This week, we respond to one of our teachers who has been feeling worried about lesson planning as we ease out of lockdown:
‘How are we ever going to get our students back up to speed? They’ve missed so much, haven’t they? Are we going to have to completely revamp our approach to lesson planning to suit their needs? Help!’
With so much uncertainty around – even now, as we navigate the road map back to more normal times – there is a desire to hold onto things that are certain. Thankfully, when it comes to the principles of good lesson planning and delivery, some things haven’t changed…
As always when planning, you should start with the Big Picture. Let’s put the anxiety induced by the lockdown year aside and consider:
- Where do the students need to be at the end of this half term?
- What exactly will they be tested on in their next assessment?
As before, make sure you use the end-of-term assessment as a starting place to inform your planning to ensure students learn and practice the skills and knowledge needed to succeed.
With this end goal firmly in mind, you can then plan the following steps:
Learning Objectives & Outcomes that are Clear, Manageable & Actionable
- Plot out your objectives first of all, taking into account how many lessons you have before the end of unit assessment. Things will change slightly as you get into the term – some objectives will require more time or will need to be revisited – but it’s important to have a plan in place to cover all the objectives the students need to succeed in time.
- Learning objectives should be skills-based (referring to what students will learn, not what activities they will do in the lesson). Try using Bloom’s Taxonomy for task words (e.g. LO: To be able to… state, describe, explain etc.).
- Objectives provide structure to the lesson and should be introduced at the beginning of the lesson. They should be displayed on every slide and worksheet, be referred to throughout the lesson and be reflected in the plenary as you revisit what should have been learned.
- Avoid using ‘All…’ ‘Most…’ ‘Some…’ style objectives as many schools discourage this. All students should be able to achieve all objectives, but some may need more assistance than others.
So, once you have your big picture in mind with an assessment-focused end goal, and have plotted out a series of learning objectives it is time to think about…
Main Learning Activities
- When lesson planning, ensure each activity links to a learning objective. For example, if in an English lesson the objective is “To be able to identify similes and metaphors”, give the students a printed poem and two highlighter pens. This activity is clear and simple and makes the objective simple to achieve.
- Make the activities as simple as possible. For example, if in a Geography lesson the objective is ‘To be able to describe how an oxbow lake is formed’, then the students could simply put images in order and write one sentence to describe each step, rather than writing a paragraph. This is actionable and the evidence of understanding is clear to assess.
- Think about how you can minimise teacher-talk. If you need to address the class to model a method or explain a concept, then ensure that the students are still actively involved in this. For example, in a Maths lesson where the teacher needs to show the method for solving an equation, they can show the students one example, and then have pupils do the next question on mini-whiteboards to hold up and show their answers. The teacher can then correct any mistakes and show another example.
- NOTE: When ‘Too much teacher talk’ occurs, it is often a result of the teacher not planning ahead on how students can be actively involved when explaining new concepts.
- Remember: keep it simple! Don’t choose activities that rely on lengthy explanations, as students may lose focus or become disengaged.
- If using worksheets in the lesson, ensure that your learning objective(s) are clearly displayed. Try not to overload students with worksheets, you can take activities from different sources and print them onto one sheet of paper.
Regular Progress Checks or ‘Assessment for Learning’
- You should check the progress of the whole class against each objective to demonstrate progress to the observer. This can be done in a quick assessment for learning activity between each main task, which will also allow you to break up the lesson and ensure all of the students are still engaged. These progress checks should be plotted out for each activity when lesson planning.
- Ideas for checking the progress of the whole class:
- Quick 5-question quiz – use questions with one-word answers and get the students to mark these out of 5. You can then ask students to raise their hands if they got 3 or more to find out if there are any students in the class that are really struggling.
- Mini-whiteboards can also be used for quizzes, meaning students can show you their answers after each question.
- True / False activities are a good test of student understanding and don’t require any equipment, simply ask students to use their thumbs to show you what they think.
- Other ideas for progress checking:
- Using success criteria or a mark scheme to prompt self-assessment or peer-marking
- Ask students to swap work and give each other ‘next – steps’ or ‘two stars and a wish’ as feedback. Post-it notes work well for this kind of peer-to-peer feedback as it keeps the comments short and to the point.
- Consider different groups within the classroom, including EAL, SEN and G&T students.
- Make the lesson accessible for everyone without having to use different resources by displaying keywords, providing sentence starters for students to use if they wish, displaying challenge questions for higher ability students to attempt etc.
- Give simple verbal instructions for each task, display these instructions with supporting visuals on your slides for students to refer to, and check that all students understand what the task is as you are moving around the classroom.
- Summarise learning by referring back to the objectives for the lesson. You can use a summary question to do this if you wish. For example, in a Music lesson with a final objective of ‘To be able to compare current popular music with that of the 1960s’ students could write 3 sentences with similarities and differences.
- If you don’t wish to use a question, a simple written task for a plenary is to write a paragraph using all of the keywords from the lesson.
- Collect students’ work and tell them you’re excited to read it. You can take good examples into your interview as evidence of students making progress. If you have time to mark one or two, that’s even better.
…And finally, it is advisable that you plan your starter (or do now) activities last. Many teachers spend a lot of time thinking about how to start their lessons and worrying about an effective starter leaving less time for the main bulk of the learning focussed part of the lesson.
‘Do Now’ or Starter Activities
- Use a quick starter for students as they enter the classroom. Many schools call this a ‘Do Now’. This allows students to settle to a task straight away rather than becoming distracted when waiting for their peers to arrive.
- If possible, have simple written instructions so that students need no verbal instructions. Use visuals on the interactive whiteboard to show what they need to do.
- Using mini-whiteboards and post-it notes will encourage the students to begin the task straight away, rather than asking you what the date and title are.
- Unless your lesson will be the start of a new topic, use this activity to quickly assess prior knowledge. You can then adjust the pace of the rest of the lesson accordingly so that all students are sufficiently supported and challenged, given what they already know.
- You can boost the class’s confidence by using your ‘Do Now’ to meet the first of your learning objectives. If your first objective is a ‘describe…’ skill, then you ask students to create a spider diagram describing an image or concept.
We hope you have found our advice on lesson planning useful. If you’d like guidance on getting behaviour management right, then read our blog here. You may also find our free online course ‘An Introduction to Classroom Management’ useful.
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