Anatomy of Lesson Planning

Lesson plans provide us teachers with a concrete road map for where we are going and the route we plan to take to reach our learning destination. Just as preparing ourselves beforehand helps our road trips go more smoothly, taking the time to plan through our daily, weekly, and monthly instruction aids us in thinking through and enacting lessons that impact our students’ knowledge, skills, and transfer growth.

I spend a substantial chunk of my time lesson planning– for my own classes, with teaching colleagues, with novice teachers I mentor, and this year, with an entire school faculty with whom I’m collaborating for unit and lesson design. So, here’s a few structural suggestions as you think through your own lesson planning, along with some resources.

Begin with the end in view.

What is your overarching goal for the lesson? What do you want/hope/expect students will know and do by the lesson’s end? I suggest making your overarching goal specific enough so that it is measurable, visible, and attainable. Here’s an example:

General: Students will improve their reading interpretation skills.

Specific: Students will be able to interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text and analyze how specific word choices shape mood, meaning/message, and tone.

Determine how you’ll assess the goal.

This involves shifting the focus momentarily away from content (don’t worry, though, we’ll get there!) to consider what a tangible learning outcome for your goal looks like. Using the above example, how might you as a teacher actually assess students’ ability to interpret words and phrases from a text? How might they demonstrate their understanding of how specific word choices shape mood, meaning/message, and tone? Would they give an oral presentation, or participate in a student-driven discussion where they can articulate their ability to analyze and interpret a text and how word choices shape them? Would they write a poem or short narrative where they make purposeful decisions about word choice, and then share their thinking as to why they selected those words?

Create your detailed road map for how to get to your learning goal destination.

In our roadmap, we can shift our focus to our content and lesson sequence – how we plan to open and move through the lesson from beginning to end. Here’s a few potential strategies for organizing lesson sequences:

I Do, We Do, You Do (which is Madeline Hunter’s Instructional Theory Into Practice) This entails a gradual release from teacher to student, where the teacher models (I do), then the class engages in guided practice (we do), followed by students practicing independently (you do). While this strategy provides a comprehensive structure for lesson planning, it emphasizes a more teacher-driven approach to a lesson. For some I Do, We Do, You Do, guidance check out California Educator Tiffany Baides’ comprehensive lesson template and at-a-glance guide! Here’s also a link to Teachnology’s the “Madeline Hunter” lesson plan template. And, for a more constructivist, student-centered approach to lesson planning, where students are front and center grappling with concepts, I suggest reviewing ASCD author Katie J. Waddell’s “flipped” model: You Do, We Do, I Do: A Strategy for Productive Struggle

For a more constructivist, student-centered approach to lesson planning, where students are front and center grappling with concepts to figure it out on their own then I suggest reviewing ASCD author Katie J. Waddell’s “flipped” model: You Do, We Do, I Do: A Strategy for Productive Struggle

5E Lesson Plan — Another student inquiry-driven lesson planning possibility is the 5E lesson plan (informed by the work of Atkin and Karplus and developed in 1987 by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study). Note: the below explanations for each stage are from Lesley University’s Empowering Students: The 5E Model Explained, and all direct quotes below are denoted in italicized text.

  1. Engage: In the first phase of the learning cycle, the teacher works to gain an understanding of the students’ prior knowledge and identify any knowledge gaps. It is also important to foster an interest in the upcoming concepts so students will be ready to learn. Teachers might task students with asking opening questions or writing down what they already know about the topic. This is also when the concept is introduced to students for the first time.
  2. Explore: During the exploration phase, students actively explore the new concept through concrete learning experiences. They might be asked to go through the scientific method and communicate with their peers to make observations. This phase allows students to learn in a hands-on way.
  3. Explain: This is a teacher-led phase that helps students synthesize new knowledge and ask questions if they need further clarification. For the Explain phase to be effective, teachers should ask students to share what they learned during the Explore phase before introducing technical information in a more direct manner, according to “The 5E Instructional Model: A Learning Cycle Approach for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching.” This is also when teachers utilize video, computer software, or other aides to boost understanding.
  4. Elaborate: The elaboration phase of the 5E Model focuses on giving students space to apply what they’ve learned. This helps them to develop a deeper understanding. Teachers may ask students to create presentations or conduct additional investigations to reinforce new skills. This phase allows students to cement their knowledge before evaluation.
  5. Evaluate: The 5E Model allows for both formal and informal assessment. During this phase, teachers can observe their students and see whether they have a complete grasp of the core concepts. It is also helpful to note whether students approach problems in a different way based on what they learned. Other helpful elements of the Evaluate phase include self-assessment, peer-assessment, writing assignments, and exams.

Here’s a 5E lesson plan template example, courtesy of Duke University’s Computer Science department.

Selection, Detection, Connection (SDC) The Selection, Detection, Connection (SDC) Model is grounded in self-directed learning and knowledge as an integrative process, where disciplines are connected, not divided into individual subject silos. (developed in 1990 by Leslie Owen Wilson). The SDC Model emphasizes student choice for what students want and need to know (selection), critical thinking for adequately evaluating/judging information sources, along with an understanding of how human bias impacts how information is processed (detection), and that new knowledge and insights are gained through an integrated information process (connection). According to Owen Wilson, the teacher’s role becomes primarily that of facilitator, guide, mentor, friend, counselor, resource person, and learner. Owen Wilson points out too that this model might be more geared to self-motivated learners, though I’ve used an adapted version of her model in my own English classes fairly successfully with students of varying motivation and skill levels.

I didn’t see a lesson planning template for SDC on her website, so I’m currently working on creating one for teachers based on Wilson Owen’s “processes” . Please also note that using SDC as your lesson planning guide entails circling back to this post’s first two steps (begin with the end in view, determine how you’ll assess your goal) to consider the student autonomy that this model requires. What might your students determine as their overarching goal for the lesson? What might they want/hope/expect to know and do by the lesson’s end?

If you’d like additional lesson planning resources, or if you have some resources to share, please contact me! I’m working on compiling resources into one open-source/free sharing space (for now, it’s my Google Drive) as a one-stop resource for our teaching and learning community.