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Tips For Lesson Planning Better and Faster

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member, Jeanne, explains what makes lesson planning challenging. She shares her ideas for how to get around those challenges so you stop dreading lesson planning, and start enjoying it.

Updated: July 29, 2019

Teacher lesson planning

I remember a student once asking me what teachers did during their free periods during school. When I told her that part of what we do was plan lessons, she remarked, “Yeah, but how much time does that really take?”

Much time. All the time. Literally endless amounts of time. And then once you finish, you have to do it all again tomorrow.

Like grading, since planning time is limitless, it’s important to keep priorities in check and learn systems to streamline our process for making quality lesson plans. Let’s talk about what makes that challenging, and then some ideas for getting around those challenges.

Challenges to Lesson Planning

Its ever-presence on the to-do list

Lesson-planning is one of those maddening tasks that repeats over and over again. And if you’re an elementary teacher or a secondary teacher with multiple preps, it’s a task that multiplies with each passing day. For many teachers, strategies for streamlining aren’t just nice to have, they’re necessary.

The pressure for pizazz

With the advent of social media and viral superhero-teacher news articles, the pressure to design the most elaborately creative unit has never been higher. Sometimes in the effort to be creative, the purpose and even effectiveness of lessons can be lost (along with the teacher’s sanity).

The need for wide differentiation

In a class of 25 students, it’s not uncommon to have 12 emergent multilinguals with separate home languages, 10 different learning disabilities, and an 8-grade-level range of skills. For many teachers, this is the norm--and it can sometimes make lesson planning feel like planning a trip to the moon.

Planning for classroom management

While in a much easier world, our students would be falling over themselves to participate in our beautifully designed lessons, the reality is that we teach real human beings. And real human beings don’t always want to participate the way we planned. Therefore, planning for classroom management is just as critical as planning for content.

Solutions and Tips Work

Work from a Backwards Plan

By giving yourself a map of a unit or the year with just learning objectives or topics for each day, you at least have an idea of where to go the next day--not to mention a more cohesive unit. If you’re finding yourself planning day-to-day, do yourself a favor and take an hour or two to list your learning objectives for this unit, plan your major assessments, and then pace the learning objectives across the days of your unit. Thank me later.

“Batch” your Planning

One of the cardinal rules in productivity is to batch repetitive tasks--or in other words, do repetitive things all at once. For example, instead of planning every day for the following day, you take one day during the week and plan every day for the following week all at once. It saves time and improves your planning because it decreases the number of times you start and stop planning. The more you can do that, the less time it takes your brain to “re-calibrate” to your plans, and the deeper you’re able to go in your thinking about them.

Set routines in your class structure and stick to them

Developing a routine for your class gives you a template for lessons every day and also allows kids to know what to do and where to be every day. If you’re unsure what type of routine to do, a really common routine is the workshop model (which really is just a form of Gradual Release of Responsibility), where you start with a 10-15 minute whole-class lesson, have 3o minutes of individual, partner-, or group-work time, and then 5 minutes of share time. 

Simplify

When I was a student teacher, I would spend hours picking what to teach (because I hadn’t made a unit plan), researching flashy ideas on the internet, and making beautiful Powerpoints and handouts. One night, I had a breakdown and asked for help. A mentor sat me down and asked me two questions: What skill do you want your students to walk away with at the end of the lesson? What would be the easiest way to teach that tomorrow? From then on, those questions completely changed the way I lesson planned. Make a habit of asking these two questions each time you plan. When you start with the basics of the lesson (learning objectives and core teaching strategies), it’s much easier to add bells and whistles later. And even if not, you’d be surprised how well students respond to a good, simple lesson plan.

Identify and plan how to communicate expectations

Sometimes your expectations for a lesson are crystal clear in your mind, other times you don’t realize you have them until your students are not doing those things. Either way, a critical part of lesson planning is identifying what your expectations are before every lesson plan, and then planning how you are going to communicate them to students. This aids immensely in smoothing out classroom management as well as increasing the lesson’s effectiveness. When everyone’s on the same page, everybody wins.

Prioritize student work time over time when the spotlight’s on you

Increasing the time when students are actively engaged not only takes the pressure off of you to prepare a 45-minute presentation every day, but makes the learning so much more meaningful. Students are able to actively engage with the learning, and you’re better able to jump around, differentiate, and assess for understanding. Whoever is doing the work is doing the learning--so it’s best to make sure that students are getting good work time in every day (and that you’re not up there sweating it out the entire period).

Lesson planning can get time-consuming and overwhelming, but with some simple, smart strategies, you can not just increase the effectiveness of your plans, but decrease the time you’re spending on them. 

What do you find challenging about lesson planning? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Jeanne Wolz taught middle school Writing and AVID in Illinois for four years in addition to serving as the English Department Chair. She holds a bachelor’s in English and Secondary Education and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches ESL, develops curriculum, and coaches new teachers. You can find more of her resources at www.teacheroffduty.com and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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