Imagine building a piece of Ikea without the instructions. Can it be done? Sure. But it might take you much longer than it should have. Or it might end up not looking the way it is supposed to. Or it might become incredibly frustrating! So, it’s best to follow the plan provided, right?
The same can be said for the importance of lesson planning. If teachers do not have a solid lesson plan, Tier I instruction might miss the mark, veer off on a tangent, or – quite simply – become a mess. In this blog, I will take you through a process that will help guide educators to develop effective lesson plans.
Step One: Unpacking the Standard and Building Content Knowledge
The first step is the most critical but all too often it is skipped. When done properly, unpacking that lesson standards ensures a strong foundation for the lesson. Here are the steps:
- Determine the lesson topic and related standard(s)
This step is pretty straight forward but it does require some consideration depending on the scope and specificity of the standard. For example, if the standard asks students to explain all the main events of the Civil War, this might not be taught during one lesson. So I need to determine which events I will teach during the lesson. On the other hand, a standard might be very broad – such as “explain the impact of physical geography on economic activities.” In this case, I need to determine the region and/or era that I will be addressing during the lesson.
- Identify the verb in the standard
The verb tells us what students need to be able to do by the end of the lesson. For example, if the verb in the standard is “describe” then I might have students show their learning in writing or orally. Or, if the standard is “compare,” I might have students complete a venn diagram and write a paragraph explaining similarities.
- Identify the nouns in the standard
The nouns tell us the content that students need to know. Simply list any content specific nouns. This is typically where teachers stop the unpacking process – but they shouldn’t. The next step is crucial.
- Determine the specific content that students need to know to master the standard
During this step, write down all content students need to know related to the standard. Be as specific as possible. For example, if my standard was about the events of the Civil War, I would need to make sure I know details of the related events (Who was involved? When did it happen? Why is this event important? And so on).
This is also the time to build your own content knowledge. During my first year teaching, I was assigned to teach Texas history. The only problem was I was from Arizona. So I read books, watched documentaries, did my own research, and asked colleagues for help. I had to learn the content on my own before teaching it to students! This is not a time to be ashamed of what you might not know or become defensive. This is a time to learn and grow.
Step Two: Planning with the End in Mind
In step two, teachers should consider the “end.” But what is the end? For some, it might be a state assessment, a unit exam, or a final. It is good practice to consider these types of summative assessments while planning as they can provide valuable information for daily lessons.
However, for this process the “end” is the end of the lesson. So a good question to ask yourself is, “By the time the bell rings, what do my students need to know and be able to do?” In other words, how will students demonstrate mastery? What will it look and sound like? Maybe they will create an infographic or a piece of poetry. Or maybe they could write a short-constructed response to a prompt. This is a time to be creative! But make sure that the student product aligns with the standard.
It is also a good idea for teachers to create an exemplar of the student product. This allows teachers an opportunity to check for alignment to the standard, clarify instructions, and identify any possible hiccups or roadblocks that might occur during instruction.
Step Three: Preparing to Teach
The next step is where the bulk of the planning takes place. The first step is to gather any resources that might help you with lesson planning. This might include a scope and sequence, pacing calendar, social studies resources, and a lesson planning template.
Next, begin writing your lesson plan by working through each part of the lesson cycle. There are may iterations of the lesson cycle, and I won’t say that one is better than the other. But what I will say is that you need to complete a lesson cycle during the lesson! Here is one example of a lesson cycle:
- Engage and Connect: This is a short lesson opener designed to hook students in or pique their interest. This might include using a quote or image, or asking students an open-ended question that they can relate to.
- Introduce New Learning: This is where the teacher delivers new content or the “stuff” that students need to know. This might include a reading and a graphic organizer, a short lecture, or an activity such as Scribe/Messenger.
- Guided Practice: During this section, the teacher assists students through the necessary steps needed to complete an activity. Students might work with a partner or in a small group.
- Independent Practice: Students create or complete a product that demonstrates mastery of the standards presented in the lesson. This is answer to the question previously asked: “By the time the bell rings, what do my students need to know and be able to do?”
- Close and Assess: This is a short wrap up of the day’s objectives. Students might complete a self-assessment of their learning.
Step Four: Considering All Learners
After the lesson plan is written, take some time to consider the needs of diverse learners – such as Students with Disabilities, Gifted and Talented students, and Emergent Bilinguals. You might consider adding (or removing) scaffolds to ensure students are able to demonstrate mastery of the standard. When planning, teachers might ask themselves the following questions:
- Do I need to add a read aloud/think aloud?
- Should I include a glossary or visuals with a reading?
- How might I provide an environment for structured conversations?
- What additional scaffolds are needed to support writing – like sentence stems?
These types of questions can help teachers consider the needs of the students in their classroom and modify the lesson activities to support all learners.
Step Five: Collaboration
The final step is to work with your colleagues to prepare for Tier I instruction. This can be done by practicing or rehearsing the lesson. Practicing with peers provides a safe place for teachers to practice new strategies and receive feedback. It also helps ensure that instruction during first period is as good as seventh period.
Lesson planning can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be something that teachers dread. By following this planning process, teachers can develop a solid plan prior to Tier I instruction to ensure the lesson is aligned to the standard, feasible, and meets the needs of the students. And I promise – it becomes easier with practice!
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Jamie Filipow is a Partnerships and Instruction Coordinator for Social Studies School Service. She began her career in education in 2007 as a middle school social studies teacher. She went on the be an instructional coach and curriculum developer before coming the Director of Secondary Social Studies for the Houston Independent School District. Jamie also served are the Executive Secretary and Vice President for the Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association. She holds a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston.