needed. Having additional examples or alternative activities will also allow you to be flexible. A realistic timeline will reflect your flexibility and readiness to adapt to the specific classroom environment. Here are some strategies for creating a realistic timeline:
Estimate how much time each of the activities will take, then plan some extra time for each
When you prepare your lesson plan, next to each activity indicate how much time you expect it will take
Plan a few minutes at the end of class to answer any remaining questions and to sum up key points
Plan an extra activity or discussion question in case you have time left
Be flexible – be ready to adjust your lesson plan to students’ needs and focus on what seems to be more productive rather than sticking to your original plan
Presenting the Lesson Plan
Letting your students know what they will be learning and doing in class will help keep them more engaged and on track. You can share your lesson plan by writing a brief agenda on the board or telling students explicitly what they will be learning and doing in class. You can outline on the board or on a handout the learning objectives for the class. Providing a meaningful organization of the class time can help students not only remember better, but also follow your presentation and understand the rationale behind in-class activities. Having a clearly visible agenda (e.g., on the board) will also help you and students stay on track.
Reflecting on Your Lesson Plan
A lesson plan may not work as well as you had expected due to a number of extraneous circumstances. You should not get discouraged – it happens to even the most experienced teachers! Take a few minutes after each class to reflect on what worked well and why, and what you could have done differently. Identifying successful and less successful organization of class time and activities would make it easier to adjust to the contingencies of the classroom. For additional feedback on planning and managing class time, you can use the following resources: student feedback, peer observation, viewing a videotape of your teaching, and consultation with a staff member (see also, Improving Your Teaching: Obtaining Feedback)
To be effective, the lesson plan does not have to be an exhaustive document that describes each and every possible classroom scenario. Nor does it have to anticipate each and every student’s response or question. Instead, it should provide you with a general outline of your teaching goals, learning objectives, and means to accomplish them. It is a reminder of what you want to do and how you want to do it. A productive lesson is not one in which everything goes exactly as planned, but one in which both students and instructor learn from each other.
The Learning Cycle
Aspects of learning that can be seen within a lesson observation are:
Not all aspects of learning will be seen in a single observation