10 Steps to Better Lesson Plans
Kelly Tenkely | Teaching.monster.com
Master teachers are also master lesson planners. They can look at a learning goal and piece together key components that will ensure that their students meet the goal. Not all lessons need to be a reinvention of the wheel, but there are several hallmarks of well-crafted lesson plans. Whether you are building your own lessons, or searching through databases of lessons, be sure to include these 10 key components:
1. Learning Goal- Every lesson plan should have a clearly defined learning goal, after all, that is the reason for teaching! I have seen some very inventive lesson plans that lack this important ingredient. No matter how entertaining a lesson may be, if it is lacking a learning goal, it has missed its mark.
There is a day celebrated annually by students all over the country affectionately referred to as Mole Day. Celebrated every year on October 23 (10-23), Mole Day honors Avogardro’s Number (6.02 × 10^23), which is a basic unit of measure in chemistry. There are some fun lesson plans out there for Mole day (and in fact entire websites dedicated to the celebration). Mole day is uniquely celebrated by creating moles (the animal) and creating a diorama that represents a play on the word ‘mole’. For example “guaca-mole” or “Remember the Ala-mole”. Students spend weeks creating their moles and mole puns. But in all the entertainment, does the lesson completely lose its meaning?
What does the mole (the animal) have to do with Avogardro’s Number aside from sharing a name? When the learning goal is lost, so is the learning. When writing and searching lesson plans, make sure you always have a clear learning objective in mind: everything hinges on this.
2. Resources- List the resources needed for a lesson. Nothing is worse than having the perfect lesson planned only to find that you are missing an important material. Jotting down a list of resources needed for the lesson will ensure that you have all the paper, glue, copies, etc. when the time comes to use them.
Don’t forget to list digital resources as well. Make sure if you are using technology that the websites you intend to use with students aren’t blocked at school. A great lesson you created at home could come to a screeching halt if you can’t access the video you found the night before. Also, be sure to note any of the plug-ins that may be required for a website (Silverlight, Flash, Shockwave, etc.). Often, if you can plan ahead, your tech department can confirm that you have everything in place for your lesson.
3. Standards- It is important to note any standards being met by the lesson. Most schools are requiring a standard tie in for every lesson. Even if your school doesn’t require that you note which standards you are meeting, it is good practice to be familiar with your state and national standards. You will be surprised how many standards you are meeting in any given lesson. You may also choose to note how a lesson falls into the scope and sequence for yearlong learning.
4. Anticipatory Set- After the learning goal, the anticipatory set is one of the most important ingredients in a quality lesson plan. The anticipatory set engages your students in the learning that is about to happen. It sets the tone for the lesson and makes students hungry to learn more. Think of the anticipatory set as a movie trailer. The trailer doesn’t tell everything about the movie but provides enough glimpses to leave you wanting more.
When I was in first grade, my teacher planted a UFO made out of cardboard boxes and yogurt containers spray painted silver in the middle of our classroom. All around the UFO were purple play dough “space rocks”. We were immediately engaged and excited about the lesson. We had no idea what we would be learning, but she already had us thinking and questioning. As it turned out, the UFO was introducing a new leveled reader we were going to read together called “My Pet Space Rock”. All these years later I still remember that lesson.
A good anticipatory set activates prior knowledge or encourages students to ask questions. Students learn, by making connections and exploring. Build anticipation for your lesson through props, secret notes from historians or scientists written to your class, a video clip, a song, a short story, or role play. Students love pretend play, so think about how you can get them to use their imagination and pretend as they are learning.
For example, if your students are studying dinosaurs, tell them they are paleontologists going on a dig. Outfit them with field journals and a ‘special’ paleontologist pencils that they can use to take notes. In my classroom, I like to use Wordles to begin my lessons. These are word clouds that you can create at www.wordle.net. I include several “clue” words about what we will be learning and project the Wordle on the whiteboard. As students come into the classroom, they guess what we will be doing based on the Wordle.
This gets students thinking about what they will be learning, activating prior knowledge, and asking questions. It takes 2-3 minutes of guessing before we begin the lesson and it readies students for the learning that will follow. It seems to me that the anticipatory set is the piece most often left out of lesson plans, and it is a shame because it’s what excites students about learning.