Why is lesson planning so essential, especially for new teachers? How does it translate into better teaching results all round? What methods can be followed to be successful at lesson planning?
Lesson Plan definition
A lesson plan is the teacher’s guide or road map of what students need to learn and how it will be done effectively.
First, it’s so that you know you know exactly what you’re going to do in your lesson; it defines the successful flow of specific classroom activities aimed at the learning objective, which aligns with the broader learning goals for your syllabus, typically set by your Department Head, and are in line with the curriculum Education Department.
The learning objective is a brief description of the specific thing that your students must learn in the day’s lesson.
Lesson planning ensures teacher confidence, which translates into a positive learning environment and effective, goal-reaching teaching. It sets out a timeline, using proven strategies, and lastly also measures the effectiveness of lessons to adapt and improve.
Good lesson planning also serves as evidence of classroom management should the principal, someone from the governing body or the Education Department comes knocking and want to look at what have you been doing.
Lesson Plan Methods
New teachers often plan their lessons randomly, thinking, “I’m going to do a lesson on this; I’m going to teach them that,” but the best practice is to define the lesson’s objective by asking, “Okay, what am I teaching right now? What knowledge have the students gained n the past and what do I want them to learn in the future?”
The lesson plan must also align with the objectives of the curriculum and the standards set by the school, province, or state. (See this curriculum monitoring example of the Western Cape.) New teachers need an overview of the curriculum before they start to formulate their lesson plans, always with the needs of the students in mind and taking into consideration the available material, be it books, PPTs, or technology.
There are five general components to a good Lesson Plan:
- Learning objectives
- Practice and Review
- Evaluation and Assessment.
Adapting the 5E Model and NGSS
The inquiry-based 5E instructional model promotes active learning and is widely used in lesson planning. The five elements of the 5E model are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The following PDF provides a comprehensive overview and a lesson plan guide for elementary-level science.
Though released in 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards method has to date been implemented in only twenty American states. Aimed mainly at STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), the NGSS is relevant in the continuous development of new education models by merging and adapting trusted instructional methods, such as the 5E model.
SMART learning objectives
Start your lesson plan with a title and a date. What you are going to talk about? What is the lesson is about? It is very important to be precise about what your learning objective (LO) or goal is.
What do you want your students to learn? It should be SMART, an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound.
SMART learning objectives help structure in-class time in at least two ways. First, they help determine what information you need to present, what kind of activities you need your students to engage in, and what to prioritize in the assigning class time per activity.
Your lesson objective or Smart goal should balance all these aspects.
Using KWL charts
KWL charts or tables, first developed by Donna Ogle in 1986, are graphic organizers that benefit visual learners, especially young and ESL students. The teacher can use the KWL chart as a study tool for the individual student, in groups, or the entire class to “synthesize information” into a visual aid. The chart has three columns: ‘K’ is for Know – activate the students’ prior knowledge, what they already know about the topic? ‘W’ is for Want to Know, and ‘L’ is for Learned – what have they learned so far? ‘L’ is completed after the lesson to measure the increase in knowledge after the lesson.
What do you want them to learn during this lesson to take forward into the future? Always have that in mind. Think about what the students need to know, what they already know, what you want them to learn in this lesson, and what they will learn in the future. So, keep that in mind when planning the lesson.
The teacher must prepare a set of questions that will link the students’ questions to the learning objective. This is to help the students expand their ideas beyond the text but not lose the purpose of the activity.
Before we get to the timeline, we have to consider an aspect that is very important in education right now and it’s called differentiation. You’ve probably heard this before; differentiation basically means you make content available to all students. It means that if you do it if you do a lesson, you should have a few ways to present it so that all the students can optimally learn. This is because students have different ways of learning, so by doing a lesson in a few different ways, they can all learn from it.
With differentiation, you use different techniques and methods to reach the students. You can also think of students with learning disabilities, how can you make this content available for them, and also perhaps English second-language speakers. How can you make it easier for students by, for example, providing them with the vocabulary for the next lesson and sharing it beforehand?
So, out of 100, how much should be a student-centered method? At times, you’ll have some content that you actually first have to teach, lecture, or demonstrate to students, but I would say to aim for a 30/70 ratio. The less you speak, the more successful your classes are. Try to push it up to 20/80.
I also want to mention scaffolding. As you know, with scaffolding you give different parts to students to build them up. For example, if you’re going to do a reading activity with them, first do some kind of vocabulary exercise, then some kind of grammar exercise, next you can give different parts of reading to the students for them to read and finally bring it all together so that they can master the lesson object.
So, differentiation and scaffolding are very similar. Just remember that as teachers, we should provide multiple ways for students to learn the content and your lesson planning, classroom activities and assessments must incorporate this.
Your timeline is important for lesson planning. Plan what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. You will feel much more confident and also comfortable when you go into your class and know I’m going to do this, this, this, and then this. So, work on setting a structure to your classroom routine from your very first day. It’s great for you and it’s also good for the students to have that routine.
For example, on my timeline are five elements: The fun Warm-up, the Engagement with prior learning, then the LMQ part of the lesson, followed by the Group Activity, and finally the Review phase to reinforce the main learning objective.
Warm-up and Engage
The first is always your warm-up. How can you start the class and get the students interested in the activity? Plan to some fun game, or show them a video clip or something relevant to get them positively prepared for the lesson. The first five minutes are very important to get their attention and also prepare them for the rest of the lesson. Many teachers just immediately start teaching and that’s a big mistake.
Get the students settled and then get them engaged with prior learning. Humans don’t just switch on; we need some time to warm up and that’s why a warm-up activity is important. It can be anything to do with the vocabulary or you can engage prior learning. You can say, “Okay everyone, let’s quickly talk about what we learned last week. Let’s split up into groups, I want some feedback from you.” Do whatever you can to warm them up for what they’re about to do in the class.
LMQ – Lecture, Model, Question
Next, you say, “Okay everyone, take a seat. Let’s start learning.” This is the teaching part, or what I call the LMQ part of the lesson. LMQ stands for: Lecture, Model, Question. We talk about student-based learning, but teaching still hinges on the role of the teacher to transfer knowledge by lecturing.
Lecturing is when you teach by telling and explaining, using realia, the whiteboard, pictures, diagrams, videos, reading from a book, doing a presentation, or demonstrating how to do something, depending on the topic and classroom situation. The majority of teachers in the world still only have a blackboard, chalk, and books to teach from.
Then model the main lesson objective. It can also be done through a presentation or you show and explain how to do something. You do this for I would say about 15 to 20 minutes of the class, then involve the students in doing the activity in pairs or groups, followed by feedback to the class.
This is the part of the lesson where the students practice and learn together by doing the activity part of the lesson, preferably in pairs or small groups. They take the information that they have learned and start using it on their own.
First, model the activity and then put the students in groups to practice it. Warn them that one group will have to do the final presentation in front of the class. Use something like rock-paper-scissors to randomly select that group. This way, students perform optimally and weaker students don’t feel being picked on by the teacher.
This is how we apply our lesson plans.
Review and Assessment
It is very important to do an assessment to see how the students are doing. This is where you check that they have reached the learning objective or the standard. There are two types of assessments that overlap and complement each other, the formative and summative.
Review is an essential process to determine the successful transfer of knowledge. Teachers must regularly and in different ways check how much of the learning objective of the lesson the students have mastered. You must measure the degree of success or failure at the end of every class.
I call it the Mom-point. Ask students what they can tell their moms when asked what they’ve learned today. What new word or expression did you learn? What did we practice? Make sure they can tell their parents something that they have learned that day.
Formative assessment is done with regular, almost daily, friendly, and informal questioning through games, projects, and presentations by the students. It can be something elementary, such as a daily ‘exit ticket’ question for young learners. It is the use of peer review – students asking each other questions and checking answers, competing in pairs or groups in a pleasurable way. Quizzes are also very effective, so too quick, informal oral or written exit assessments for older students.
Summative are formal evaluations to measure the progress of students in mastering learning objectives. It may be through written or oral tests, projects or portfolios, and standardized exams to obtain admission or progress to the next level.
Teachers that don’t have enough time to teach, yet often the principal, subject head or the Education Department expects from teachers to prepare these long lesson plans. So, if you only have 30 or 40 minutes in class, how do you cope with that? I think one of the most important things as a teacher is being able to manage your time, to have better time management.
Let’s say, for example, I have five things that I need to do in class. Have a quick warm-up and then keep the teaching part shorter to give them more time to practice. You don’t have to go exactly to your lesson plan, but take into consideration the time that you have available. Give yourself enough time to finish what you want them to learn, then have enough time to check or review. Remember, with younger students, to include an exit-ticket or Mom-point.
Plan early to avoid stress
Teachers don’t have a lot of time once the semester starts, which is why one should get planning for the term done before the semester starts. Then get into the routine of doing weekly planning well in advance and finally so too with your lesson planning. Postponing these tasks and doing them at the last minute leads to procrastination and puts unnecessary long-term stress on you. The ideal is to have your planning for next Monday done by this Friday in order to enjoy the weekend, knowing you are on schedule.
Make notes after lessons
Taking notes after each lesson helps you to reflect on the success or problems you have experienced. What was the enjoyment level for the students and for you? What worked and what did not? What problems need to be addressed? Where can you improve? What ideas do you have for the future? Where can the lesson can be improved, note parts where the students needed more help, and how many of the students reached the objective.
Such quick notes are of immense value for writing reports later on. Do this before your memory gets hazy in the rush. Maybe you’re teaching the same topic to different classes and many times you have to teach the same thing year after year, or you’re going to repeat that lesson again and again within the week. Let’s say you’ve got four classes that have to teach the same lesson. The first lesson is usually quite tough to get a feel for the material, for how the students react to it, what activities work and what they’ve struggled with. When you reflect on the lesson, make a small note for future reference to improve on. Oftentimes we preach to our students to fix mistakes but don’t do it ourselves. By making notes in your planning, your boss can see how you are working at improving, which is actually the sign of a quality teacher.