Foundations of Lesson Planning

Students need clear learning goals about what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate their new learning. They must see, recognize, and understand what the learning target is. The objective must be in developmentally appropriate, student-friendly, and culturally respective language and should relate to one or more of the MPO’s in the course syllabus. (U.S. Digital Literacy)

Take a few minutes to write a lesson objective. Think about a lesson you teach, and what it is you want your students to know or do a result of the lesson? How will they demonstrate their learning?

What is Lesson Planning?

Lesson planning is the process of creating a daily plan to guide student learning. CCIT recommends the process described In Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012). In this model, lesson planning begins with the end in mind. However, the “end” is not far away!  Wiggins and McTighe propose the following stages of backward design:

  1. Identify desired results.
  2. Determine assessment evidence.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction
    – This is where lesson planning occurs using the unit goals
    as the context for the planning.

Why is Lesson Planning Important?

What does a class look like without a plan? In this Saturday Night Live sketch, Jerry Seinfield offers a humorous look at the dangers of going into class without any preparation.

Few factors are as vital to teaching success as having well-designed lessons. Imagine a doctor who does not plan adequately for surgery, a contractor who builds a house as he pounds along using scrap lumber and duct tape wherever he finds them, or a teacher teaching a lesson with no foundation or clear direction. Students attain desired learning outcomes through excellent lessons. (Cunningham, 2009, para. 11)

What Format is Suggested for Lesson Plans?

Many different lesson plan templates exist, each having their own unique details. Lesson plans are typically created for a single class session. In an online course, the lesson plan may be created by module, week, or topic. CCIT has provided two lesson templates and samples for use or modification.

Essential Questions

Lesson objectives can be used to develop an essential question (EQ). The EQ should frame the lesson as a problem to be solved, and students should know this question up-front because the rest of the lesson will be guided by this question(s). Not all essential questions can be answered with a short sentence. Instead, many stimulate thinking and lead to more questions (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). Wiggins and MicTighe explain that essential questions can be broken down as topical (more specific) or overarching (more general). The topical EQs will have a more concise answer whereas the overarching ones may not. A unit may have as many as eight or more essential questions. In the context of lesson essential questions, typically one to three essential questions guide a lesson. Wiggins and McTigue (2005) provide types of essential questions you can include in a lesson plan. Click here for more information on essential questions.

Four Elements of Lesson Plans

Now that you know why lesson plans are necessary and have looked at a few templates and samples, let’s explore the 4 main elements to include in your learning activities: activating strategies, direct instruction, guided practice, and summarizing strategies.

Download a PowerPoint explaining the 4 elements of lesson plans

Begin the lesson with an an activating strategy (AS), which is a technique to “activate students’ prior knowledge through use of engaging strategies designed to focus learning. The AS should be engaging to hook students with emotion to create attentive, curious, and excited learners. Whether using humor or drama, something visual or creating a mood by storytelling, emotional engagement is key to getting students attention from the start.” (U.S. Digital Literacy)

Example Strategies

Download a list of more than 40 activating strategies for starting your lessons off right.

Try It

One type of activating strategy is known as a KWL Chart. These charts used prior to the study of new material, a discussion, a reading, or an event. Students are asked to brainstorm all of the things they Know or Want to know about a particular topic. The chart is typically set up in three columns with the letters K, W, L at the top of each column. The letter “L” stands for what you have Learned (Ogle, 1986).

Click here to download the KWL Template. Then, follow the steps below to get an understanding of how to use it.

  1. What do you already know about the four parts of lesson planning? (Enter in the “K” column)
  2. What do you want to know? (Enter in the “W” column)
  3. Think about these two questions and compile a list.
  4. You will fill in “L” column as the summarizing strategy later.


Teaching is how you deliver the lesson information to your students. Your methods of direct instruction could include reading a book, displaying diagrams, showing real-life examples of the subject matter, using props, discussing relevant characteristics, watching a video, or other hands-on and/or presentational steps directly related to your lesson plan’s stated objective. Follow these general guidelines when planning your direct instruction:
  • Whenever possible, use multi-sensory methods.
  • For out of class lesson, assign reading, video, or some other activity where students have access to the content.
  • Direct instruction (teaching) is paired with guided practice
  • Direct instruction should be 10-15 minutes in length and then followed by Guided Practice/Formative Assessment (Adult attention span)
  • This should be the rhythm of your class.
Guided practice is the interactive instruction between teacher and students. After the Direct Instruction, begin the Guided Practice process by engaging students in a similar task to what they will complete later in the lesson independently. Outline how your students will demonstrate that they grasped the skills, concepts, and modeling that presented during the Direct Instruction.
While you circulate the classroom and provide assistance for a given activity, the students should be able to perform the task and be held accountable for the lesson’s information.The Guided Practice activities can be either individual or cooperative learning. As a teacher, you should observe the students’ level of mastery of the material in order to inform your future teaching. Additionally, provide focused support for individuals needing extra help to reach the learning goals.
  • After each 10-15 minute chunk, you need to ensure that your students have “gotten” what you have taught. (Formative Assessment)
  • This is where students can get active and engaged in the content!
  • What kinds of activities do you use to check that your students are understanding material?
An effective closure activity promotes the retention of knowledge through the use of engaging strategies designed to rehearse and practice skills for the purpose of moving knowledge into long-term memory. Ideally, closure activities create powerful learning effects at the end of the class, something that will reverberate for hours after the lesson is over.
  • Students should be able to answer the essential question/big idea/objective for the day.
  • Click here to download some summarizing strategies.
  • Pick two that you can also put on your note card and use in your classroom.
    • Summarizing strategies should allow students to synthesize information from the lesson.
  • If using a KWL, What they have learned would be placed into the “L” column of the KWL Chart
“As a deliberate part of your planning process, these activities summarize the current lesson, provide it context, and build anticipation for the next. Properly implemented, they will help you establish and maintain course momentum.” (LUCERO, N.D.) Reinforcing what students have learned, closure activities also serve as an assessment tool with which to evaluate your students retention level—Did they get it?

Cunningham, G. (2009).  Lesson Plans and Unit Plans: The Basis for Instruction. In

The new teacher’s companion practical wisdom for succeeding in the classroom (Chapter 7). Available from

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding By Design Framework. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from

US Digital Literacy. (n.d.). Activating Strategies. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (expanded 2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.