how to write a lesson plan

There's no way around it — if you're standing up in front of a classroom each day, you'll need to create a lesson plan to follow as you work. Even if you spent a lot of time in school practicing planning what you'll say and do in your classroom, the daily reality of lesson planning can hit new teachers hard.

Each school district has its own requirements for teachers and how they put together lesson plans. Some even provide their teachers with planning books for documenting their daily goals and objectives. It's important to know up front what your district requires, both in terms of form and content. But even once you have a handle on their expectations, you may still be left wondering where to start.

Lesson Planning Basics

As you know, there's more to writing a lesson plan than simply picking out a topic and selecting a worksheet or two to reinforce it. Preparing thorough, effective lesson plans includes a thoughtful and detailed write-up for introducing, teaching and reinforcing a concept. As you begin planning, it's important to be able to state your objectives. If you can't identify those, then it's going to make the other components of lesson plans much harder to execute.

what should a lesson plan include

In general, each lesson plan should include:

1. Who?

The first thing you need to identify is the group of students you're planning the lesson for. If you're an elementary school teacher, you most likely only have one group of students to plan for. But a middle or high school teacher may have several different groups and grade levels of students. Identifying which group you're preparing for, as well as their specific academic, emotional, personal, social or physical needs is the first step to outlining an effective lesson.

2. What?

Once you have identified the students your lesson is intended for, then you need to set up the topic you plan to teach. Identify any district and/or state objectives it meets and what your students should be able to take away from the lesson once it's complete. This is also the place to figure out how this topic ties in with past ones and what review you might need to do to improve your students' ability to comprehend and retain the new information you present.

3. Where and When?

Teachers need to be strategic about the order in which they introduce certain concepts. Look at previous lessons, as well as topics you want to cover in the future, and then decide how to arrange them. The classroom setup should also be a consideration when you're planning to introduce a new concept. Ask yourself if the topic is better covered with the class as a whole or with students broken into small groups. While a large-group setting certainly allows you to address more students simultaneously, breaking the class into groups allows you to provide more personalized instruction that targets each student's specific needs.

At this point, you'll also need to determine if you'll be taking the students to another academic space, such as a computer lab or the school library, to complete the lesson. If you do opt to take your students elsewhere, don't forget to factor travel time to and from the classroom into your plans.

4. Why?

When you ask yourself why you are teaching this specific lesson, the answer should be deeper than just "because my district told me to." You should make sure you have a detailed understanding of why the topic you're covering is important for your students to learn and how it will help them in their studies in the future. If possible, communicate this to your students. Having practical applications can be a great teaching tool.

5. How?

How do you plan to accomplish the lesson you're planning? This is a good place to think through any materials you'll need for the lesson, homework you'll assign and ways to tie this lesson into others you've taught previously. Don't forget to make copies of any worksheets you'll need and submit requests for additional materials in advance to avoid being stuck with a roomful of students and no lesson to execute.

Formatting Your Lesson Plan

Lesson plans may vary slightly among teachers and school districts, but there is a basic lesson plan format you can follow as you are planning. New teachers tend to stick to lesson planning outlines more closely than their experienced counterparts, but even seasoned teachers can benefit from reviewing lesson planning basics to keep their plans fresh and relevant.

1. Warm Up/Introduction

The beginning of your lesson should always be reserved to review material from the previous lesson, and then tie it into that day's new concept. Allow 10-15 minutes for this portion of the lesson, but beware — this is the point in the lesson where many teachers are tempted to stand in front of the class and begin lecturing. No matter how good your students are, they will start to tune you out if you're droning on and on. Incorporate ways for them to engage with you as you explain the material and always try to introduce new concepts by describing how they may be relevant to your students.

2. Direct Instruction

At this stage of the lesson, you'll be teaching the identified concepts to your students. This part of your lesson will depend slightly on what topic you're covering, but the basic idea is that this is where your students will soak in the concepts you've identified for that day. Don't be afraid to incorporate diagrams, charts and other age-appropriate visuals to explain what you're trying to teach. This is also an excellent time to have students work hands-on. Have them do some practice math problems or read a poem by the poet you've just introduced, for example Or, if you're working on something like balancing chemical equations, have students volunteer to come up to the front of the class and ask their peers to help them solve the equation by calling out instructions.

3. Practice

At this stage of your lesson plan, it's time to move from introducing a concept to showing that your students are beginning to grasp it. For example, if they are reading a poem, then ask them to answer a series of questions or even write their own poem mimicking the style of the poet you're discussing. If they are working on a new math concept, move from the practice problems they worked on together and start on a more involved set of problems or worksheets — done in pairs or small groups. This is also the time to incorporate any learning-based games or group activities relevant to the lesson.

The amount of time you allow for this phase of the lesson will depend on the amount of time you have left before class ends, or you move on to another subject. Don't skimp on this phase of your lesson plan. Giving students time to ask questions and master a concept is essential to successful teaching.

This is also the point in your lesson where you should plan to interact with students to observe how they're grasping the material. Ask questions, observe the work they're doing and carefully identify any hangups or issues you might need to tackle — either during that class or in your review time during the next class.

4. Review

It's always a good idea to plan five to 10 minutes to review at the end of class, but this tends to be the most fluid portion of your lesson plan. If your "Production" activities take longer than expected, you may not have time to review what you've learned that day. On the other hand, if the "Production" activities don't take as long as you intended, it's nice to know you have something else to fill up the last few minutes before class ends. If you run out of time for review, then you can just incorporate that into your introduction for the next class, since you'll most likely start out your next lesson with a review anyway.

Don't Skimp on the Details!

importance of a detailed lesson plan

As you are crafting your lesson plans, there's no such thing as too much detail. Always make sure your plans include:

  • Relevant page numbers from the textbook you plan to use.
  • New vocabulary you plan to introduce — including definitions or page numbers where those definitions can be found.
  • Detailed directions for each activity you plan, including any worksheets or materials you'll need.
  • Estimates of how long each activity will take.
  • Homework assignments, including due date and notes about whether the assignments will be reviewed in a future class.

This is a lot of detail to include in your planning, but it's that detail that's going to set you up for success. Your students will be more likely to grasp the concepts you're teaching, and it shows that you have carefully and intentionally thought through the lessons and concepts you plan to teach your students.

It also helps you to be more prepared for class. If you know that you need copies of a worksheet, then you can plan time in your day to head to the copier. If you know you'll need copies of a particular poem that's not included in a students' textbook, you'll have time to track down copies online or in the school's library.

Lesson Planning Tips

As you're formulating your lesson plans, it may be tempting to create bulleted lists or write in a "language" only you can understand. After all, who's really going to be reading your lesson plans? And, even if someone else is reading them, won't they be able to just ask you questions about something they don't understand? When it comes to creating a thorough plan, it's just not that simple.

lesson planning tips

Before you're tempted to take short-cuts, there are a few things to remember as you're planning.

1. There's No Such Thing as Too Much Detail

While we hope for the best, sometimes an emergency comes up. Your lesson plans should be written out in enough detail that a substitute or administrator could read and understand them if you weren't there to explain what you wrote. Avoid abbreviating things or making obscure notes. Instead, write out clear and concise objectives and make notes of all teaching aids and learning materials you plan to incorporate into your lesson.

2. Write out a Script

If you're new to teaching, it can be easy to get nervous when you stand in front of your students for the first time. In fact, the first few months of school — or even the first year — may find your stomach in knots as you start your lessons. As you're planning, write out exactly what you want to say to your students about the day's lesson. Create questions you want to ask your students, as well as questions you think they may have about the material. Then, write out the answers to those questions as well. We're not suggesting that you stand in front of your students and read verbatim from your planning book, but it can be helpful to keep it close so that you can refer to it if your nerves get the better of you.

3. Make Copies

Even the most organized of teachers can misplace their planning book. If you prefer to do planning at home in the evenings or over the weekends, make a copy of your planning pages to take home and leave the original on your desk. This is also helpful in case you have to call in sick at the last minute and an administrator has to scramble to find a substitute to cover your class.

4. Don't Wait to Plan

Each week brings its own craziness, and it can be tempting to put off lesson planning until the weekend. But then life happens —you get busy, and on Sunday night, you find yourself scrambling to plan the week ahead. Save yourself the stress and make a point to start planning for the next week on Wednesday or Thursday. At this point in the week, you should have a good idea of where your students will be the following week and what objectives you'll need to cover.

5. Know What's Expected of You

Some principals or department heads want to view their teachers' lesson plans every week. If this is the case for you, it can — and should — impact the content of your lesson plans, as well as your timeline for completing them. Don't get caught unaware. Make sure you always know what your administration's policies are. You can always ask around, too. Other teachers are a great resource when it comes to knowing what the administration expects and how to make sure you're keeping yourself in their good graces.

Let Success By Design Help You Get Organized

One of the best gifts a teacher can give their students is careful, thoughtful planning. When you take the time to write out detailed lesson plans that consider your students' abilities and needs, you are setting them up for success. Staying organized as a teacher also helps you encourage your students to stay on track and organized themselves. Many students today struggle with balancing schoolwork, sports teams, clubs and other personal commitments. Even if they are bright, intelligent kids, they can quickly become overwhelmed — and an overwhelmed student isn't going to be able to perform at their full potential.

When you're an organized teacher, you can free yourself up to help your students be more organized as well. One of the best ways to encourage students to stay organized is with a Success By Design student planner. Our planners can be customized for teachers! We have special teacher inserts such as lesson planning pages, grade books, and other teacher resource pages. These inserts can be added to any of our planners!

In this modern world of tablets and smartphones, students may be tempted to keep their assignments in a digital calendar, but studies have shown that the act of writing is a vital part of language and cognitive development. It can also result in better retention and comprehension of information.

set your students up for success

Whether you're looking for planners for one student or for custom spiral-bound planners for an entire school, Success By Design can provide high-quality products that will get your students on track to achieve their goals. For more information or to get your order started, contact us online or call (844) 263-0872.