Chapter Two

What Makes a Great Lesson Plan?

What does a good lesson plan look like?

Earlier, we mentioned that good lesson plans, regardless of subject, grade level, school, teacher or class, share some common components. In this section, we dive deeper into what those components are, and what teachers should include in each.

1. Lesson objectives

Each lesson plan should start by considering what students will learn or be able to do by the end of class. The best objectives are action-oriented and focus on the most important and essential learning needs of the class. They should be measurable, so teachers can track student progress and ensure that new concepts are understood before moving on, and achievable considering the time available.

Examples:

  • Describe the weather outside using their target language
  • Identify the parts of a fraction
  • Explain the different states of matter using water

2. Materials

What supplies and resources are required to support the lesson? In this section, list everything needed to deliver on the lesson objective. Identifying these items upfront makes sure teachers can gather everything ahead of time so they’re not caught short during the lesson.

Examples:

  • Textbooks
  • Computers or tablets
  • Handouts or worksheets

3. Learning activities

This is the heart and soul of a lesson plan: the step-by-step walkthrough of the lesson itself. In this section, teachers break down the lesson into individual learning activities – the mechanisms through which they deliver the lesson – and describe what will happen in the classroom during each one.

To help pick the right activities for each lesson (and there are a lot of possibilities out there), consider:

  • How they align with the learning objective, along with other standards or requirements students need to meet
  • Whether it’s a meaningful and engaging way for students to learn
  • The amount of time the activity will take

Since activities make up the bulk of learning time, it’s important to incorporate a variety of them within a single lesson plan. Giving students new ways to explore and use their knowledge helps solidify their learning while providing valuable experience that carries forward into other areas of their lives.

 Examples:

  • Read a poem as a class and lead a discussion about its symbolism using critical thinking questions students answer aloud (and list some thought-starter questions)
  • Split into small groups to create posters that explain the water cycle
  • Individually complete a worksheet to practice graphing linear equations. Check-in with students to see if they need assistance or have questions.

4. Time requirements

It’s helpful to pair learning activity with a timeline to help keep the class on schedule. It’s also a great way to figure out if the lesson is realistic given the class time available.

Start by estimating how many minutes will be spent on each learning activity and include that information alongside the description. Adding a bit of extra time to this estimate will provide some flexibility in case students have questions or need additional help along the way. Planning a bonus activity near the end of class helps fill in any gaps should the lesson go by more quickly than expected.

At the end of each lesson, teachers can compare their estimates to actual class time spent on each activity for more accurate preparation in the future.

Example:

10 minutes Learning activity 1
15 minutes Learning activity 2
5 minutes Learning activity 3

5. Related requirements

In addition to the lesson’s objectives, teachers can include broader objectives that extend beyond a single lesson, but to which the lesson contributes, like writing or comprehension skills. This helps tie learning into other requirements, such as grade-level standards.

In some cases, administrators will require this to happen; in others, it may be voluntary for the teacher to do so. In either case, make sure the lesson plan aligns with expectations in the school.

Examples:

  • Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action
  • Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements or performing technical tasks
  • Know the formulas for the volumes of cones, cylinders and spheres, and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.

6. Assessment

Did the lesson meet its objectives? Teachers can find out by including some form of assessment – or a check for student understanding – into each lesson. If the objective was about understanding a concept, the teacher might ask students to complete an activity around explaining or using that concept. If the objective was to learn a new skill (or even strengthen an existing one), the assessment might require students to perform that skill to demonstrate their proficiency. This step is made easier if the objective itself is a measurable one.

Examples:

  • Quizzes
  • In-class assignments
  • Group presentations

7. Evaluation and reflection

Once the lesson is over, teachers can step back and take a few notes about both their observations during class and their own thoughts about the lesson. This component is all about continuous improvement, identifying gaps in learning and building stronger lessons in the future.

Examples:

  • What worked well, what didn’t and why?
  • What did students need the most help with?
  • Were the objectives met by the students?

Planning with a sequence in mind

When planning, teachers need to consider the sequence of the lesson (and ideally, this sequence is repeatable across the many lessons they teach). For that, learning activities can be split into phases:

An introduction that explains the lesson’s purpose, objectives and the core concepts students will learn. To make this engaging and exciting, teachers can try an ice-breaker activity, share an anecdote, tell a story, play a video or present a quick survey to kick things off.

 A foundational review of what students have previously learned, reinforcing details that will be needed for the current lesson. This will help frame new concepts and content in something already familiar to the class.

Brain activation that primes students for the main concepts they’re going to learn in this lesson. This is a great time to ask early questions, gauge students’ prior knowledge and clarify misconceptions students may have before diving in.

New information explained in a variety of ways, from assigned reading and teacher presentation to digital lessons. Teachers lead the way in this phase, helping students actively engage with the material.

A check for understanding that surfaces questions or challenges students have with the new information. This may follow an initial period of practice or sample problems completed as a class.

A review of new learning that gives students a chance to explore the concepts and information just taught in more depth, still guided by the teacher. The students and teachers work together to sort out areas of confusion or correct mistakes.

Practice that splits students into small groups or allows them to practice on their own. In this phase, teachers make sure students are prepared to use the new knowledge or skills on their own.

A conclusion that summarizes the lesson and discusses how it fits into the bigger picture of their learning within the unit, the subject or even their lives. This is a teacher’s chance to encourage retention before students walk out the classroom door.

Comparing: a good vs bad lesson plan

What makes a lesson plan stand out? What makes it fall flat? We combed through dozens of examples to find out what takes planning to the next level.

A good lesson plan…

A bad lesson plan…

Has a clear objective stated at the beginning to keep the learning activities focused Is planned around a topic only, without student learning objectives in mind
Outlines learning activities in a thoughtful flow Is a laundry list of activities in no particular order
Is easy to scan and read for easy reference during class, using headings, color, etc. Is a collection of paragraphs or bullet points, without visual organization
Pairs each activity with a time allocation to keep the class on pace Lists activities without indicating how long each will take
Uses a variety of activities to support the lesson objective and keep students engaged Uses just one or two activities to deliver the lesson, or uses activities that aren’t well suited to the material
Anchors learning in relevant, real-life ways that students experience, like current events or topics of particular interest Doesn’t consider the broader context around learning and its connection to students’ everyday experiences
Includes a plan for assessment to measure progress toward the lesson objective Lacks a method to check in on student learning in a measurable way
Provides space for self-reflection so teachers can make continuous improvements Is a one-and-done plan, without reflection of what worked well and what didn’t

 

Chapter ThreeClassroom Management and Lesson Planning

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This is a copy of the above table to show how lesson plans can look clean, organized, and effective.