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How to make a lesson plan?

By Alan Peters,

24 Jan 2020

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  Planning lessons.  What a fuss.  In the old days, we didn’t worry about lesson plan.  We just turned up and delivered.  OK, so the clever ones never quite made the progress they could, and the slow ones went nowhere at all.  But, let’s face it, in those days, it was not our problem. Blame the kids, or their parents.  Or the Government.

Or somebody.  And there were no jobs in the eighties anyway. Then came the rather ground-breaking concept that if we thought about our teaching, not just the topic but how we would challenge every pupil, then our lessons might be better.  It was a good wheeze, but rather like the discovery that diesel fuel is bad for the environment, once we got the idea those in the higher echelons of education (i.e.

failed teachers or self-serving politicians) became a little carried away. Suddenly, a lesson plan was no longer an outline of aims, and how each child might get the most from them, but a tightly scrawled A4 sheet or two divided in lengthy columns and filled with size 8 font.  Generally, it took longer to make lesson plan than it did to deliver it. Actually, that is not true.  For good teachers, and those who had gained enough experience to draw on past experiences, it wasn’t the planning that took time.  It was the writing it down.  Like so much in life, process became more important than practice.  A page of neatly typed, correctly spelled, close fitting text simply had to mean that the lesson was good, because the planning was so beautiful. The greatest plans, and excuse me if I swoon here, even had some colour involved.  Imagine, a lesson plan with bits in green and red.  The fact that the teacher was so exhausted from spending ten hours a day planning their seven hours of teaching didn’t seem to matter.  Except to the kids, who were bored stiff by the inflexibility of it all. Then came the idea of shared planning.  Divide and distribute.  Never mind that our own ability to get the best from our own pupils was lost in this method, that following another’s planning exhausts originality and spontaneity.  After all, the best lesson plans had to be the ones that could be replicated.  Regularly.  Didn’t they? Apologies for the jaundiced view.  What I am about to suggest is going to be seen as sacrilege.  Or unprofessional.  Or a touch of common sense.  The best I can offer is to read on, see if you agree, then adapt to the requirements of your own planning regime.  If you are working in a really good school, then almost certainly how you plan will be down to you, and you will be judged on pupil performance, not pretty pages or pointless planning.  If your school has problems, then somebody near the top will have laid down a detailed and dictatorial account of how to plan.  Probably, it is the method they would use.  Down to the final full stop.  It will probably involve using some purple ink.  That the reason your school is having problems is down to them will not have occurred to these shining lights of pedagogic brilliance.  It never does. So, here we go. Number One – planning is for the teacher. It is not for the children; what you deliver is for them.  It is not for OFSTED; results (in the broadest sense) are for them.  It is definitely not for your line manager or senior manager; they should be dealing with things that matter, like creating the ambience in a school that allows teachers to teach and learners to learn.  Planning is not there case you are ill.  Firstly, you almost certainly won’t be.

If you are, people manage. So, you plan for what you need.  I used to teach English, and if it was a lesson on apostrophes, I had worked out over the years what succeeded and what didn’t.  I knew which kids struggled, which had already got it and who needed alternative work.  My planning would stretch to a few words.  But maybe next I was covering The Wasteland with a class.  A very challenging text.  Here, planning would be quite detailed, ensuring that I explored what needed to be taught, while allowing for deviations from the main theme if any arose. Number Two – know what you need to teach That is, the aims, or objectives, or goals (they are pretty much the same thing) of your lesson plan.  I know it is a bit old school, but I tend to think that, even in classes that are set, there remains a wide range of ability.  What is challenging to one pupil will be easy for another and already understood by the third.  So, within my aims, there were different targets for students to achieve. Again, it is terribly ‘uhh yesterday’, but I am a huge fan of ‘Could Should Must’ objectives.  Here, we identify what success looks like for the most able pupils in the class; we identify what most pupils should achieve, and we know the minimum progress they need to make. Always start with the COULD.

(There was once a trend for ‘could even’; that is just objective inflation – if Could is the best you envisage, you devalue it by adding ‘even’; if a pupil exceeds your expectation, then you are a better teacher than you think).  By starting with the ‘could’, you set the bar high for your pupils’ achievement and subconsciously raise expectations for the ‘should’ and ‘must’ standards.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  If your pupils consistently over achieve, or reach the ‘could’ objective, then you are setting the level too low.  A bit of failure only helps on the journey to success. Number Three – have a picture of what success looks like. But a brief picture.  After all, success is different for every child.

That success might be specifically identifiable, such as getting 60% or more in a spelling test.  It might be more nebulous, such as the use of great metaphor in writing or offering considered views in analysing a poem.  Sometimes, it might be completely unmeasurable, such as pupils leaving a lesson happy (and not because the Science period is over). Number Four – Evaluate This is best done as you go along.  Make notes on the plan; what works, what doesn’t, evidence of individual pupils – problems and successes. As for the rest, well does it really matter that you haven’t written down the resources you are going to need?  If you know them already, why bother.  If you might forget, then as planning is for you, make a note.  Previous work covered?  That’s done and past and recorded on the relevant lesson plan.  Why copy it out again? My rule of thumb is that a lesson with which you are confident should never take more than 10% of its duration to plan.  Stretch to an absolute maximum of 20% if you are less sure of the topic. Any longer, and you won’t have the energy to be at your best for what really matters.  Teaching the lesson. Even if your plan is highlighted.

 In green.