Whether you are a novice or veteran teacher, there is commonality that exists between both groups – creating a lesson plan for their students. Some teachers eagerly strategize and make goals for their class, others make detailed daily to do lists, and some skip planning altogether preferring to simply “wing it” and see what the day holds. While teachers all across the country are usually required to follow their state’s standards – based on core curriculum set by the US Department of Education – oftentimes teachers are left confused on how to start to write a lesson plan much less incorporate the needed standards in a way that best teaches the information to their students. In order to unpack the important and attainable goal of lesson planning, it is necessary to understand the “why” behind this requirement and shine light on the beauty that is having a plan.
Not only is writing a lesson plan the responsibility of a teacher, it is also ultimately their lifeline. Goals are the starting point for any new venture – in any area of our life. Creating a personal or professional goal will set the target for you and those that are following your leadership. As teachers, after we launch a long-term goal for our class, we must then identify the objective for the unit, month, week or day. This process is most effective when following a structure that includes established steps found in a lesson plan format. Goals in and of themselves create a vision and target, but they cannot stand alone, as next steps must be planned and made. Teachers all across America are visionaries – standing between knowledge and young minds – and yet often are confused in their own. Where to start? How much time to spend? What happens if the lesson takes too long? Am I meeting all the needs of my learners? Lesson plans are paramount to the success of students, teachers, districts and ultimately the communities in which we live. Not to put too much pressure on teachers, but they really shape our communities with each lesson plan we write. In order to best understand how to do this important task, let’s start with answering the question, “how do I write a lesson plan?”
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Teaching is a skill that requires presenting information with others. Because some teachers are able to do this in a natural, gifted way, they often balk at the idea of having to write down what they are going to do when they have so many years of presenting and sharing knowledge. Some are even offended at the request. Lesson plans are viewed as time consuming and a waste of time due to the comfort level veteran teachers have in sharing knowledge. While the argument could be made that teaching comes from the heart and is an ingrained talent, failing to take the time to properly assess one’s goal is likely to take a possibly extraordinary lesson and move it to the ordinary category. Taking the time to fully understand the direction you want to move your class, the goals you have properly stated and understanding anchor standards will add enthusiasm to your lesson and allow a place for added details and new ideas as they arise.
Lesson plans come in a variety of formats, and there isn’t just “one” way or a perfect form to utilize. There are some key components that must be included, but other than that, find a format that works for you and use it consistently in order to stay in flow and maximize your time. Maybe you will use various styles depending on the classes you teach, the needs of your class, or your personal learning style. All in all to say – have a plan and make sure you understand the value of its information. No matter what format you choose, there should be a definite structure.
What is a Lesson Plan Format?
Start any new program in life and you will likely want to see an example – or some form to follow. Lesson plans are no different. As teachers, it is helpful to understand what it is expected within the format and how to incorporate all of the needed parts into creating a great lesson. Most lessons are broken down into sections so that skills are mastered and learning is maximized. Usually, there are 5 parts and each are instrumental to the overall learning plan. So what are the 5 parts of a lesson plan? Is there room for creativity within each part?
First of all, you want to have your objectives clearly stated. These are goals that will set the course for the rest of your lesson or unit. Objectives give you the destination or target goal that you are seeking to achieve with your class. For the objective you desire, you should write a complete statement and use a verb. This verb should be an action that is attainable – given the multiple constraints that you may face – as well as measurable. After you write this objective, you want to put the rest of the parts of this plan in motion.
In order to start off correctly and engage your students in the learning, you should plan for a warm-up activity. It may take students different times to complete this entry activity, so keep that in mind when planning for this part of your lesson. Usually, this section of the lesson should be a quick review or perhaps an introduction to a new concept. You will not want to make these types of questions too confusing for the student, or they will make a mental exit before the actual presentation begins.
After students are engaged with the warm-up, you will conduct your presentation part of the lesson plan. This is where you present new information and may take on many forms of instructional strategies. You may be providing direct instruction and teaching the large group in lecture mode. This is the more traditional version of classroom presentation, but often very effective when needing to provide notes or share information with students in the same time frame. Another form is interactive instruction and involves partner participation. It is often easier to get to know your students in this type of instruction due to the conversational opportunities it provides and the flexible environment. Perhaps during the presentation part your style is offering an opportunity for students to engage in experiential learning – to learn while exploring. This type of presentation gives students the control to construct their own knowledge and add meaning to their schema in a unique way. Finally, you may want to plan for students to have time for independent study and allow them to move through the lesson at their own pace.
After the presentation section, incorporate an opportunity for students to practice their new learning in various ways. No matter what subject matter you teach, because you just offered new information to human minds – you must allow them to search for ways to connect their learning to their own prior knowledge. This can be done on the computer, in pairs, in writing, with manipulative items, orally and through project based learning. Knowing your student’s learning styles will be a key component when creating an activity for practicing the skill. You may want to incorporate a choice board and allow students to use their multiple intelligences to further delve into their new knowledge.
The final piece to a lesson plan is the assessment. After your objective was set, you created a measurable and attainable goal for your students – the objective. This was clearly stated to the students as you began the task of learning. You revisited the goals several times throughout the unit. The presentation you choose to share the information isn’t as important as if the students were involved and wholly invested in learning. Each class will be different – as is each person – so this piece requires finesse and an understanding of your student’s learning styles in order to make the presentation piece most effective. After students are taught new information, they must be given time to process and meander about with their new knowledge. Jumping to the next skill is detrimental to the learner’s growth and will only cause confusion, exhaustion and apathy. After students are given ample time to practice – in various ways – assessment of their knowledge is key. How you assess this – again – will be based on the skill, subject and student needs. Oftentimes, informal assessments provide you greater information than formal, and both are equally required for a lesson plan to properly be evaluated. Given that all learners are different, it could be that you discover that a student understands the new skill and can even teach others – when they are allowed to talk and share aloud. That same students may not be able to show their learning on paper or computer very well, so when given a short answer test – fails the exam. This type of student data will allow you to plan for the next unit and provide strategies to encourage and help the student learn written skills.
What is the Structure of a Lesson Plan?
A lesson plan should be viewed in the same positive way as you would view the structure for a building. Without the frame, you would not have a construction. You might even think of a properly written lesson as a road map that helps you get to a destination, thus it is highly important. There will be many stops along the way during your journey – probably a few turns and bumps in the road – but ultimately, you have a destination in mind and will arrive with your passengers. This lesson plan form will also inform you and others as to the learning that is set to occur in class. Once the destination is agreed upon, steps to arriving to the desired location need to follow. This type of intentional scaffolding will ensure that your students arrive with you at your learning destination and that no one is left behind in the process.
What is the First Step on a Lesson Plan?
If you have ever planned a family trip or outing, you know that the first part of the process it to ask the group where they wish to go. This may take some time, but there is no successful trip without a destination. The same is true when making a lesson plan. The first step should always be to establish what you want students to learn and be able to do by the end of class – which is in fact your educational destination for that lesson or unit plan. The established target destination is known as an objective, and you will write it as such. The word objective will be used in expressing to your administration and to students where it is you are taking them in this knowledge journey. Clarity on the destination is the first part, but there is more to preparing for an effective arrival.
How to Write an Objective for a Lesson Plan
As an educator, the first thought you should have is about your students and their educational progress. You should ask yourself what is it that you can teach or share with the student to make their time in your class worthwhile? What do you want your students to learn? What knowledge do you hold in your schema that is now your responsibility to pass on to your students? What time frames will you need to accomplish this goal and how will you know when they have learned? This type of thinking will best lead you to clarity as you look at your state standards and decide what the student will be able to do once you have reached your stated objective. There may be a lot of numbers, words and repetition in the standards, but that wordy information needs to translate into measurable and attainable action.
To write and effective objective, always start with a strong verb. Stating a verb will provide you with the first tangible step to take you to your goal. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great way to begin in order to create and sculpt the instructional objectives you have in mind for your students. This list provides you with a host of verbs that vary in difficulty and thus should be studied carefully before just picking one for a fillable form to turn in to your administration. It is likely you will want your students to accomplish a variety of verbs, and while your enthusiasm is appreciated – when writing objectives, the clearer, concise and specific you are, will allow you, the driver, as well as the passengers know where you are headed. You won’t have as many confusing turns along the way and the backseat drivers won’t be asking, “where are we going” throughout the metaphorical trip. These specific statements in form of an objective will ensure that the learner will demonstrate learning due to your amazing foresight and planning. Another trick is to think of the SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) and make sure that the educational expedition you are taking your students on fits in this construct. Knowing your “who” – the students in your class – and how much time it will likely take them to achieve this journey as well as which specific goal is best to start with, is paramount. It cannot be overstated that getting to know your students will be the linchpin to envisioning a successful goal and creating success in your classroom.
Next, the objectives you create for your class should be measurable. The purpose of stating a learning objective is to give students the expectations you have for them during the lesson. This statement allows not only students to know what they will walk away with after engaging with you, their peers, and the educational resources you provide them, but also the reason behind you asking them to do a variety of tasks. These objectives help you and your students evaluate progress – and shine a light on areas of improvement. This type of foresight and goal setting allows students the opportunity take ownership in their learning.
What are the Steps to a Lesson Plan?
Once you have precision on your objective or the destination for your lesson, you can then move to the planning phase. Too many educators simply plan what topic they want to teach and then make daily “to do” lists, but fail to do so in the way that helps them arrive to their desired location. If we are to revisit the trip analogy, think of this next part as planning the stops on your journey. It is likely some stops will be unplanned, but it is rare that a journey is sought out without some key breaks in mind. This is especially true when children are along for the trip. Education is no different. Writing down these planned stops will be key in ensuring that you have the needed materials to achieve success. Many educators ask, “What are the steps to making a lesson plan? It is important to acknowledge that planning specific learning activities will lead you to the desired understanding of the lesson and help you have the needed materials ready for each day. Depending on your years as a teacher, this may look differently when added to the lesson plan. Some novice teachers may need to write out each step to the activity, and others, who have taught this activity for years on end, may be able to just write the name of the activity. Whether you are a novice or veteran teacher, remember what all goes in to each activity. Do make a list and plan accordingly. Add all the materials you will need for each activity – those that are tangible and even media links.
Finally, plan to sequence the lessons you are creating in an engaging and meaningful manner in order to create excitement about learning. When a lesson has authenticity and associates to something the student values – learning occurs more rapidly. Due to the multiple time constraints within schools, it is urgent to try to create a realistic timeline by consulting with your school and personal calendar. Mark off all holidays, school trips, in-service days and personal days off. Plan for a closure lesson that wraps up each lesson into moment of synthesizing and production. Students should be excited about their assessment as they realize that they have learned a new skill. If project based, students should be ready to present, share and teach others the new skills they were gifted.
Educators all across America are burdened with an important job that doesn’t end when the bell rings and the students go home. Thoughts about the next day, endless to do lists, reworking lessons and activities from the previous one, searching for ways to reach certain students who were not engaged in learning or chronically absent – all play out in the minds and hearts of teachers while they engage in their personal lives. Teaching is giving of information, time, and oneself – and often too much is taken. For this reason, educators must have a daily structure to lean on, a road map to glance at when the days are chaotic and a beacon of light to guide them on the darkest days. Lesson plans, no matter which format used, can provide a resting point for teachers to stop – look down and receive advice from their own selves about the great ideas they wanted to showcase to the world. Lesson plans are imperative to good teaching, and in preventing teacher burnout. While it may take time to create clear objectives and add five steps – it is worth it! Next time a frantic teacher enters your classroom to borrow needed items for a last minute unplanned activity, give them a hug, and at a later time – teach them how to better plan.