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5 Tips to Improve Your Lesson Plan

Whether you’re adjusting an existing lesson plan or starting from scratch, try these tips for a productive school year.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garc“a on the 2015 NEA Back To School Tour
Published: January 1, 2018

Make your lesson plans relevant, engaging, and productive.

Curriculum and lesson planning can seem daunting, especially as a new teacher. How do you plan an entire year of learning before it even begins? How do I make each individual lesson relevant and engaging? I used to find myself asking these questions. But as the years have gone by, I’ve learned helpful tricks to plan my year smoothly.  

teacher with student in classWhether you’re adjusting an existing lesson plan or starting from scratch, try the following tips for a productive school year:

1. Start with the big picture.

I believe that starting is the hardest part. If you’re struggling in the initial steps of lesson planning, try taking a step back. Connect with other grade level teachers at your school to see how your year can fit into the bigger picture—like a curriculum calendar. From there, break it down to objective-based, shorter-term units. Within each unit, what do you want to accomplish? What do you want your students to know and be able to do by the end? With each lesson, outline a desired outcome or goal for you and your students to work towards.

2. Don’t rely on fluff.

Even after I’ve planned my lessons, I like to reassess my own strategies. I ask myself what I can improve or make more efficient. What are the structures or systems within my classroom that are working? How can I use these more? Rather than breaking your day into tiny little pieces, focus on the activities that provide richer opportunities for deep thinking. While Pinterest-inspired little activities may keep kids busy, they don’t always teach to the rigor and relevance that they need.

COPYRIGHT Norman Y. Lono

3. Get creative about your resources.

These days, inspiration is all around us. I use (free!) tools and resources that elevate my lesson plans. One of my favorites is Understanding by Design, which is a template for lesson planning created by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Their website has articles, webinars, videos and more for online learning. Their method is a way of thinking that’s backwards planning—you start by thinking what you want to accomplish, then creating a performance assessment.

4. Think backwards and relate the lesson plan to real life.

Step one is to identify the learning standards set out by your state or national standards. In step two, identify what some of the enduring understandings are. Create essential questions that will motivate the student to actually learn that unit. For example, show them how measurement is used in the world and show the different ways people measure and the tools they measure with. Put students in scenarios where they have to select tools and use the lesson in a practical way.

Then step three is the learning activities that you scaffold, which refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. Start with what they already know about measurement. For example, maybe they were measured at the doctor's office.

Try to relate it to their real life. A real-life example I use with my students is the grocery store. I take them on an imaginary tour and ask them where and how they measure their fruit. Soon they start recognizing scales and using this vocabulary in their everyday lives.

5. Get nontraditional.

Don’t be afraid to incorporate something new and different into your curriculum. For example, get your kids out of the classroom to see the lesson from a different perspective.

In my second grade class, we learn about urban, rural, and suburban communities. I built a field trip for each unit so they could experience each. For the urban unit, we took a bus ride into a city and took a walk through the historic sections. They were able to observe and experience the community and think through why certain houses were built differently than others. For the rural unit, we went to a dairy farm. For the suburban unit, we walked into the town with clipboards and backpacks. We interviewed business people as they were working in their businesses at the bank and at the bagel shop. Then they came back, and presented their findings.

Let’s face it: a good lesson plan is hard to come by. My best advice is to build something that works for you, and is flexible enough to change if needed. As you’re building your lesson plan for the year, try my five tips for a unique and fun curriculum your students will enjoy all year long!


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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.