Today's Lesson written on chalk board

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Were you thrown a new course a week before it starts? A day before?

Or maybe you have been working as a microbiologist in the field for decades and decided it was time for a career change. You know every thing that there is about the subject matter, but you’ve never received any formal training in how to teach.

Or maybe you’ve been teaching the same prep for years and have gotten to the point that your lecture notes have yellowed to the point that they are illegible, and you’ve decided it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

In this post, I want to share a simplified framework for planning your lessons that should help you in any of the above situations and more. The goal of the 4 step lesson plan is to ensure that our lessons are doing more than just covering content – that they are helping students to meet the course objectives in measurable ways.

Step 1: Define Objectives

When you sit down to plan for next week’s classes, start by listing out the skills that you want students to master as a result of the lesson. Fill in the following blank to define your lesson objectives:

Students will be able to __________

This simple prompt forces you to focus on measurable skills like “Students will be able to write engaging introductions” rather than broad topics such as “Introducing an Essay”. It might sound like semantics, but when you focus your wording on what students are doing rather than what you are teaching, you’re one step closer to a student-centered lesson.

Create a list of objectives that you can reasonably prepare students for within the allowed time. Depending on how discrete the skills are, one class period might teach a single objective or it might teach as many as five or six.

Step 2: Plan Assessments

How will you know if your students have mastered the objectives? For every lesson, you should plan one or more ways of assessing your students progress. These formative assessments provide you and the students a chance to adjust course before the big quiz, test, project, or essay. And note that an assessment isn’t always an assignment – meaning, you don’t have to calculate it into the final grade.

Here are some examples of quick assessments that you can use to gauge your students’ progress in the learning objectives:

Minute Essay. At the end of class, give students a brief prompt and have them respond to it in 1 – 5 minutes.

Checkpoint. Students must complete some sort of task and show you before leaving class – or before moving on to the next stage of the lesson. For example, students can’t start their outline until they show you their thesis statement, or they can’t leave class until solving two of the five linear equations on the board.

Discussion. Some objectives aren’t discrete enough that they can be quickly assessed for every student, but you still want to ensure that a good portion of the  class is on target before you move on. A well planned discussion can be a good assessment of these types of objectives – as long as you aren’t feeding students the understanding. For example, you might have a discussion with the class about an imaginary Widget Production Company in order to assess the objective “Students will be able to explain the relationship between supply and demand”. If you ask enough questions that get participation from enough of the class, you may feel reasonably comfortable moving on. Even if you don’t get as much participation as you would like, a good discussion gives students a chance to self-assess and gauge their own progress.

Step 3: Plan Pre-Class Work

What materials do students need to read or watch before class starts in order to help make the most of the lesson? Feel free to outsource the simplest forms of instruction to the students so that you can spend class time on high impact activities.

If you give students a task to complete along with the reading or video,  they are more likely to retain the information (and actually look at it!). For example, instead of telling students “Read Chapter 5”, tell them to “Read Chapter 5 and write a list of the three most important elements of writing a summary.”

These sorts of entrance tickets ensure that students have done the work that they need to do in order to be prepared for your lesson.

Step 4: Plan Learning Activities

Once you have a good idea of how you will assess the objectives that students are going to master, and you have decided how the students are preparing for class, then you can start planning what to do during your lesson. As you plan your activities, keep these points in mind:

Time. For every activity, estimate the amount of time you’ll need. Be sure to include time for transitions, such as heating up the projector or moving desks around.

Activating Strategy. Start your lesson with a quick exercise to activate your students prior knowledge regarding today’s lesson. For example, if you’re going to be spending the class teaching students to search a library database for sources, you might start by having them spend three minutes writing about what they’ve learned from their research so far and then listing questions that they still have to find answers for.

Balance Student and Teacher Time. When planning, shift back and forth between activities in which you are at center stage and those in which the students are doing something. For example, instead of a fifteen minute lecture followed by a ten minute demonstration, consider breaking up these two teacher-centered activities with a student-centered one.

Focus on the Learning Objectives. Your learning objectives should guide every stage of the lesson. Class time is precious, so make sure that every item on your agenda prepares students for your assessments or helps move them towards mastery of the learning objectives.

If you’ve been teaching for a while, there’s probably not much new here for you. But for those of you who are just diving into the joy of teaching, I hope you’ve found something useful.

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