Simple Steps for Effective Lesson Planning

Whether your lesson plans are detailed multi-page documents submitted to your administration each week, or they’re mostly post-it notes with concise bullet points, effective lesson planning requires strategy and intent. Great lessons need clear direction, purpose, pacing, and solid pedagogy. (Side note: If you are looking for engaging step-by-step lesson plans for the ELA classroom – especially for sub plans – check out my ELA Lessons Bundle with over 60 individual plans). 

While planning such successful, well-balanced, dynamic lessons takes time (think of all those observation lessons), if you get into a strong habit of working through a few key steps, it simplifies the whole process. And, as with all habits: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Soon you internalise the steps and find yourself doing them without even realising it. 

Below are the four simple steps - G.A.D.E - I go through in my mind every time I plan a lesson. Do I always write them out in detail? Nope, but I still always work through them as I plan.

What do you want students to be able to do, know, or understand by the end of the lesson?

The most effective way to plan a route for a journey, is to start with knowing where you are trying to get to, right? Instruction is most effective when you, and your students, have a firm idea of the goal. When they know what they are working towards, the lesson is far more purposeful. Your goal should be able to be expressed in a single sentence or two: the more focused it is, the easier it is for students to digest and understand. I even suggest writing this on the board at the start of the lesson, for students to be able to see and reference.

Examples of Goals:
- Students will understand the impact of varying sentence patterns, in term of creating tone.
- Having read chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, students will be able to explain how an author develops a character in a narrative through the use of indirect characterization.
- Students will be able to effectively back up their thoughts and ideas with appropriate textual evidence.

How are you going to break down the substance of the lesson, to help students reach the goal?

This is the nuts and bolts of the lesson: the lecture, activities, exercises, etc. Ask yourself: What are the most effective methods to help guide students to the goal: A lecture? A group discussion? A reading exercise? Worksheet practice? A video? A writing exercise? Station work? The key here is breaking the lesson down into varied, manageable chunks: rarely should you plan a 60 minute lesson with just one single activity. You want to think about dividing the class up into 10-20 minute segments with varied activities and modes of learning: all geared towards the overall goal. 

Examples of Segments for a 60 minute lesson:
5 min: Provocation - some sort of hook for the lesson to pre-test knowledge, or incite intrigue and interest. 10 min: Paired work 15 min: Teacher-led lecture and discussion 20 min: Individual work to practice a skill 10 min: Reflection and assessment of learning

How will you, and your students, know if they have achieved the goal? 
This does not always have to be a large assessment task: that would perhaps be a unit goal. However, you should be able to place small milestones in every lesson to assess whether or not students are gaining knowledge, or developing their skills, and this need to be intentional. It may be a summative assessment task, but in the daily lesson it would likely be formative assessment. This should be a conscious decision when planning the lesson.

Examples of Opportunities for Demonstrations of Learning:
- Ask strategic questions: “How do you know that? Why did you write that?”
- Use exit slips
- Have students produce something which requires them to use what they have learned
- Anonymous class polls or quizzes (or Kahoots!)
- Self-reflections or evaluations
- Written work / Projects

What do you physically need to do, to facilitate the learning?  
Once you know the purpose of the lesson, and have a firm understanding of the activities and elements of the lesson, think about what you need to do to prepare. While this might be gathering resources, photocopying, finding passages, etc., it also should be about the space of the classroom: how best to facilitate the most effective lesson for your purpose. Think about desk layout, visual displays, seating arrangements, etc. 

Example of Environmental Elements
- Move the desks into groups / pairs / individual etc.
- Print, layout and organize materials
- Have a specific song playing which relates to the lesson, for when students enter.
- Create spaces around the room for station work or gallery walks etc.

If you are looking for a template for lesson planning:
Do also check out:
If you are looking at planning a whole unit of study, read this great post by The Daring English Teacher.

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