What is the importance of a lesson plan?
A lesson plan is essential as a cornerstone of successful teaching practice. Walking into a room full of young people expecting them to engage and respond to you with nothing prepared is a recipe for disaster. You will reach that level through trial and error, where a couple of quick notes in your day-planner will be all the preparation you need. However, when you begin teaching, lesson planning is an essential skill for you to develop.
What is a lesson plan?
A lesson plan is an outline for each daily lesson over a unit of work detailing:
- Learning outcomes: These are the objectives of the lesson. Map out what the students will learn in the lesson.
- Teaching practice: The classroom instruction and activities that will guide student learning. Think about how to introduce the lesson, the sequence of activities to scaffold learning, and how the conclusion will tie the class together.
- Resources: Any equipment you will need to use during class to support student learning. Also, think about how you will set up space.
- Assessment: How will you measure student achievement of learning outcomes? How do you facilitate student feedback and reflection?
Why do we plan lessons?
As professionals, teachers are charged with educating students to achieve the highest possible learning outcomes.
Effective lesson planning is an important facet of professional teaching practice because planning:
- Provides the students with the necessary structure and direction to receive a relevant and engaging education.
- Allows us to meet the diverse learning needs of our students through differentiation and increased choice.
- Integrates use modern technologies and better resources that are integral to students’ everyday lives, increase the interactivity of lessons, and create a richer learning environment.
- Allows you to map goals and assess the achievement of outcomes.
- Keeps lessons relevant to increase engagement and understanding and promotes greater independence and mastery of a topic.
- Enables us to critically reflect on and improve our teaching practice.
A recent independent report concerning teacher workload notes that subject area, availability of resources, training, and support will all affect the quality of lesson planning. The overriding theme is that time spent on lesson planning should add value and make a difference. So keep that in mind!
The Importance of Lesson Planning
- What are you trying to do?
- Understand your learners
- Better classroom management
- Understand content
- Understand pedagogy
- Reflect on and improve
1. What are you trying to do?
Try the backwards design method of lesson planning to give you a better view of a unit of work. By starting your planning with lesson objectives and then ranking these in terms of importance, you will be better able to manage your class time and achieve learning outcomes.
Different strategies for effective planning include:
- Developing an introduction: This can involve asking questions to gauge background knowledge, addressing commonly held ideas and misconceptions, and starting with an activity that will spark interest.
- Planning learning activities: Think about presenting information in various ways to appeal to your students. Also, consider the timing of activities, transitions and how you can check for understanding.
- Assessment of learning: Preparing questions that will guide students towards achieving the lesson objectives is essential. You may also pre-empt questions they might have and have responses ready. Finally, how does your activity allow the students to demonstrate what they have learnt?
- Concluding the lesson: It’s important to bring the focus back to the main objectives of the lesson. Summarise key points and then provide a brief overview of future learning to increase relevance and create context.
- Teaching timeline: When you have decided upon the length of a unit, consider how much time each part of the sequence will require. You may need to re-evaluate how many objectives you can meet based on your student needs. Prioritising lesson objectives allow you to be more flexible in the classroom.
Following this strategy can simplify the planning process and give your students the security of a dependable structure. This can help to reduce student anxiety because they can see the point of each lesson.
2. Understand your learners
NFER’s report on student engagement throughout their schooling stated the importance of teaching meaningful and relevant lessons to your students. This mirrors consistent student reports about the teachers that successfully facilitate teaching and learning in the classroom by recognising a learner’s academic and social identity and addressing student needs interests.
Your lower ability Year 8 science class will probably have difficulty maintaining attention for a weeklong study on atomic mass in the periodic table, so don’t plan for that. Lesson planning makes you consider your students and how they learn.
Advice for planning to meet the needs of your students includes:
- Accommodating the of your students
- Identifying and breaking down areas in the content that they will have difficulty with
- Providing enough foundation and direction to encourage their understanding of the topic
- Facilitating independent learning through group work and student-driven class discussions
- Motivating an active role in their education to increase student agency, voice and accountability
- Employing a variety of assessment items throughout the learning process to assess overall growth
- Being open to student feedback on the learning process
Providing students with the tools they need to succeed and facilitating their learning drives an engaging, action-driven learning environment.
3. Better classroom management
When you have planned your lessons, you will be more confident in your classroom. You know that students will respond to the cues that you’re sending out. If you seem unsure about what is meant to be happening, your students will likely lose motivation and even act out.
There are proactive steps that you can take when lesson planning assists classroom management by:
- Providing clear structure and direction in a lesson
- Making expectations explicit
- Outlining achievable learning goals
- Setting timeframes for activities and transitions
- Keeping students engaged and on-task
- Allowing flexibility during class
Finally, plan to assist and positively reinforce your students throughout the lesson to foster a productive learning environment.
4. Understand content
Effective lesson planning will make you think carefully about the content that you need to teach. Your student’s ability to grasp and respond to content will reflect your knowledge.
Thinking about the content of your lessons will allow you to:
- Address any gaps in your knowledge before class
- Highlight difficult areas of the topic and present it in a manner that improves comprehension
- Develop activities that better match your students’ abilities
- Provide better examples to illustrate underlying principles linked to background knowledge
- Draw stronger connections between the content to past and future learning
- Provide practical contexts and real-world examples to increase the relevance
This is moving beyond the superficiality of teaching to a test. Show your students that it’s important to know this information and how it’s applicable in real life. Students will be in an environment that encourages and fosters their insight, and because of your expert knowledge, you can pick up on this and build upon it.
5. Understand pedagogy
Knowing what to teach is only half the challenge. You are actively improving your teaching ability as you try out different ideas in the classroom and judge what is working for you and what needs tweaking. Understanding the pedagogy behind other teaching methods helps you to deliver better lessons.
Research suggests five critical elements of effective pedagogy as follows:
- Joint Productive Activity: Teachers working alongside students to solve problems.
- Developing Language and Literacy Skills Across the Curriculum: Facilitating students’ understanding and use of language and literacy skills concerning content vocabulary.
- Contextualisation/Making Meaning: Relating new information to familiar concepts they have constructed during their lives and bringing the “real world” into classroom experiences.
- Cognitive Challenge: Building on students’ background knowledge and having high expectations of what they can achieve.
- Instructional Conversation: Paying attention to classroom dialogue to support better responses to questions, student communication abilities and inclusion.
Copying notes from the whiteboard period after period will not garner the best responses from students who have grown up in a digital age with an incredible array of communication technologies. You have to think about how you can challenge students to use what they already know with what they are learning to deepen their knowledge and develop critical thinking skills.
6. Reflect on and improve
We know that teaching is a challenging career choice. It can also be a rewarding career, and when you pull off a successful lesson, it’s a great feeling.
The key things to remember are:
- Step away to break down elements of lessons your students are taking to (excellent job!)
- Understand that things will not always go according to plan—don’t beat yourself up too much
- Try out one-or-two ideas at a time, so you’re not overwhelming you or your students
- Talk things through with your mentor and colleagues to gain perspective
- Be responsive to feedback because there’s often room for growth
- Take breaks and mental health days when you need to recharge
You will eventually find your rhythm. Hopefully, you will have a long and successful career as a teacher, so don’t burn yourself out too early by unnecessary overplanning. You’re trying your best, it’s great that you care so much, and you will become better with experience.