Here’s a statement that most new teachers don’t learn until too late: You have to plan on how to plan your lesson plans.
Wow, that sentence makes the word “plan” start to sound weird. But in all seriousness, here’s the thing. You cannot make efficient lesson plans if you don’t have a structure in place. A lesson plan is the proof that you’ve taken a bunch of chaotic teacher elements and wrestled them into submission. This structure keeps track of your goals, necessary materials, activities, small groups, assessments, presentations, and everything else you need as a teacher.
If you don’t have a structure, you’re going to forget important things. Fortunately, these 5 tips can keep you from committing the kind of lesson plan blunders that waste weekends and increase Monday morning stress.
1. Have your plans follow a weekly structure.
This particular format will work best for elementary and middle school teachers with only one class. However, subject-teaching middle school teachers and high school teachers can adapt the system to fit each unit and section they teach. The most important thing is this: You shouldn’t plan lessons in the dark. Put together an organizational structure that works for you. Then use this framework to create your plans week-to-week or unit-to-unit.
Monday – Gather your materials. Take out all of the assessments, worksheets, resources, teacher PDFs, school PDFs, and other material that you’ll need for the following week. It doesn’t matter what you’re teaching. There should be some activities and worksheet formats that are consistently used throughout the whole class. This provides structure for your students and saves you a lot of headache.
Make a weekly checklist of the materials you need every week. Divide it into columns indicating what needs to be copied, what is an assessment, what still needs planning, and any other miscellaneous to-dos. Leave a space for uncategorized notes and afterthoughts.
Your checklist should be your lifeline for your materials. It lets you know if you have what you need and what still needs doing. On Monday, gather up the materials, make sure you have everything, and ensure that all of your subjects or classes are accounted for.
Tuesday – Make your copies. This includes both physical and digital copies. Print out the worksheets you need for each member of the classroom, but make sure your original is saved with a lesson plan PDFs format. This format allows for easy retrieval, viewing, and editing later.
Wednesday – Attack the lesson plan chart. If you don’t have a chart, you can find free lesson plan PDFs that have a variety of templates to suit your individual needs.
Planning is much easier now that you can look at all of your materials. Populate the week’s schedule with each of the materials, from your worksheets to activities to assessments. For multi-subject teachers, make sure the daily plans flow cohesively enough to keep your class entertained. For one-subject teachers, make sure all of the materials have made it into all of your classes’ lesson plans.
Thursday – Plan any small groups. Some teachers need to make plans for their small reading groups. Others need to give students advanced math worksheets. If there are any small clusters of students or individual students who need unique material, Thursday is the day to plan it out.
Thursday is also when you should make in-depth plans for any hands-on activities that need active structuring. By the afternoon, next week’s plan should be done.
Friday – Put everything away. Organize all your materials in the places they’re meant to go.
2. Make sure next week is planned when you leave school on Friday afternoon.
If you abide by the week-long lesson plan structure above, you should never end your week without knowing what the plan is for the following week.
Weekend planning is a nightmare. You don’t want to waste your precious weekend scrawling notes. A lesson plan undone on Friday means that Monday will be full of frantic scribbling, accidentally jamming the copy machine, and forgetting to schedule important aspects of the classroom.
Don’t let this happen to you. The school week is for school. The weekend is for relaxing. Don’t let those two worlds mix.
3. Collaborate with team members and colleagues you may have.
Every school has a unique staff structure. The configurations will vary depending on the subject(s) you teach, the number of students you have, the amount of switching done between different teachers, and the structures in place to encourage colleague collaboration.
If you’re in a position where you can collaborate, you should. History teachers who teach the same class will progress through units at a mostly-simultaneous pace. Trade your lesson plans. Brainstorm about activities. Get your classes together when you can.
Teachers work best when they can play to their strengths. Maybe one of the history teachers is particularly skilled at giving engaging presentations. Why not get all of the simultaneous classes together to watch their presentation? Maybe the other history teacher is good at organizational structure. Why not allow their colleagues to borrow from their planning structures?
4. Keep both digital and hard copies of your plans.
A lot of teachers like the tactile feel of pens scratching across paper. They like to populate their lesson plan charts in their own handwriting and add the kind of personalized touches that make their plans an art project. But in today’s modern world, you’ll be better served by creating your content digitally, and then printing copies for your binder.
Electronic planning has a host of benefits. You can make sure your material stays in one spot and never gets lost, you can create documents with creative organizational tools, you can use versatile formatting to suit a number of different purposes, and you can reuse the same templates with ease.
You might be tempted to make all of your charts and notes in Word, but consider using teacher PDFs instead. Saving your work to a PDF format means that it will be readable on any kind of device, and printing doesn’t take much more work. If there are complex printing rules, you can use software to painlessly convert your documentsbetween file formats.
After you’ve made your electronic organizers and plans for the week, you can print them out for easy perusal. School PDFs should be formatted correctly. If you end up needing to make changes, you can use your pen to get the tactile sensation you crave. Typing the original plan and editing in pen helps you keep track of the original plan versus the edited one.
5. Don’t be afraid to use outside-the-grid charts, note sheets, and layouts.
This is another place where electronic devices are ideal. You can use a number of different programs to make whatever graphs, layouts, notes, charts, and presentations you need. Then, you can consolidate them all into one easily-examined format.
Use as many organizational tools as you need to sort the chaos in your mind. Your lesson plan will be your reference point for the entire next week, so you need to make sure it suits your unique needs.
Lesson planning is a form of project management. Each week, you’re embarking on a new complex project with your students. This means that each week, you need a new plan to help you through.
Efficient lesson planning will leave you a luxurious weekend to yourself, unbothered by the stresses of school. Well-organized structures will lower your anxiety levels and help you feel in control.
Break your lesson plan into manageable pieces. You’ll find that it’s not as scary as it seemed at first.