So let’s begin with the basic premise that there is no one perfect lesson plan or format. That’s simply because there are a variety of different needs across subjects, ages, and ability levels. The best lessons are personalized for the needs of your students, so some cookie cutter lesson is bound to be shortsighted. In fact, many of the best moments/lessons I’ve had in classrooms began with me allowing students enough space and freedom to create independently and discuss information freely. That doesn’t begin with chaos though and a strong structure built on strong lesson ideas need to be in place for that to succeed. And while I’m glad administrators in New York City cannot oblige teachers to use a specific template, there are certain elements that should be part of every teacher’s lessons. So here are ones I’ve found most crucial.
10 Steps for Great Lesson Plans
Many of the elements of a great lesson plan are innately tied to each other and key to its sequence. Other parts are modifications you can make to improve a lesson’s effectiveness. Some people include a script in their lessons, but I don’t like that as it can come off as unnatural and lock a teacher into a structure that may not suit their unique students. There are a number of ways lessons can be structured which is good as there are a number of different ways students can learn something. I have tried to correlate names/concepts for whether you follow the 5 E Model, Direct Instruction, Mastery Learning Facilitative Teaching, Cooperative Learning or something else entirely, you should be able to adapt this to your needs.
- Objectives/Goals: Just like the ones on student IEPS, the goals on lesson plans should be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited/tailored). Your objectives must be clearly defined so that students can understand what is expected of them as well. What is it you want students to take away from the lesson? What does success look like? Focus on a tangible behavior, how the student will exhibit it, and the level of quality required. Use active words like explain, summarize, measure, or recall instead of vague words like study or learn. Also try to eventually bring students up Bloom’s Taxonomy with higher order creative skills by having them design, compose, or construct something. It could be something like students will be able to identify six characteristics of a mineral, but a higher order skill might be composing a personal narrative.
- Standards-Aligned: Whether it’s Common Core, Next Gen, ISTE, or all of the above and more, standards are a crucial way to maintain that students are learning as consistently as possible across classrooms. It is important to note any standards being met by the lesson. Most schools are requiring a standard tie-in for every lesson. Even if your school doesn’t require that you note which standards you are meeting, it is good practice to be familiar with your state and national standards. You will be surprised how many standards you are meeting in any given lesson. You may also choose to note how a lesson falls into the scope and sequence for yearlong learning.
- Assessments: Ultimately assessments are ways for you to get to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses academically and personally. That’s why there should be assessments before any lesson to see what it is you should be teaching and afterward to see how effectively they learned it. This can be done with surveys, worksheets, quizzes, writing, discussions, presentations, games, or hands-on activities and challenges. I find formative assessments throughout learning are more effective than one summative one as they can give you an ongoing picture of how your students are faring. The resulting data from your assessments should inform your ongoing instruction. The assessments should be tied to the lesson’s goals. For more info check out the 10 Keys to Effective Assessments.
- Anticipatory Set (Engage): This is your hook where you set the stage to draw students in. Some call it setting anticipation as it will set the tone for the lesson. It can even be connected with your pre-assessment as you determine what students know. This can be done in a number of ways with videos, strange images, interesting objects, or an exciting question. Maybe you will ask “Have you ever wanted to travel to another planet?” or maybe you’ll brink in part of a meteorite for students to hold. Whatever method you use, you’ll want to tap into student prior knowledge and encourage questions. What do you know about our planet? How might the one we travel to be different? Draw life connections and show meaning and purpose of the lesson. You’re framing the lesson into the context of previous lessons as well as into the nature of their lives.
- Model (Explore): You’re continuing to engage students in the concept/lesson, but now you’re giving them some time to build their own ideas through exploring. This is where you begin to really facilitate learning by discovering and demonstrating new skills, explore key concepts, and begin probing. You can ask inquiry-oriented questions while students share their ideas and make predictions. You and/or the students can record any of their ideas.
- Direct Instruction(Whole Group/Explain): You’re now beginning to communicate new understandings. You can provide clarifications, justifications, new vocabulary, and definitions. You can use props, have discussions or watch videos. The problem with direct instruction is not that it is inherently bad/limiting, it’s that too many teachers spend the whole lesson/period engaged only in that. As a general rule, limit it to lunder 15 minutes (5-10 is better). You should show rather than tell. Remember that just because you’re saying things to students doesn’t mean they’re learning it. Visual tools can aid in understanding so try to make it multimodal and bring in any materials to engage students and improve retention of information. Here are 8 visual tools to help.
- Guided Practice (Extend/Elaborate): Students should be guiding one another now. and applying their learning to a new situation. If they learned about one animal, now they’re learning to classify several or even create their own. A lot of teachers use this as the fill-out-the worksheet or write-on-the-poster time. Some consider homework guided practice, though unless you have the means and technology to offer flipped instruction, there would be little guidance. There are a number of other options where students can use this time to begin creating drawings, diagrams, small models, or a collaborative researching and essay-writing in a Google Doc. If necessary pull the students who are struggling into a separate group for more guidance.
- Independent Practice (Evaluate): Having students accomplish tasks and learning objectives independently should always be your ultimate goal. It doesn’t mean you can’t provide assistance but in doing so you are confirming that they weren’t fully prepared for this step. You may have to adapt instruction and build in scaffolding to help students achieve independence. Again some teachers see this as the homework step. It doesn’t have to be especially if you’re unsure of their level of independence. It also doesn’t mean it’s solitary. Independent practice can be a collaborative experience (independent of teacher aid not from classmates) where students are completing an inquiry project.
- Wrap-Up and Follow-Up: Very few lessons will end neatly wrapped up with you saying I have accomplished all I set out to do. If it does it probably means you set out to do too little. The least you should be doing is reviewing what they should have learned, drawing connections to future lessons, and determining how well you achieved the learning objectives. Flowing from independent practice may be formal peer and teacher evaluations that can occur as you assess student knowledge. I explained how you can accomplish this is in the assessments section. Ultimately you want to make it clear how far you’ve come and where you still plan to go.
- Materials & Equipment: This is where you remind yourself and let other teachers know what will be required for this lesson. That may mean books, cardboard, tinfoil, and markers or it could mean digital resources like laptops, websites, and apps. It may also mean you have to find an alternative if you learn the digital model is in a Flash-based death spiral. It’s the space where you’ll need to make sure you have anything that may not be commonly available in your classroom. It’s like a cheat sheet and a checklist to prepare for the lesson
8 Essential Lesson Plan Elements
While there are stages and steps a lesson goes through there are additional elements that great teachers always make sure to include in their lessons.
- Student Choice: One of the best ways to make lessons engaging and meaningful is to give students options that relate to them. give them a voice in planning and how they want to demonstrate mastery of a topic especially during the independent practice portion. This may mean some students are making movies, creating presentations, or putting on a play while others are writing essays, building projects, or creating a website. You can decide what level is sufficient, but give them a means to feel empowered through personalized instruction.
- Cross-Curricular: The world and the careersof the future are not neatly divided into subjects, so why do we do that in a classroom. While focusing on a skill and our objectives is important there is no reason that a novel can’t have scientific or historical implications or that math can’t be artistic. We should always strive to have our lessons develop cross-curricular competencies (see 21st-century skills below).
- 21st-Century Skills: Without digging too deeply into this one element, 21st-century learning skills are now just essential life skills for modern students. We need to be teaching our students the 7 Cs directly so they can communicate, collaborate, create, and think critically within whatever field of study they pursue. This includes involving technology. Whatever you think the implications, computers have become a critical part of our society and it doesn’t look to be decreasing. So we need to teach our students to use it appropriately and for the common good. That may mean digital citizenship instruction or it may simply involve using atool to aid with collaboration or accessibility.
- Hands-On Instruction: Whether it’s part of student choices or as part of a whole class exercise, hands-on learning is a more effective way to have students retain information. It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking either. In math, it can simply be using manipulatives or Skittles to chart favorite colors. In literacy, you may have students use picture symbols and character images to map out a story on an interactive display.
- Multimodal: If you are presenting information only one time and in only one format, it is almost a certainty that many students won’t get it. That’s why in addition to direct lectures you should utilize visual tools in addition to the hands-on learning tasks.
- Multiple Tasks: Never stay on any one part of a lesson too long especially with younger learners. It’s an unrealistic expectation to think a 7-year-old (or even a 37-year-old) can stay sitting working for 6 hours. That’s why a good lesson should flow through each step without lingering on any particular one (especially direct instruction) too long. This also can allow you to build in opportunities in your lesson for you to explore what students are doing and where they may need assistance
- Differentiation: Differentiation shouldn’t only take place in a special education classroom. Students all learn in different ways and at different rates. You need to have those adjustments built into the structure of your lesson plan. While there have been arguments made about the value of differentiation, most of that is due to a misunderstanding of what it actually entails. Student learning styles will determine the structure of lessons. It is trusting in students to pursue their path of learning and, while there is initially more work required on the teacher’s behalf, it ultimately allows greater freedom for the teacher due to increased student autonomy. Sometimes the best way to determine how to differentiate in the future is to see where your current plan fell short and make adjustments to cover those learning gaps. Make your lesson accessible to all of your students.
- Evolving: For a lesson to remain worthwhile it cannot remain stagnant. Even if you’re teaching history, we are regularly learning new information and new techniques to integrate. Also, the needs of your students are changing and your lessons must change with them. For that reason, the lesson that was perfect today would need some adjustment next year. For example, I realized I can now add the updated Google Arts and Culture app as a tool in the example personal narrative lesson below.
Here are some examples of lessons/units I have put together for my STEM classroom. I am showing you the initial page, but you access the full multi-page classification lesson and personal narrative lesson to see how I structure them. That doesn’t mean you should do it the same way. The needs of your classroom may be very different, but it should give you an idea of how I practically include the elements listed above.
There are a number of places where you can find additional examples of lesson plans. Many educational technology companies like BrainPOP, Flocabulary, and Discovery Education have example lessons that utilize their tools. In addition you can check out the lessons below, but I suggest you adapt to suit your needs and using the elements above.
- Education – K-5 Math and literacy lessons
- NEA – K-12 multi-Subject lessons
- ReadWriteThink – K-12 literacy lessons
- Scholastic – K-8 literacy lessons
- Teacher Created – K-12 multi-Subject lessons
- Teachnology – K-12 multi-Subject lessons
- A to Z Teacher Stuff – K-12 multi-Subject lessons
- Teacher Created – K-12 multi-Subject lessons
- Lesson Plans – K-12 multi-Subject lessons