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How to Plan a Lesson. What is a Lesson Plan and the Importance of Lesson Planning
The Importance of Lesson Planning
How to plan a lesson and the importance of lesson planning are 2 critical elements in teaching a successful lesson.
Over the years I have worked with a large number of new teachers, trainee teachers, NQTs and struggling experienced teachers and in every case, when we have worked, together, on what they have needed to do in order to put things right, we have ended up spending more time on how to plan a lesson and the importance of lesson planning than anything else.
You see, whilst behaviour and progress are, without question, massive issues in any classroom, lesson planning is always at the heart of the solution and is always the key to delivering a successful lesson.
I never cease to be amazed at how many times I am approached by a colleague, at 8am with; "Have you got any good ideas for my year 8 lesson today?"
"When is the lesson?" I ask?
"Period 2" comes the reply
Wow! Have I got any good ideas for a lesson that is being taught today, in a little over 2 hours from now?!!
No wonder that person is not having the most successful time in the classroom!
Then, when I have been asked, by experienced colleagues if I could help them out with problems they are having, I arrange a time when we can sit together, quietly, and talk things through. When that time comes and we are sitting together, with a cuppa, I start off by asking what sorts of problems they experienced in their last lesson with the group(s) in question.
Once I have listened and made a few notes, I ask "Tell me about your planning for the lesson. What did you plan as a starter? What were the objectives? How had you differentiated the lesson? How are you using your seating plan as part of your planning?"
This is the point when I get the blank, far away look that tells me 'the lights are on but . . . . .'
And I particularly cringe, inwardly, when I hear other 'experienced' colleagues boast about the fact that, after teaching for 10 or 20 or 30 years, they no longer need to plan!
Wow! Such sefl indulgent, misplaced arrogance!
At this point, you may be reading and nodding at the same time, because you recognize these people from your own experiences, or you may be thinking "so, what's wrong with that? After 20 years of teaching, why do I need to waste my time planning?"
If you are one of the latter, you should read on!
Let me recount a conversation from my NQT year.
I was with my HOD (who I have mentioned in other hubs), Al Green, and we were sitting in the staffroom together, in a non-contact (previously known, in the pre-modern era as a free period!) and we were chatting about lessons and teaching and we got on to lesson planning. He was talking me through some aspects and ideas for teaching a particular lesson and I said "Hang on, Al, if we are going to talk about lesson planning, let me get a lesson plan sheet to use"
That was the point that he fixed me with a smile, one of those types of smile that the cat has, right before the mouse discovers what is about to happen next!
"You need to understand something" he began "those forms you use are for the inspectors and your portfolio."
Then he asked me the telling question
"Tell me, what is lesson planning"
I didn't even hesitate and in a flash, out came all the theory I had learned, which included lots of references to my lesson plan templates.
"OK" he said "Look, there's nothing wrong with anything you have just said and if OFSTED ever come knocking, you will be ok. BUT, and I want you to always remember this, lesson planning is NOT about those sheets you fill in. They are just where you record your planning.
Real, proper lesson planning is what goes on in here!" and he pointed to his head!
You see, lesson planning is all about your thinking. The lesson plan document is simply where you summarize that thinking.
After 15 years, I still have written lesson planning evidence for every lesson I teach! Sometimes that takes the form of extensive notes in my planner. Other times, it may be something more than just a few notes in my planner, maybe a sheet with a lesson outline on it. But, for every single lesson I teach, I have clear, structured lesson plan notes.
In which case, let's get back to the questions:
"What is lesson planning? How do you plan a lesson? What is the importance of lesson planning?
My way of explaining lesson planning is to say that it is an educational route planner or map.
Imagine you are going on a car journey from, say, Bristol to Hull, and your sat nav has broken down.
You would want to know:
- Where am I starting from?
- Where do I want to get to?
- How far is it?
- What potential hazards are there on my journey?
- Where will I be able to stop on my journey, for a break?
- How long should the journey take me?
- What time do I want to arrive in Hull?
- What time should I leave Bristol?
Even if you are not consciously aware of it, all of those things (plus more besides) are part of what you do before setting off on a journey.
Well, the same is true of a lesson plan.
The importance of lesson planning is that it tells us (from the point of view of the pupils we are teaching and what we want them to learn)
- Where are we starting from - prior learning
- Where do we want them to get to? - expected outcomes
- How will we get there? - our levelled learning objectives
- How long will it take? - our teaching calendar
- How will I know if I have succeded? - assessment
- What will I do about those who make more or less progress than expected? - differentiation
- How will I deal with disruption (your traffic jams)? - behaviour strategies
I could go on but, by now, I am sure you have got the general idea!
The importance of lesson planning and the key to successful lesson planning lies in your thinking!
If you are a new teacher and you really don't know anything about your classes, it can seem an impossible task to figure out what they already know.
You plan your lesson, based on what they should know and then, once the lesson starts, you discover that they know more or less than you expected and then, your lesson suddenly falls apart because, either it is too hard for them, so they start to misbehave, or it is too easy for them, so . . . . . . . . . . they start to misbehave!
How can you avoid this?
The way that works best for me, when I encounter a group of pupils I have never taught before, is through the use of starters.
I use starters in 2 ways. In fact, most of my lessons have 2 starter activities.
Firstly, I have a general starter activity. This is the one that I use when they first enter the classroom, to get them on task immediately and make sure they are too busy to mess around and cause problems, and this is also the one that I use to inform me of their understanding of the topic I am going to teach next week.
For example, if we are currently working on solving equations but next week I am going to start averages with them, I will use a starter this week, which has some routine questions and activities associated with averages.
The starter will be at a basic level, so they can access it easily, and it will be differentiated along the lines of:
- After 5 innings, a batsman has scored 18, 37, 46, 2 and 89. What is his mean score?
- What is the modal value of 7, 9, 16, 22, 7, 13, 9, 4, 7
- Three numbers have a mean of 12. Two of the numbers are 19 and 11, what is the third number?
- Describe median and show an example.
After their 10 minutes has passed, I will have a very good picture of what they can and can't do, as far as averages is concerned. I will know which pupils coped with all 4 questions, which ones struggled over aspects of the topic and then, I can use this in my planning for next week's lesson.
I have taken the guesswork out of my planning. All because of a 10 minute starter activity.
My second 'starter' will then be directly relevant to our current topic (solving equations) and it will link directly to our last lesson, in order to quickly recall what we learned and bridge from that work into today's objectives.
Planning the lesson
As a result of that 10 minute starter activity, I now know what the pupils can handle with ease, so I don't need to spend too much time on that, maybe just a very quick activity.Perhaps the whole class was confident about median and mode, in which case I may just spend the first 10 - 15 minutes of the lesson on that.
On the other hand (as is usually the case) it may be that working out the mean was a bit of an issue, so that will be my main lesson focus in lessons 1 and 2.
I can then consider, how I want to explain what mean is. What sorts of examples will I use? When will I use a calculator and when will I expect them to work on mean without a calculator? How will I use big numbers? small numbers? decimals? At what point will I use calculation of mean when there is a missing value?
Then, at what stage will I introduce median, mode and range, alongside calculating the mean?
I will build additional starters and plenaries into my 'averages' lessons to begin introducing mean from tables and using grouped data to arrive at an estimate of the mean.
Finally, how will I weave more complex 'worded' questions, that require reasoning, into our work?
For the pupils who are more able or who make quicker progress, how will I differentiate for them? And for the lower ability pupils or the ones who pick the topic up more slowly, how will I include more support activities and materials for them?
I can now also work on how much content do I think we should be able to work through in a lesson? What would be good homework activities that will either reinforce or stretch understanding? Can I link those homeworks to real life problems?
Then, what sorts of plenary activities can I use to check understanding and encourage deeper understanding?
Will I be better off designing my own activity sheets or are there already some good ones in the department ( I ask other teachers to find out!) or is there a good textbook activity. Can I use a video clip to reinforce any of the teaching points? Are there any good web based resources I could use?
Once I have thought through that lot, I can now make some written notes. These notes will simply remind me what my starters and plenaries will be. What resources I will use and I will also include any worked examples I intend using.
Also, I will plan the sequence of lessons, which may mean making notes for 3 - 6 lessons. THEN, IF THE LESSON GOES BETTER THAN I EXPECT, BECAUSE I HAVE 'OVERPLANNED' I CAN DIP INTO MATERIALS FROM THE NEXT LESSON.
Finally, I give thought to what type of assessment will I use to monitor what progress has been made and, if some pupils have made no progress or less progress than expected, what will I do about that.
I always plan at the weekend. I find it less stressful. I usually sit down on Saturday afternoon, sport on the TV or radio and plan while I listen to a football or cricket commentary. Then, during the week, I simply tinker.
Just like planning my journey from Bristol to Hull, in this lesson plan I have considered:
- Where am I going to start my journey?
- What is my destination?
- How will I get there?
- How long will it take?
- When will I arrive?
- What unexpected problems might I encounter on my journey?
- What resources will I need?
- How do I know I have arrived?
So, there you have it. My version of The Importance of Lesson Planning and How to Plan a Lesson
Some people may read this and suggest that it is far too ling winded, whilst others may read it and think "that's the way to do it".
We are all different and we all have different approaches.
The key thing is that, with my model' you now have some ideas.
I would expect any teacher I am mentoring to develop their own ways of approaching lesson planning and particularly, to develop their own resources for lessons. Also, I would expect and encourage them to talk to their colleagues, when thinking ahead about lesson planning, to make use of the great ideas they have.
What I have tried to do, in this article, is address the 'route map' concept of:
- Where are we now
- Where do we want to be
- How will we get there
- How do we know we have arrived
If you have found this article to be of use, please vote it up and pass it on. Also, I would welcome your comments, feedback and ideas.
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Thanks for reading.Go plan some great lessons!