Manual: Lesson Planning

i.e., how we do what we do!

Participation Engenders Responsibility.

If we stop doing things for the students, they may see the advantages of doing things for themselves.

Nuts and Bolts

Effective learner active lessons require detailed planning.  This takes time – much more than the prep time teachers’ schedules suggest.

Activities can be garnered from books, department plans, discussion with colleagues and increasingly from the web.  They can also be created, tried and revised.

What went well?  What was missing or mistimed? What phrasing of instructions or discussion questions needs sharpening?  What could be added that might improve the package?

Save plans in an organized file and revisit them when you do them.  In general it takes about 3 times through before a sequence is well conceived.  After a few years, entire units can be so substantial it is rare for them not to go well.

Plan one unit more carefully than you ever have before.

Comment below on the result:

Modern Times

The computer is a revolutionary and invaluable aid in this regard – enabling lesson plans and supplementary materials (like worksheets, references and follow-up exercises) to be revised and downloaded at will. 

Begin now and each year back up your work regularly.  Keep a hard copy in an organized binder as well.  

Transfer one complete unit to disk replete with all worksheets, assessment tools, and other materials, models and displays you wish to keep.Comment on the process: 


Computers open up possibilities in ways not imaginable a short while ago.  They can serve as bulletin boards, e-mail exchanges, scanners, file-drawers and expediters of face-to-face communication with the aid of Skype.  In addition they offer unlimited opportunity for extensive research resources.  Integrate these options in your planning.

Increasingly they also provide multi-media supplements that can be stored and may provide expansive follow-up options for specific lessons.

[For example, in my Classics of Western Lit class, most American students didn’t have as many opportunities to observe images of Gods and Goddesses as they would have, had they lived in an older civilization.  So I assembled slide shows of great art as a follow-up to our in-class discussions on a number of topics.  By the time we got through the Trojan War, these images were no longer unfamiliar references.] 

Expectations and Explorations

Administrators rarely ask for detailed daily plans.  Most of the time they are content to top-manage general topics and by enumerating certain goals.  The best respect the learning process and are not invasive.

Recently, department-wide units and statewide expectations are on the increase — in part to improve the planning generally and in part to promote standardization among classes.  These come in the form of guidelines and expectations, recommended materials and assessment devices.

Nonetheless, classroom educators must subdivide units into small enough bites to define daily tasks and must consider what processes to use to enhance mastery.  

[For example, New York State for years tested if students knew the form of a business letter, yet no students were expected to write to any businesses!]


It is helpful for the construction of daily lesson plans to build pedagogical considerations into a form for lesson design. 

Pedagogy from Greek paidagogos, literally child leading,
       (originally a slave leading children to school);
       through Latin paedagogus, to teach, be a teacher;
       to English pedagogy.*

*Paraphrase from Origins by Eric Partridge

I am a pedagogist. It is my stock and trade, my lifetime study.  To do it well requires talent, ingenuity and deep preparedness. Alas, the terminology is something of an embarrassment.

Lately the word ‘pedagogy’ has become a fad, overused and trivialized.  One can read almost nothing in the field today that doesn’t use the term, usually as synonymous with teaching. I teach; therefore I use pedagogy—a tautology.  In Herbach the Egyptian we are warned that over time the meaning of any word or phrase undergoes a transformation, a cooptation of a sort, particularly when it conveys cogent and perhaps threatening suggestions.  In order to recover the original insight, we are advised to come up with new terminology as though pretending we had discovered a new truth, so that we can reconsider the older one.  So far I have not found an adequate substitute, but I no longer feel comfortable using the word as descriptive of my chosen vocation.

What I mean by it, however, is clear.  Pedagogy entails the techniques and practices a teacher uses to inspire, to focus, to personalize, to broaden, to challenge, and generally to grease the runners of the learner’s sled.  Plato thought the answer was curriculum – etymologically suggesting that the wheels of the wagon roll more readily once we have cut a path through the high grass of our field.  Skinner argued that it was a motivated maze runner who through repetition and reward would learn the path.  It is neither.

Detailed preparation is one of an educator’s strongest tools.  It is a confident orbit in a chaotic universe.  We know when the semester will begin and when it will end.  We know how many lessons we have, to do what we are attempting.  And formulating in some detail the theme and focus of each particular lesson and the varied activities and processes we intend to include can be vital to our success. What actually happens in the room for each individual isn’t determinable by us anyway and that reality alters what makes a good plan!  So how do we begin?  With a much bigger picture.  Start with an overview and a focus.  Then add detail.  Revise as you go along.

 Lesson Planning Format Design

Note: The vertical line is a time line. Activities placed highest on the page occur first. Subsequent activities are inserted below. The object is to ensure a balance.



Surreptitious Lesson: (an underlying but unannounced motif)

Follow-up Activities:

Planning the Day

The key concept in the plan is to keep the alternation between presentation and participation flowing.  Topics can vary, depending on what you want to emphasize.  Presentations introduce specific cognitive detail.  They can “cover” a lot of ground in a short time.  They can offer insight and not infrequently can provoke spontaneous student response.

Processes aim to be dynamic and interesting.  Whatever the activity, in some way it applies the intellectual ideas addressed in the presentation through learner active decision-making tasks.  How many rotations depend on the age and sophistication of the learner group. 

Materials necessary should be clearly noted in the plans and gathered earlier.A time line (what happens next) is essentia

When possible some form of lesson closure should be attempted.

Expected follow-up work including but not limited to “at home work” can also be recorded. Modern directives often ask how successful completion of the lesson will be known.  Teachers need to be prepared to answer administrative queries, by clearly defining expected and hoped for outcomes.  When the course succeeds, these will describe only a fraction of learner accomplishment and longer-term processes.

What follows is one variation on this theme.  The blank form can be copied onto a computer (as a template) for easy regeneration.  Individual subjects, courses and approaches will suggest modifications, but be careful to consider the key concepts in one way or another. The form for the lesson can be copied. All rights relinquished. It will appear later on this “page.”


Planned Spontaneity

 Good planning is like designing a bill of fare.  Once the meal has begun, activity and discussion may take quite a few turns.  Both the order and the timing may be affected as events unfold.  Try not to adhere too rigidly to the plan.  Permission to be flexible must be self-taught.

“Identical” classes will, annoyingly, take less or more time on the same task.

It may get messy by the end.

Unexpected events, insights, conflicts, verbal explosions will occur.  Learn to enjoy the fruits of dynamic lessons. 

Activities (unlike oratory) take widely varying amounts of time to complete.  Get a sense of the time periods you are working in and manage some kind of closure when you can without distorting the learning process.

Have fill-ins available for unanticipated extra time.  (There is some advantage in creating pertinent self-contained supplementary materials.  These can serve as substitute plans as well.)

Think of lesson plans less as ceremonial dinner menus than as invitations to a picnic.  The rules can change in the middle, but it’s nice to know you have the food and the fire is ready.

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