How to Write an Effective Lesson Plan

Who am I and why should you care about what I have to say about lesson planning? I am a senior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia studying Elementary Education. In addition to my practicum and overall classroom experiences, I have have held a wide variety of jobs working with children in both academic settings and otherwise. While these experiences have all been factors in my development as a teacher, I will primarily be drawing from my involvement and participation in Education 351, Instructional Design and Assessment. Throughout this course, I closely explored the research behind why certain instructional decisions are effective and how to implement them within the classroom, specifically through lesson plans. I will be outlining the conclusions I have drawn from this course within this post.

Throughout this post, you are going to be introduced to a lot (a LOT) of new information, models, terminology, and more. For additional information about each subject, click the hyper link to learn more!

First, let’s discuss the basics. Prior to designing a lesson plan, you need to determine the factors that create the context of your classroom and therefore affect overall instruction. Some are more obvious – the grade level you are teaching, VA SOLS you will be using, time you have allotted for the lesson, and/or CCSS and WIDA standards that may be applicable. These must be decided first.

Some factors, however, require more abstract and intentional thought when determining how they affect your lesson. Specifically, the context of the classroom. Knowing who you are teaching to, both as people and students, is crucial to creating a lesson that is in their best interest for overall success. Aspects to consider include: class size, gender expression, demographics of the students, interests, strengths, and needs, and any other pertinent information about the setting. Your students are unique individuals who do not all think, function, learn, or grow in the same way. Understanding the factors listed above will help you gauge when and how to differentiate for your students throughout later instructional design.

In addition to the information above, it is also important to ask – Why you are teaching this? What is the rationale? Why now? What is the big idea? What are the essential questions? These questions will help to guide the process of designing instruction and shaping objectives, as well as keep the overall purpose as the focal point of the lesson.

Once you determine the context of when, to whom, what, and why you are teaching, you must evaluate what your students already know about the topic. Is this entirely new to them? Is this building off of skills they have learned in previous grades/lessons? Is this lesson part of a unit? What do they know about the subject already? What do they need to know in order to understand this new information?

These are all questions you must consider prior to introducing a new topic. In order to decide how deeply you must revisit foundational skills prior to teaching the new concept, you might consider using a diagnostic assessment. This will help you understand where the class stands as a whole, as well as students individually. Additionally, it is the most effective way to guide your instructional decisions in order promote success for all students. Ultimately, assessment results guide instructional design, even prior to unit plans/lesson plans when utilizing diagnostic testing.

Now that we have outlined what, to whom, when, and why you are teaching this lesson, as well as your students background knowledge, it is time to start the design portion of lesson planning. The method I will be utilizing and explaining throughout this post is known as backwards design. This process is used to write effective lesson plans and is comprised of four major steps: objectives, assessments, and collect data and plan next steps. I will outline each step of this model below.

Objectives: statements outlined to describe what students will be expected to learn by a certain check point (ie. at the end of a unit, lesson, or school year).

When writing objectives, I would encourage the implementation of KUD’s, breaking down objectives into what students know, understand, and can do. For each of these words, an objective is outlined. For “know”, the objective should be focused on specific facts, dates, places, information, and vocabulary. Essentially, recall of the information presented within the lesson. The “understand” objective should be focused on big ideas, generalizations, and overall principles. Finally, the “do” objectives outlined the skills of the discipline and overall processes. Below, I have provided example objectives I wrote in regard to a lesson about the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest.

Students will know… The Pueblos people used a variety of methods and materials to sustain a lifestyle in the Southwest. 

Students will understand that… The Pueblos people had rich cultural lives that resulted in many contributions both in the past and the present.  

Students will be able to… Compare the lives and contributions of the Pueblos people to the Lakota and Powhatan American Indian cultures.

By outlining the objectives first through backwards design, you as an educator are able to determine what the final outcomes are going to be and then planning accordingly to meet said objectives. It is also highly beneficial to explicitly state objectives to students in the from of goals in order to keep them on track as well as encourage students to take on responsibility and track their own learning.

Assessment: the variety of methods that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic growth, learning progression, skill set, or educational needs of students. There are three main types of assessments: diagnostic (as outlined above), formative, and summative assessment.

As mentioned throughout this post, assessment results is the key tool in constructing instructional decisions. It helps illuminate where there is understanding and where there is still confusion, for students individually as well as the class as a whole. This is necessary information to have when deciding how much background information is needed for a lesson, how long to spend on a concept, and more. Outlining how students will be assessed after objectives is crucial to creating meaningful instructional decisions.

While assessment is often thought of in terms of a traditional closed-note paper and pencil exam, there are actually a wide variety of methods utilized by educators as multiple points in time to check for understanding. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve overall results. This can be examined through worksheets, discussions, writing samples, observation, exit tickets, and more. Summative assessments, however, takes place at the end of an instructional unit to evaluate student learning. This is often where people envision the traditional test to take place, however there are actually many ways to complete summative assessment.

Instruction: the act of making decisions in order to effectively relay and teach information, concepts, and/or skills.

Now that you have outlined your objectives and how they will be assessed, it is time to decide what instructional decisions and models you will utilize to reach these goals. There are a wide variety of instructional models that can be implemented and chosen based on your goals. When writing out your instructional steps, it is important to follow the purpose steps outlined within each respective model.

Collect Data and Plan Next Steps: analyze data from formative and summative assessments to determine where you take students next and what instructional decisions are to come.

As I have expanded on thoroughly throughout this post, assessments are key to making instructional decisions. Therefore, collecting data from your lessons is crucial in terms of planning your next steps. This data will be derived from all assessments including both informal and formal formative assessments as well as summative assessments. This information will guide if your class is ready to move on from the unit, if it needs to be revisited, and if any individual students need additional intervention.

While this information may seem overwhelming, practice truly makes perfect. As you spend more time designing lessons through backwards design, you will begin to understand the impact behind the order of operations. Things will begin to feel more natural during instructional design and choices in your classroom will become far more effective and meaningful.

Thank you for visiting my page, I hope you are able to implement these concepts within your classroom for long lasting results – you won’t regret it! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment below.

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