A Recipe for Good Lesson Planning

This post originally appeared on Edutopia’s New Teacher Academy. Thanks to Lisa Dabbs for inviting me to contribute. I will be joining Lisa on Twitter during #ntchat (New Teacher Chat) tonight at 8 PM EST to discuss lesson planning. I hope you and any new or pre-service teachers you know can join. I am looking forward to learning along with all of you!

Without a detailed plan, you may — if you’re lucky — deliver a lesson that turns out to be pretty good. More often, though, a poorly planned lesson is going to be a clunker. Our students suffer when we fail to appropriately plan for them.

Planning a lesson is not as simple as referring to a curriculum map, the next page in the textbook or standards. These resources all have their place, and you should use them — but as guides, not the law. You will find they often don’t account for students’ deficiencies. You have to account for them, or else your teaching becomes meaningless.

Lessons don’t occur in a vacuum. What you see, hear and read from your students today should be directly reflected in what you teach tomorrow. Let the students dictate where you go with your planning. If you are too married to what “needs” to get done, students will fall behind quickly, quite frankly because they don’t get what they need.

“Data” is a four-letter word that strikes fear in many teachers. It shouldn’t. You collect data everyday when you observe your students and take note of what they are doing well and where they need support. Data comes from conversations (between or with students), exit slips, quizzes, questions, journals and more. Use it to figure out what your students still need to learn, and therefore, what you need to teach.

Some people like to plan a whole week at a time. I’ve even heard of people who plan all their lessons over the summer. I question these practices. Planning should be reactive. I generally plan only one or two days in advance. That way I make sure I’m not getting too far ahead of my students.

A lesson plan does not need to be scripted to the letter. However, it should have certain components to facilitate delivery. (These are my suggestions. Your school or district may require a certain format.)

1) Objective Your objective is what you want the outcome of the lesson to be. You might write, “At the end of the lesson, students will be able to _____.”

2) Materials Your materials are the list of resources, articles or manipulatives you need. This helps you organize everything prior to the lesson.

3) Procedure The bulk of the lesson, procedure includes, among other items: your activation or assessment of prior knowledge; teaching and learning activities; and questions to guide student thought.

4) Assessment How do you know they “got it?” You can use various forms of data to see. Remember, though, assessment happens throughout the lesson (so you can see what your next steps might be within the lesson) and at the end (so you can see if the objectives were met).

Lesson planning is pivotal to positively impacting student achievement. My rule for planning: always let your students be your guide!


6 responses to “A Recipe for Good Lesson Planning

  1. Hi Matt, Once again you’ve written a timely post. My student and teacher are meeting to discuss lesson planning this morning. I’ll share your post with him. Thanks! – Maureen

  2. I agree with this, especially new teachers or teachers tackling new aspects of the job (including trying new methods in a topic you’ve taught many times), but I don’t criticize people who plan in advance. Like you, I prefer(red) planning just a day or two in advance, but that was before I gave birth. Now, with a new daughter to take care of, I have to plan when time is available to me. Often, that means on weekends when I can steal an hour or three. This means that my plans for Thursday, say, don’t really fit where the week has brought us as a class. Even when I plan things to a T, I find needing to react in the moment and change what we are doing or how we do it since children can surprise you. I think it’s important to plan, but I feel that without a dynamic approach to students, plans can fall really flat. A teacher can’t be glued to it. I say this because, when I was a new teacher, I used to feel like my plans were what made or “broke” a lesson.

  3. p.s.

    I used to wish I could plan even further in advance, but often ended up throwing out beautiful charts that just didn’t speak to where the kids were when we got to that lesson! 🙂

  4. It may be different at the elementary level, but I find planning ahead to be really helpful. This gives me the opportunity to make sure we’re not just working on the skills/standards we’re studying at the moment, but that we’re actively working toward skills & standards in future units. Then when I get to a unit down the road, we can flip back to work we’ve done previously to review.

    I also feel that planning by unit is important. Lessons should not stand alone, and planning units helps the teacher focus on looking for connections. This then helps students learn to look for connections of their own.

    Finally, planning ahead doesn’t mean you have to be locked in. I generally plan for anywhere from 1-4 days of enrichment activity at the end of each unit. That way, if we have a bunch of snow days or a lesson doesn’t click with the students or they don’t have the initial level of skill that I’d anticipated – whatever the reason – I can adjust my plans accordingly.

  5. Reblogged this on Ms. Zhang's Portfolio and commented:
    I like the list of essential components to a lesson plan. Excellent guideline for new teachers!

  6. I think there’s a difference between unit planning and lesson planning. I like to have a unit plan done up before I start teaching it, complete with assessment tools and ideas, but my day to day lesson plans I only do one, sometimes two days in advance because I find what I want us to do and what gets done often doesn’t match up due to interruptions or whatever. So I’m a day to day planner even though I have my overall plan as well. I have a teacher friend who is planning to write a book about how to be a “seat of your pants” or “pantser” teacher. I think it would be a very interesting read.

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