The Ultimate Guide for Creating Lesson Plans

Written by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

The Ultimate Guide for Creating Lesson Plans

A lesson plan is a teacher's guide for how to present a topic and assess student learning. Creating a workable lesson plan is a fundamental element of successful teaching. It is usually one to two pages in length, including learning objectives, the methods the teacher will use to present the material, student activities to reinforce learning, assessment methods that will be utilized to have students show what they have learned, and a schedule for how long each of these components will take. While none of these components are set in stone and flexibility is necessary, a lesson plan provides an essential guide for teaching and student learning.

This ultimate guide for creating lesson plans will discuss the purpose of lesson planning, why it is an important skill for all teachers, how to write a lesson plan, various methods teachers can use to create lesson plans, a template for creating a lesson plan that includes the necessary components, and ways to evaluate these plans after the lesson so that teaching and student outcomes can be improved. By the end of this guide, teachers will have the tools they need to create successful lesson plans tailored to meet student needs and achieve state standard educational objectives.

What Is the Purpose of Lesson Planning?

The purpose of lesson planning is to create a roadmap for what will happen in the class. A teacher needs to go into a class confidently, be prepared to face the day, and teach effectively, making the best use of available class time and presenting material in line with school expectations. To do this, they require clear goals, methods, and expectations. Creating a lesson plan provides the teacher with the opportunity to:

  • Look over the material to be covered, making sure that they understand and can present all the concepts
  • Establish objectives for the lesson, stating how those objectives align with state or national educational standards
  • Decide what activities to use to reinforce learning, incorporating methods that will appeal to different learning styles
  • Determine what supplies will be needed and obtain those items if they are not already available in the classroom
  • Choose how much time will be set aside for each lesson component
  • Pick the best assessment methods to go with the lesson material
  • Provide opportunities for review and evaluation so a teacher can examine the lesson, assess what went well, and make adjustments for future lesson planning.

Why Lesson Planning Is Important

One might be wondering why lesson planning is important. After all, experienced teachers can walk into a classroom and simply wing it. However, both new and veteran teachers can benefit from lesson planning to teach effectively and can reference their plans at any time during the school day. Lesson plans help teachers review the material, target educational standards, and accommodate different learning styles. Even if it is a class that teachers have taught many times before, lesson planning offers the opportunity to make adjustments, add new activities, and improve the material to be engaging and relevant to that unique group of students.

Lesson planning is valuable for students as well. Students benefit when a teacher is well-prepared to teach the material. Students are better able to meet expectations when those expectations are clearly stated. A well-organized class that uses time effectively will allow students to get the most out of their educational experience; having activities ready and the materials needed to complete those activities available cuts down on wasted time in the classroom and limits opportunities for the student to lose their focus. A well-developed lesson plan helps keeps students on task and engaged with the topics presented. It provides them with the opportunity to learn and grow.

How to Write Teacher Lesson Plans

There are a variety of methods for constructing teacher lesson plans. A teacher may use different methods depending on the students they are working with, the subject matter, and the class objectives. While all lesson plans have similar components designed to create positive, engaging educational experiences, the path to creating the plan may differ.

Universal Design for Learning and Backward Design are two well-known strategies for creating lesson plans. Universal Design for Learning is based on scientific research about how people learn. Teachers using this method are dedicated to providing an equitable learning environment for all students. There are several stated guidelines that teachers can use when lesson planning to achieve this goal. Backward Design works much as the name suggests. Instead of beginning to lesson plan by looking at the material in the textbook, teachers start with the learning objectives that students should complete at the end of the lesson and work backward from there. The result is goal-oriented lesson plans designed to reach clearly stated educational objectives. The focus is on student experience and learning rather than on the material to be taught. Teachers and schools that are focused on meeting stated academic standards may prefer this style of lesson planning.

Universal Design for Learning

Teachers who use Universal Design for Learning planning are committed to creating a learning environment that encourages all students to excel. It seeks to eliminate as many barriers to learning as possible to cultivate the learning potential of every student in a class. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is based on neuroscientific knowledge about the brain and how it works to support learning. The three main systems in the brain that UDL seeks to engage are affective, recognition, and strategic networks.

  • The Affective Network is how the brain perceives the educational environment, which allows the student to prioritize and engage in educational activities.
  • The Recognition Network is how students take the information that is being received and put it to use.
  • The Strategic Network deals with executive function and allows students to plan and organize their work.

Those who wish to use UDL in their lesson planning will want to keep three main goals in mind: engagement, representation, and action and expression.

  • Engagement appeals to the affective network of the brain. Teachers will want to create a learning environment that cultivates student interest. Students should be invested in their learning. They should understand why what they are learning matters to them. Lessons should be relevant, and students should have some choice in how they experience the lesson. Lessons should be challenging but not frustrating and focused on student mastery of the material.
  • Representation refers to how the material is presented. It utilizes the recognition network of the brain. Teachers should present the material in ways that appeal to different senses. For example, the material should be presented in both an auditory and visual manner. Hands-on activities can also engage the senses. Various media and forms of presentation can be used to achieve this goal. Educational material should be presented clearly with all unfamiliar vocabulary or symbols defined or demonstrated for students. Any necessary background information should be provided to support the lesson.
  • Action and Expression is dedicated to how students engage with the material and demonstrate learning outcomes. Students should have access to any assistive technology that is needed. Various means of assessment are provided to allow students to show what they have learned. Students should be encouraged to set goals and receive help to plan a strategy to achieve those goals.

Backward Design Lesson Planning

Backward design lesson planning is an intentional means of lesson planning in which teachers focus on learning objectives and work backward from there to create a lesson plan designed to help students meet those objectives. Teachers working in educational environments focused on meeting clearly stated educational standards may wish to utilize backward design lesson planning. This method is especially helpful in providing students with the tools they need to do well on both class assessments and standardized tests. There are several steps to creating this type of lesson plan.

  • Determine the Learning Objective What should students know or be able to demonstrate at the end of the lesson? Often, this will tie in to published state educational standards. Sometimes, teachers may work with an end-of-the-year goal that will be tested on standardized assessments and then work backward to determine the incremental skills that must be learned to reach that larger objective. Lessons can then be developed to meet those smaller goals.
  • Plan for Assessments Teachers will want to monitor student learning throughout the lesson. They may wish to begin with a diagnostic assessment to discover what students know before the lesson. This helps with planning as educational experiences can be tailored to what students still need to know. Formative assessments can be used during the lesson to check how well students understand the material presented. Summative assessments can be used at the end of the lesson to test for mastery of the subject material.
  • Make a Plan for How to Present the Material This is the step people tend to think of when they hear about lesson planning. Teachers can exercise their creativity in designing learning experiences that will engagingly present the required material. While keeping the ultimate goal, the learning objective, in mind, teachers can use various teaching methods, class activities, and media presentations to gain a student's interest and help them progress toward the stated goals. Different learning styles should be considered when designing lessons so that the learning needs of all students are met. Because the teacher has already created the assessments that will be used, they can tailor the lessons to give students the maximum chance of success on those assessments.

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Lesson Planning Template

Regardless of what means teachers use to create lesson plans, there are several components that all good lesson plans should have. This lesson planning template can help teachers consider appropriate questions when creating plans for a class.

Component Description
Learning Objectives What is the purpose of this lesson? What should students know or be able to do by the end of this lesson? What should students take away from the educational experience? If the lesson has more than one objective, rank them in order of importance. Are there objectives that can be skipped if time runs short?
Introduce the Topic How can students be introduced to the topic? Is a diagnostic assessment appropriate to determine what students might already know so that valuable time isn't spent teaching topics students have previously mastered? Is there background information that students need to understand the lesson? Are there terms that need to be defined? Is there a way to get students excited about the topic?
Learning Activities How can the material be presented to interest and engage the students? How can it be made relevant to their lives and experiences? What other methods can appeal to students who favor different learning styles? What types of class activities or group projects might be used to aid in learning?
Assessment How can students demonstrate their learning? Will there be a traditional quiz or test? If so, what type of questions will be asked: multiple-choice, true-false, short-answer, or essay? Can students show what they have learned in another way, such as a project or a report? How can assessments be tailored to ensure students have achieved the learning objectives set at the beginning of the lesson plan?
Create a Timeline for the Lesson Set realistic goals for how much time each part of the lesson will take. If there is insufficient time, what needs to be adjusted to have the lesson occur in the allotted time? If time is left at the end of the lesson, what activity can keep students engaged and learning in those extra few minutes?

Lesson Planning: Ideas to Encourage Student Success

When developing lesson planning ideas, it is important to encourage student success. This is why teachers teach. The teacher may be excited about the material and come up with many different ways to present it, but what matters most is that students are learning and can demonstrate that learning in a meaningful way. Here are some ways to create lesson plans that focus on the students.

  • Imagine the Lesson from the Student Perspective Picture the lesson from the student's perspective. Teachers are usually familiar with the material being presented. Imagine or remember what it was like to learn that material for the first time. Is the lesson challenging without being too hard? Can the student successfully demonstrate knowledge of the material in the time given without frustration?
  • Create Engaging Lessons that Appeal to Different Learning Styles Some students learn better by hearing the material. Others prefer to see pictures, graphs, or videos. Still, others learn best with hands-on activities. How can these different learning styles be incorporated into the lesson to give all students a chance to engage with the material in a meaningful way?
  • Keep a Similar Class Structure Many students thrive on routine. It can be disconcerting to have classes be different every day. It is helpful to have a pattern of how the class will proceed so that students know what to expect. This doesn't mean that it can never be varied, but clear expectations are key.
  • Cultivate Discussion No one likes to be lectured during class. It is easy for students to zone out if a teacher is the only one talking. Ask open-ended questions of the students that require them to think and interact with the material and each other.
  • Use Time Well Make the most of available classroom time. Have adequate time for each component of the lesson so students do not feel rushed. Also, have activities to keep students engaged who may complete parts of the lesson more quickly than other students.
  • Be Flexible Unforeseen circumstances may happen. There may be disruptions which means that a full lesson isn't covered. Is it possible to push part of a lesson to another day? Sometimes students may be so engaged with one part of the lesson that it is important to allow them to keep interacting with the material in that way other than forcing them to move on to the next component. There may be times when students don't respond to a particular plan the way a teacher thought they would, and the teacher needs to adjust on the fly. Lesson plans do not have to be followed to the letter. Adjustments can be made.

Allow Time for Reflection

After the lesson is complete, take some time to evaluate how it went. Teachers are always learning from their teaching experiences, both positive and negative. While new teachers may need to evaluate and adapt to improve their teaching, even veteran teachers who have been in a classroom for many years can learn by evaluating their lesson plans. Each group of students may respond differently to various parts of a lesson. It is important to teach to the students in the room, not an imaginary ideal group of students.

What parts of the lesson were successful? When were students most engaged? Were there times when it felt like a struggle to keep their attention? Did students offer any feedback regarding the lesson? This feedback may be formal or informal, consisting of casual comments or a formal evaluation. Did assessments illustrate the students learned the material? Is there room for improvement with the assessments? Perhaps a different assessment would enable students to demonstrate what they have learned.

It is important to learn from this reflection and to make changes moving forward. Consider: What can be changed in the next lesson plan to achieve better outcomes?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does lesson planning mean?

    Lesson planning provides a roadmap for a teacher to follow in class. At a minimum, it includes clearly stated learning objectives, methods for presenting material, assessment methods, and a timeline.

  • What is the purpose of lesson plan?

    The purpose of a lesson plan is to clearly articulate the goals of a lesson and establish the means to achieve those goals.

  • What are the elements of a lesson plan using the backward design?

    Teachers who use backward design lesson planning start with the ultimate learning objectives and move backward from there. They create assessments that allow students to demonstrate that they have met those objectives and then create lesson activities that will help the students be successful on those assessments.

  • How do teachers make lesson plans?

    Teachers make lesson plans by looking at the material to be covered, deciding on the objectives of the lesson, choosing the best ways to present the material so as to engage the students, and designing appropriate assessment methods for students to demonstrate what they have learned.

  • What is the universal design for learning model?

    The Universal Design for Learning Model is based on neuroscientific knowledge of how students learn. Those using this model create lesson plans that are designed to reduce barriers to learning. Three main goals are considered when making lesson plans using this method: engagement, representation, and action and expression.