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A look at lesson planning

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By Sue Cowleyeducation writer and part-time supply teacher

Take the stress out of your planning with Sue Cowley’s practical advice

Teacher helping a child

‘What makes a good lesson plan?’ is an age old question, and there’s no straightforward answer. The answer depends partly on your level of experience and knowledge of the subject you’re teaching. If you’re a trainee teacher or new to the profession, a detailed teaching plan helps you to think through what might happen ahead of time and keeps you on track. It allows you to anticipate facts, information, equipment, resources and so on that you might need. You also need it to work in the ‘heat of the moment’, rather than being something that you follow slavishly. The acid test is whether or not your activities are actually helping the children to learn – if they’re not then you’ve got to stop, think on your feet and find something else to do.

Child-led learning

During the course of the average lesson, you might have very little opportunity to actually refer to your lesson plan. You certainly don’t want to pause the entire class in mid-flow while you check what you’re meant to be doing next. What worries me most about highly detailed plans is that they exclude the children from playing any part in the direction of the lesson – the best teaching and learning is an organic, living experience as well as something pre-planned.

The perfect plan

In lesson planning, there’s often a big gap between what teachers are ‘expected’ to do, and what actually happens daily in the typical classroom. Not least because if you wrote a detailed lesson plan for every lesson you ever teach, you would never have a moment’s time to yourself outside school. When you’re considering how best to plan and prepare your lessons, start by asking yourself: ‘Why do I actually need or want to plan my lessons?’ Your answer to this question should help you decide how much detail you require. For instance:

  • I want to think through the format and content of my lessons.
  • I need to ensure that I cover all aspects of the curriculum.
  • I have timing worries so need to examine how much I can fit in.
  • I need to ensure that activities and resources support children’s needs.
  • I want something that is flexible, so I can adapt it to suit the realities of my classroom.
  • I need to have a record of what I’ve done.
  • I’d like something that I can use again in the future.
  • I want a plan that will please the inspectors/managers/headteacher.
  • I want a plan that actually works for my children.

Savvy planning

In the typical plan, there’s a lot of information that can be copied over from previous plans. This might include details of children with SEN, timing of the session, classroom location, and so on. What you include is also a question of priorities: there are certain items that are essential, others that would be useful, and some that are not vital. Look at this list – what would your ‘essentials’ be?

  • Format (type and length of activities)
  • Starter
  • Main lesson content
  • Plenary
  • Subject/topic/theme
  • Date
  • Teacher
  • Class
  • National Curriculum links
  • Learning objectives
  • Success criteria
  • WALT (‘We Are Learning To’)
  • WILF (‘What I’m Looking For’)
  • SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning)
  • Relationship between activities and learning styles
  • Resources and equipment
  • Timings
  • Key questions
  • Key vocabulary
  • Number of children
  • Details of support staff
  • Details of special educational needs
  • Differentiation
  • Assessment opportunities

Consider the best time and place to plan your lessons: should you do it at home, or try staying in school? It’s very much a matter of personal taste, and what works best for your own work/life balance. Personally, I find that inspiration strikes at the oddest moment. I keep a notebook with me, so that I can jot down ideas for interesting activities.

Go with the flow

And, finally, be aware that what you planned to do often won’t exactly match the outcome. Sometimes, you’ll have a specific learning objective in mind, but the children will take the lesson in an alternative direction. Don’t be afraid to go with the flow, or to abandon an activity that isn’t working. Remember: your lesson plan has to work for you and your children, and help learning to take place, otherwise it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

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  1. vron
    on 17 April 2011

    A look at lesson planning

    A common sense approach, some very useful ideas that will help to inform my planning.


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