Lesson Plans “Must Haves”
written by Bill Reed
I think most people have heard the old saying; “Failing to plan, is planning to fail!” This is especially true for teachers and their lesson plans. New and experienced teachers alike should be creating lesson plans for each of their classes. Not all lesson plans are alike. Lesson plans do not need to be the extremely long, detailed, step by step plans that some of us wrote when we were in our college education classes. Lesson plans can be short and easy just the essentials that are required for the lesson to be successful. The lesson plans I created when I was a new teacher were much different from the lesson plans that I created in my 20th year in the classroom. My lesson plans in my 20th year were different from the lesson plans I created in my 30th year in the classroom. Lesson plans change and evolve throughout your teaching career, yet there are always the essential “must haves” that should be included in every lesson plan a teacher develops.
#1- Determine the Goal
The first, essential “must have” is the goal for the lesson. These are short and simple statement(s) of what you want to accomplish in class with your lesson. The goals could be for you and/or for your students. They address the academic standards, techniques, and thinking skills you will be teaching to make sure they are covered during the lesson. All lesson goals must be clearly defined and specific. They must be measurable. When I wrote my goals, I had to know how I was going to measure the goal to determine if I and/or my students had reached the goal. By having clear and specific goals both my students and I were focused on the task at hand. It kept us on track and heading in the right direction for what we needed to accomplish during the period. The lack of clear and specific goals will cause the class to wander aimlessly and easily veer off-track.
#2- The Hook
The second, essential “must have” is the hook or the “why” for the lesson. If students do not see a purpose or how the lesson relates to them there will be little to no retention of the material being presented. Lesson hooks or whys should be fun and engaging for the students. The more you can relate what you are teaching to the students the better the lesson will be and the longer the students will retain the information and use the topic(s) being presented.
A lesson hook I have used in Algebra 1, when I was teaching the concept of Difference of Two Squares, are some simple computation examples. For instance, if I ask you to multiple 34 x 46. Most students either reach for a calculator or use the standard multiplication algorithm. I just write 1600 – 36 on the board and the answer of 1564. Students (and teachers who I have shown this method to) are amazed at how this works. I ask students how I got my two numbers. They usually figure it out and then I show them that 34 can be written as (40 – 6) and 46 can be written as (40 + 6).
(40 – 6) * (40 + 6) can easily be computed as 1600 – 36. They love this idea and easily remember the “difference of two square” method.
Another lesson hook I have used in Algebra 1, when I was teaching the concepts of Binomial Squared (which is also important for Perfect Square Trinomials), are again some simple computation examples. For instance, if I ask you to calculate 472. Again, most students either reach for a calculator or use the standard multiplication algorithm. I just write 1600 + 560 + 49 on the board and the answer of 2209. Students (and teachers who I have shown this method to) are again amazed at how this works. I ask students how I got the three numbers I used to calculate the answer. They usually figure out the first and last numbers, but struggle to understand the middle number and then I show them that 472 can be written as (40 + 7)2. (40 + 7) * (40 + 7) can easily be computed as 1600 + 560 + 49. I then show the students that (a + b)2 uses the method of a2 +2*a*b + b2. 402 is 1600, 2*40*7 is 560 and 72 is 49. Those numbers can easily be added in their head since 560 + 49 is 609 and 1600 + 609 is 2209. They love this idea and easily remember how to square a binomial which comes into play when you are factoring a perfect square trinomial.
#3- Give Examples
The third, essential “must have” are the examples for the lesson. Teachers must be very strategic when choosing their examples. Too many times teachers feel like they must do an example for each type of problem the students will encounter while doing the assignment. This is NOT true and is counterproductive! Teachers should NOT be trying to “cookbook” the processes and information being taught! Teachers must choose examples that lead into discussions and guide students to their understanding. Giving an example and asking students about that example is far more important than doing multiple examples showing every type of problem the students may attempt. Having students come up with their own examples after you have shown one or two examples is much better for student understanding and retention. I regularly ask students to make up an example that we could work on the board together to represent the standard or concept the lesson is about. If a student can create their own example, I know they are seeing the overall types of problems we are working on in the lesson.
#4- Ask Questions
The final, essential “must have” are the questions to ask the students during the lesson. These are not the simple Depth of Knowledge Level 1 questions that are basic memory recall questions. These are the higher order thinking questions. These are Depth of Knowledge Level 2 and 3 questions. On Bloom’s Taxonomy they are the “Understand”, “Apply”, and “Analyze” types of questions. These questions are essential because they are asking the students to do something more than list facts or remember basic information you have given the students or step by step instruction used to solve problems students will see and work in the assignment. Dr. Karen Hess has wonderful examples of these types of questions in the Cognitive Rigor Matrices she has created for most content areas students will have classes in during their K – 12 and post-secondary journey. You can access Dr. Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrices here. These are excellent resources teachers can use when writing questions they will ask students during the lesson. Having good, productive, higher order thinking questions is necessary for students to fully comprehend and understand the concept(s) or topic(s) being taught in the lesson.
If a teacher writes clear and complete goals; has a good hook or purpose for a lesson; picks good examples to use in the lesson; and has productive, higher order thinking questions to ask the students; the lesson will be successful. How you write up these four components is entirely up to each individual teacher. Having each of the four components is NOT an option. Using this simple plan, for the teacher and students to follow, is how you can guarantee the best possible outcomes. Every lesson will not be perfect, but if teachers do not prepare properly then they are setting themselves up for failure. Classrooms are a very fast paced and very busy environment. Having all four components of a good lesson plan written out, in an easy to access and easy to understand format, is how everyone can easily stay on top and in control of the classroom. It will guide the students down the path they need to be on, for long-term learning and understanding. Teachers must be “Facilitators of Learning” and not just “Conveyors of Knowledge”!
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