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7 Questions to Ask Yourself While Planning Instruction

Shannon reminds us that thoughtfully planning lessons while managing the day-to-day in our classrooms can be challenging, but is important. She shares seven questions to keep in mind as you plan your lesson to make sure that you are well prepared and have considered all of the essentials.

Teacher Planning Lesson

All of us have those days or weeks where we feel like we are barely keeping up in the hectic world of education. It’s okay if the paperwork piles up a bit, but it is imperative to take the time to plan each day’s lessons thoughtfully. Kids of all ages can usually sense it if you aren’t prepared. If you have planned well, your enthusiasm will show, and your students will be excited to learn!

Here are seven questions to keep in mind while you are putting your plans together:

What are my learning targets?

You can't plan a lesson unless you have at least one learning goal in mind. Be sure to write the learning targets (one or two) for both your reference and for your students. It's a great idea to designate a location in your classroom (I've always used a section of the whiteboard) so that students know what to expect. For upper elementary levels and higher, have the students copy the learning targets at the beginning of the lesson. You can decide if you want to provide a weekly sheet for students or have them write it in a notebook or other location. Students respond well to "I can" statements; yes, even in a high school. By writing the target as an "I can" statement, students are starting with a positive mindset before the lesson even begins. Keep the statements as short and straightforward as possible. If there is too much writing involved, you will lose them before you get started, and students will dread writing them. Examples of "I can" statements: "I can conjugate ser in the present tense. I can identify the US state capitals. I can solve an equation for x."

Here are some additional resources for learning targets: Lesson Plans: Using Objectives and Knowing Your Learning Target

"By writing the target as an 'I can' statement, students are starting with a positive mindset before the lesson even begins."

What previous knowledge do my students already possess?

Don’t waste time reteaching what students already know. This may seem obvious as you read it right now, but many of us have been guilty of “reteaching” material that students already know because we are sequentially following a program. There are several ways to check your students’ previous knowledge. KWL charts, pretests, and surveys are some tried and true methods.

Here are some additional resources for activating prior knowledge: Activating Prior Knowledge and KWL Chart

What should I modify for ELL students or those with IEPs and 504 plans?

There’s no doubt about it; meeting the diverse needs of today’s students can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to call on your building and district specialists for help when modifying curriculum. I’ve heard plenty of teachers complain over the years about how difficult it can be to modify the curriculum. Complaining will get you nowhere but asking for help can make a huge difference for both you and your students. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have specialists readily available, get creative in your approach. Are you working with a team? Take time to collaborate on strategies to reach students or divide up the work by taking turns writing modified materials and assessments.

Here are some additional resources for making modifications: Key Instructional Principles To Use With English Language Learners and Effective Accommodations for Students with IEPs.

What student-centered strategies will work best for this particular lesson?

Sometimes we don’t want to give up control of our classrooms but empowering our students to explore and learn together can have a much more significant impact than direct instruction. If students have the opportunity to collaborate and explore, they are more likely to remember what they have learned.

Here are some additional resources for supporting students to collaborate: Cooperative Learning and Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy.

Am I offering options for students?

Allowing choice in the classroom doesn’t have to involve complicated preparation. It can be as simple as allowing teams to choose to answer either the odd or even questions for an activity. Perhaps there is an activity that students can complete in more than one way. For example, instead of writing answers, could students answer verbally in small groups or pairs? Can they show their understanding by writing a list or a chart instead of a paragraph?

Here are some additional resources for offering students opportunities for choice: Five Ways To Give Your Students More Voice and Choice and Offering Students Choice and Offering Students Choice From Day One.

Have I planned a brain break?

We all know that student attention spans are short. Several years ago, one of my middle school colleagues presented the idea of a sixty-second “brain break” in the middle of class to allow students to refresh and refocus. Her enthusiasm encouraged me to give it a try. It soon became one of my most effective teaching tools. Once I established the break as part of our daily routine, students were more focused and productive during the second half of the class period.

Here are some additional resources for brain breaks: The No-Tech-Needed-2 Minute, "Brain Gym" Exercises For Better Classroom Management and 20 Three Minute Brain Breaks.

Do I have a sponge activity ready should I need it?

A sponge activity can be simple, but it can also be a lifesaver. Sponge activities have been part of my lesson plans since way back in my student teaching days. You just never know how the pacing of each lesson my go from day to day. As a secondary teacher, I often found that there was one class period that moved along significantly faster or slower than another. Then there are those days where you are unexpectedly left with a few extra minutes. As a Spanish teacher, it was easy to have vocabulary or verb conjugation activities on hand for those moments. Also, if it feels like a game to the students, even better. The key is to have simple activities that are educationally relevant.

Here is an additional resource for extension activities: Extension and Enrichment.

Remember that if you take the time to plan carefully, everything else will fall into place. If possible, find supportive colleagues with whom you can share the workload. You and your students will all benefit!

Share how you plan your lessons with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Author Bio:

Shannon Krzyzewski is a veteran educator with over twenty-five years of experience teaching Spanish, English/Language Arts, and Social Studies at both the middle and high school levels in the Seattle area. She is now a freelance writer, editor, and educational consultant residing in Montana’s Flathead Valley.

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