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Tips for Lesson Planning

Updated: Mar 22

Remember when you were student teaching and had to complete pages and pages of lesson planning documents? I remember thinking, do teachers actually do this every day?! The answer was no, of course.

While we do encourage thoughtful preparation, probably very few of us plan our class periods in minute-by-minute increments, writing out all transitions and listing every single resource needed to complete the lesson (projector, white board marker, pencil, paper...).

So what does thoughtful planning actually look like? Even if you're familiar with the content of a lesson, there are a few key questions we like to think through before teaching it. These are the questions that can take any lesson from good to great, and can help you consider some of the intentional teacher moves that will help students move toward the intended learning outcomes of the day.

We use this one page Lesson Planning Guide (PDF | Google Doc) to help prepare for teaching a new lesson. We’ll break down the parts further in the coming sections, but the main goal of lesson planning is to identify one or two big ideas of the lesson and align all parts of the lesson to revealing those big ideas. This includes the questions you ask students as they work, the responses you choose to discuss as a class, and the parts of the lesson you focus on in the debrief. For us, it was helpful to break down the lesson into these five high-impact components:

  • Setting Goals

  • Anticipating Student Responses

  • Monitoring Student Work

  • Selecting and Sequencing Student Responses

  • Debriefing the Lesson with Margin Notes

Set clear goals.

Make sure you are very clear on the intended learning outcomes of the lesson. What do you want students to know, understand, and be able to do? Identify which questions on the lesson are most closely related to these goals. These are the questions you will spend more time on in the debrief, and the questions you will FOR SURE discuss if you're running low on time.

Go through the lesson like a student.

We cannot emphasize enough how helpful this is. We know it takes extra time, but you must think about how your students will respond to the questions in the activities. Whenever we host a workshop, we always tell participants that they have to go into “Student Mode.” That means that they must work through an activity like a student would. They’ve got to think about what their students know and don’t know and answer questions accordingly. This is so important because it gives you a chance to anticipate student responses. What are some likely solution paths students will use? What will students have a hard time with? What misconceptions might arise? As you think through the responses students may have, add them to your lesson planning guide.

After identifying possible student responses, we need to plan how we will react to them. This a part of the monitoring phase. As groups are working through an activity, you will be walking around the room and checking in with them. What types of things will you say? What clarifying questions can you ask to get them to explain their work? If there is a misconception, what guiding questions can you use to help them adjust their thinking or identify their error? Add these ideas to the Monitoring section of the lesson planning guide.

Plan what will be shared and who will share it.

This is the hardest section to do ahead of time because there's no way to predict with 100% certainty what students will say and do. However, you've already anticipated some likely solution paths, so consider which of those would be helpful for sharing with the whole class that you can tie to the formal learning of the day. It may even be helpful to select a particular wrong answer that is likely to show up to reveal the misconception. If you would like multiple solutions to be shared, plan the order in which they will be shared. Identify students that haven't shared in a while and write their names down. As you monitor, pay specific attention to things these students might be doing that you can highlight in the debrief. A lot of this section will be filled out in real time, as you figure out which groups used which approach. A trusty clipboard is your best friend here.

Use the Lesson Answer Key to plan your Debrief.

Every answer key posted on Calc Medic is color coded. Anything that is written in blue is the student’s work, and anything written in red is added in by the teacher during the class debrief after the activity. Use the answer key to identify what margin notes you will have students add to their papers during the debrief. Plan how you will verbally explain the ideas as you add it. Make notes about all these things in the Debrief section.

After many years of teaching with EFFL, we have found the most important parts of prepping are anticipating student responses, planning guiding questions for monitoring, and preparing for the debrief. And the more we do this, the easier it gets. Take some time before your next lesson to try it out. Even better, do it together with a colleague! Whether you use our lesson planning guide or make your own, what’s important is to write your ideas down somewhere. Trust me, next-year-you will thank you!

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