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First Day Of School: 6 Lesson Planning Tips

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This week’s blog is focused on first week back lesson planning tips. We’re getting closer! You’ve probably started mentally preparing yourself by now for returning to the classroom. You may have even read our recent blog packed full of back to school tips. Ideally, you will be:

  • Getting to know your next class by looking at assessment data and pastoral notes
  • Organising your classroom (even if just in your head at this stage)
  • Reflecting on your positive classroom management strategies
  • Planning for success in lessons
  • Preparing to make a great first impression with new students and colleagues

Once you are on track with this it’s time to start making sure your lesson for the first few days and weeks are ready to go. Where did you leave things back in July with lesson planning? Did you and your team put together that medium-term plan for the first term back? Are you using existing planning from the previous year?

You will of course have some ‘getting to know you’ activities in your first week or so of lessons with new classes. However, we predict that most schools will be firmly in ‘catch up mode’ this year. So, we advise that you aim to start delivering learning objective focused and consistent lessons as early as possible. Reassure students that this is going to be a fun but hard-working year with lots of opportunities for progress and growth.


The Big Picture

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 new half term?
  • What exactly will they be tested on in their first assessment?

As always, 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:


1. Learning Objectives & Outcomes that are Clear, Manageable & Actionable

  • Plot out your objectives for the week/topic/term first of all. Take into account how many lessons you have before the end of unit assessment. Things will probably change slightly as you get into the term – some objectives will require more time and others 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. It’s much better to adjust as you go than to get to the end of term and realise you’ve missed out on key learning.
  • Learning objectives should be skills-based. They should refer to what students will learn, not what activities they will do in the lesson, for example: ‘To be able to write a persuasive argument’ rather than ‘to ask the council to save the local park’.

Bloom’s Taxonomy for Learning Verb’s

  • We recommend 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, it’s just that some may need more support 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…


2. Lesson Planning Tips for 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 Science lesson the objective is ‘To be able to describe how photosynthesis occurs’, 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 one on mini-whiteboards to hold up and show their answers. The teacher can then correct any mistakes and show another example.

Behaviour management tips:

  • 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.

3. Regular Progress Checks or ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL)

You should check the progress of the whole class against each objective so that you (and the students!) know where progress has been made. Have the whole class got it? Or are only 2 out of 5 tables ready to move on?

Progress checks 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.

4. Lesson Planning Tips For Differentiation

Make sure you are considering different groups within the classroom, including EAL, SEN and G&T students. We want all lessons to be as easy to access and make progress in as possible. As this is likely to be a new class, use this time to speak with members of staff who have supported your students in the past.

  • Take on board the strategies suggested by staff members who have supported your students previously, including the SENCo.
  • You can make sure your lessons are accessible for everyone without having to use completely 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.
  • Plan to 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.

5. Final Progress Checks or Plenary

As well as regularly checking progress throughout the lesson, plan to 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.

  • Another option could be 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.

6. …And Lastly, ‘Do Now’ or Starter Activities

We have left these till last as really they should be the last things you plan. Teachers often fall into the trap of planning lessons in chronological order, then spending far too long on the starter. Make sure you are time-effective with the parts that really make the difference.

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. Then you can say, ‘tick! amazing guys, you’ve all nailed it! We’re ready to move onto our next objective now!’

Thank you for reading!

We hope you have found our lesson planning tips helpful. 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.

And if you are on the lookout for your next role you can view all our latest school vacancies here.

Our specialist consultants are always delighted to hear from you – Find out more about our available teaching vacancies or the free CPD-accredited training courses we offer.

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