How to Develop Lesson Plans

Instructor: David Raudenbush
A lesson plan is a teacher's guide for communicating a set of skills or knowledge to the students in a class. Good lesson planning follows a research proven structure that assures students the best chance for learning.

Why Plan?

Picture yourself: standing at your classroom door greeting your students as they arrive. The children are little turbo-charged bundles of energy. They are equally capable of learning as they are of creating chaos. Now is not the time to be thinking about what you want to teach today.

You need properly structured lessons to ensure all your students have a chance to learn each day. Even veteran teachers can't improvise that type of lesson very often. Well-structured lessons require advanced planning and a professional's knowledge of how children learn. Fortunately, the abundance of educational research sets out clear guidelines for designing effective lesson plans.

Good teaching begins with a well designed lesson plan
Lesson Planning

The End Comes First

Effective lesson planning begins at the ending. Ask yourself, 'What skills or knowledge do you want your students to have when the class is over?' The answer to that question will provide you two lesson plan elements.

The first is the topic for the lesson. If you're teaching US history, the topic might be the Battles of Lexington and Concord. If you're teaching science, the topic might be covalent bonds. Your curriculum guide and textbooks will help you make the topic decision.

The second element may be the most important in your lesson plan. You need a learning goal or objective that focuses your lesson specifically on what you want your students to know about the topic. For example, suppose you were teaching a grammar unit on nouns. The subject for your lesson might be proper nouns. You want your students to capitalize proper nouns. Proper nouns become the topic for the lesson. The objective for the lesson might be, 'Students will be able to identify and capitalize proper nouns.'

One of the keys to a good learning objective is choosing the correct verb to describe what you want your students to be capable of at the end of the lesson. In the 1950s, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom created a hierarchy of thinking skills commonly known as Bloom's Taxonomy. A list of action verbs characterizes each level on the taxonomy. At the lowest level of the taxonomy, students engage in cognitively simple tasks like identifying, recalling or re-stating factual information. At the highest level, students synthesize what they have learned to create something new.

As a general guideline, you should aim for higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy when you choose the verbs in your learning objectives. You will ask students to apply what they have learned, analyze information, evaluate new ideas and solve problems creatively. Aiming for higher levels in Bloom's taxonomy helps ensure mastery of skills and knowledge.

The Lesson

The next question you need to ask yourself is, 'How will my students learn what they need to meet the objective?' In their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching, San Diego State University education professors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey layout a system for designing lessons called a gradual release of responsibility.

The gradual release framework is a series of stages that moves the responsibility for meeting the learning objective from the teacher to the student. First, the teacher models the learning or the skill. In a math class, that might mean the teacher demonstrates how to solve a particular type of problem. In history, a teacher might read a passage from a primary source document like Thomas Paine's Common Sense, then models how a historian would think about the passage.

The next stage moves the responsibility from the teacher to the whole class. The math teacher puts the next problem on the board and leads the class through the steps in solving the problem. Now the students are volunteering ideas and solutions while the teacher offers feedback.

When the teacher feels comfortable that the class, as a whole, understands the concept, the next step is to break the class into small groups so the students can collaborate on solving a set of problems, or discuss the day's topic. At this stage, the students are imitating the same thinking and problem solving the teacher modeled at the start of the lesson.

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