Effective Lesson Plans: Characteristics & Elements

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  • 0:01 Why We Need Lesson Plans
  • 1:09 Characteristics of…
  • 4:31 Structuring Your Lesson Plan
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

Writing lesson plans can be an overwhelming task at times. This lesson provides a guide to effective lesson planning. Learn about techniques, examples, and how to build a plan that benefits the educator and students.

Why We Need Lesson Plans

As educators, we start to develop routines, especially as we teach the same topics every term or year. We know a topic so well, we can teach it in our sleep. This is not always a good thing because we can lose the spark we once had while teaching. This is why lesson plans are great. Lesson plans are not just a reminder of what needs to be learned, but a process of improving how we teach. For new teachers, a lesson plan is crucial to surviving the first year. New educators will make mistakes and will feel overwhelmed by the amount of administrative duties, but lesson plans will help them to stay focused and organized.

With that being said, not all lesson plans are created equal. Some lesson plans are made just to meet administrator requirements. They are not thoughtful, lack detail, and are really just pieces of paper with a few notes. Good lesson plans are measured by what an educator can do with them. For example, if Miss Smith suddenly had to miss a day of school, one of her colleagues should be able to fill in because she has a great lesson plan for them to follow.

Characteristics of Good Lesson Plans

A lesson plan helps us to teach better. A big part of having lesson plans is being able to track your teaching activities throughout the term. For example, start with the objective, or what you want students to learn from the lesson, and link it to the overall course objectives and state standards. This not only keeps you accountable but also helps you keep track of how you are meeting course objectives. Your lesson objectives should be viewed as, 'what will the students learn today?' or 'what can they do with this information, afterwards?'

So now what? Well, a great lesson plan engages the students, provides a breakdown of the topic at hand, and allows students to apply what they have learned. There are several techniques to establish this flow, but here's a simple one: 'Excite, Study, Apply', or ESA. Let's look at what each of these means.


Every lesson should start with a warm up that gets students interested or excited about a topic. This could be relatable material such as how the topic is useful to them, a current event in the news, or a real life example. Excite can also be a wow factor. In many cases, you can try to incorporate both. For example, when Mr. Jones teaches about the economic impacts in tourism, he starts out with trivia on the economic impacts of the World Cup. Students can relate because they at least know of, like, or play soccer and are impressed by the billions of dollars it generates, along with corruption. The excite component of a lesson is often stronger when it's a dialogue between the teacher and students.


Study is the presentation of the information being taught. There are several ways to present information, but try not to make it too long. The average adult has an attention span of about 20 minutes. The attention span of children is even shorter. Regardless of how you present your information, insert some interaction or discussion. For example, if you have three concepts to explain, break up that information. End each concept with a quick review, discussion or Q&A session. This also helps students to start thinking critically before it's time to apply the information learned. A great technique to break up a lesson is to have students switch roles. After you have presented the concept, let them think about it and then have one student 're-teach' it to the class in his own words and using his own examples. Also, make sure the information is relevant. What do they really need to know and what is the best way to present it?

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