Backward Design Lesson Plan Example

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Backward design can be a great way to teach students a variety of concepts and skills. This lesson offers you some insight into backward design as well as an example of what a backward design lesson can look like.

What is Backward Design?

Have you ever thought about how to make sure your lessons are moving you toward big goals or underlying objectives? Sometimes, when we write lesson plans, we get caught up in the nitty gritty, choosing fun activities and materials without focusing enough on where we are going with our lesson. One way to address this issue is by using backward design, a theory of curriculum and instruction that suggests we ought to start with the end point and plan backward from there, considering how we will get students from where they currently are with a skill or concept to where we hope they will be. To use backward design, you will want to address the following steps:

  • Articulate the skill, concept, or essential question you most want students to get at by the end of this lesson.
  • Define for yourself where the majority of the students are in relation to this skill, concept, or question right now.
  • Think backwards in terms of what students will need to learn or accomplish in order to get close to the understanding you want to achieve. Continue taking single steps backward until you reach the place most students currently are.
  • Look over the steps you have outlined and think about teaching points or activities you might fill in to facilitate students' learning.

It can be hard to understand backward design in the abstract, though! The following example shows how you might use backward design with real students.

Lesson Plan

Subject area: Reading

Grade level: Fourth grade

Objective: Students will understand that characters in fiction often change internally over the course of a book or even chapter.

Current understandings: Most students in the class seem to think that characters are a certain way, and they will stay that way forever regardless of what happens in the book.

Backward plan, showing conceptual movement:

5. Students will see that the character is not the same way he was at the beginning of the text; for instance, he is braver than he used to be, or she is more honest than she used to be. Students will articulate this using specific examples.

4. Students will use specific language to describe a character's personality traits at the end of the text, using examples from the text to prove this description.

3. Students will use specific language to describe a character's personality traits at the beginning of the text, using examples from the text to prove this description.

2. Students will understand what we mean when we talk about a character's personality traits, using examples from their own life as well as texts to come up with relevant vocabulary for describing character.

1. Students will remember what a character is and articulate what they know about different characters in books or stories they have read or shared.


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