At the start of the year, your lesson plans look immaculate but then the schedule gets complicated. A new bell system throws off your timing. A grade-level assembly or weather-related school cancellation puts your classes behind. Even a lesson plan that flops can jeopardize future classes as you have to backtrack on certain topics.
There is good news. You don’t have to let delays or difficult schedules disrupt your lessons. You can create plans that are flexible and allow you to adapt to any changes. Follow this guide to use lesson plan technology to help keep your classroom both flexible, and on task.
Create Better Notes for Yourself
The first step to use technology for better lesson planning is to create notes for yourself. These range from tips for covering the materials to feedback from students last year. If you made any modifications from the last time you went through a lesson, these notes can live digitally in your plans.
“Many problems can arise in a lesson,” says Quincy Smith, founder of ESL Authority. “Sometimes you’ll forget a lesson plan. Sometimes you’ll forget your notes and your students are just staring at you blank-faced, wondering what happens next, perhaps questioning your abilities and overall effectiveness as a teacher. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
These notes can also help you avoid distractions. If your class is disrupted by a fire drill, you can quickly pick up where you were and resume the lesson.
“Typing up your notes in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or creating a PowerPoint presentation, helps you focus less on how you’re going to teach and more on what you’re going to cover,” writes Jenny Fulton at Classcraft. “If you do have a tendency to take rabbit trails, or if your class is especially proficient at finding them, it’s easy to refocus and redirect when the lesson content is neatly organized.”
Consider spending a few minutes after each day reviewing your lessons and what went right or wrong. By making note of these modifications now, you can improve the lesson and save time on planning next year.
Navigate Block Scheduling
Some schools use block scheduling. While the longer classes allow for more in-depth discussions, they can also wear down students who need to focus on the same topic for a longer period of time.
Former English teacher Scott Sterling encourages educators to add some fun into the class every day. With block scheduling, the classes will be longer and the attention span of your students will wane. One way to break up the class is to incorporate engaging activities or light moments during the break. This can help reinforce an idea or wake students up before learning new material.
Additionally, try to break up your lesson plans into smaller pieces. This can be done by breaking up the format and using different learning styles. For example, you can use a video to introduce an idea and then have a discussion or app-based activity that reinforces it.
“Most students’ attention spans last about 15-20 minutes,” writes teacher Jessica Cicalese Kurtz. “With this in mind, plan to switch up activities about every 20 minutes, employing varying techniques to meet multiple intelligences with the same concepts. More engaging activities like engineering and labs can span more time.”
It can be challenging to plan activities that break up your block hours, which is where technology comes in. Apps, games, videos and other media can add to the lesson and keep students focused.
Additionally, these tech-based additions to your lesson plans can help students who miss a block period or two. “If a student misses a day under the block schedule, he is actually missing the equivalent of nearly two days compared to the traditional 50-minute-class schedule,” writes teacher Melissa Kelly.
Your students can read the missed material at home and engage in the same activities as their peers, making it easier for them to catch up.
Develop Back-Up Lesson Plans
Disruptions and complex schedules might force you to change your lesson plans. This is where it helps to have alternative options in place. These might be smaller activities or shorter projects that keep engagement high while allowing you to move forward with new material.
“Technology has made it very easy and convenient for teachers to be able to go online and print out already made lesson plans,” says education writer Janelle Cox. “Once you figure out what your learning objective is, then all you have to do is a quick search for a lesson plan that correlates with your end goal.”
This is a good way to pad your lessons with backup plans and activities in the event that you have extra time or need an activity for a substitute teacher.
Additionally, you can save the content and lesson plans from this past year of remote instruction to use if you need a backup plan moving forward.
“The trick to maximizing digital content is repurposing what works best,” writes the team at content creation tool Screencast-O-Matic. “Experienced online teachers suggest saving everything, especially videos.”
These include videos that you create or find online, in addition to apps, games or any other information that can be valuable. You can pull this content when your class gets interrupted. Having extra can also help if your students keep working ahead and have time to fill. You can reinforce the materials or look for other ways to engage your students.
“As a general rule of thumb, you should always have more for your students to do than you think you will need,” writes the team at substitute teacher jobs alert app SubSidekick. “Even if you don’t end up needing it, the extra time you put in up front will help you avoid a room full of students staring at you with nothing to do and 20 minutes left in the period.”
Overplanning can also help you identify effective lesson plans from activities or ideas that your students don’t enjoy. You can relegate the less effective concepts to your backup pile.
Adjust Your Pacing
Pacing is a key part of lesson plan design. Educators need to cover a certain amount of material each year, while keeping students engaged. There’s a delicate balance between keeping up and allowing students to have enough time to learn.
“There’s a correlation between effective pacing and student engagement, so it’s crucial to consider the speed at which you move through a lesson and the rate of delivery for different parts of the lesson,” says Craig Simmons, a turnaround instructional coach in Atlanta Public Schools. “When pacing is too slow, students often become bored and disengaged. When it’s too fast, some may not grasp what’s being taught and get lost—or discouraged.”
Consider developing pacing guides that you can use and share with your department. These allow you to set milestones for learning and will give you an idea if you are keeping up with other educators.
“Pacing guides are also a great way to make sure grade level teams are about on the same page,” says elementary teacher Theresa Copeland. “This doesn’t mean that every single class is teaching the exact same lesson, on the exact same day. It does mean however, that maybe we’re all doing the same novel study for the first two weeks during May.”
A pacing guide can also help you build more creativity and fun in the classroom. These are moments where students can relax while still exploring the concepts you bring up.
“We have all heard the idea of making every minute in our classroom count,” says teacher Whittney Tomczyk. “The possibility of doing this, however, is a myth. As a professional, I cannot recall ever utilizing every minute of an entire day dedicated only to what others might consider ‘work’ so how would I expect my middle schoolers to do so for all of their seven classes every day?”
As an educator, you have likely experienced burnout from constantly working and trying to focus. Your students can experience the same thing.
Implement Group Work and a Study Buddy System
One way to build flexibility into your lesson plans is with group work. Students can complete projects digitally, which allows them to collaborate when they get home at night. This digital collaboration also allows you to monitor the work and offer help when students get stuck.
“It’s no secret that students enjoy working in groups from time to time,” says Erin Riskey at Study.com. “It provides an opportunity for ideas to come together and teamwork to blossom, both of which can raise engagement and motivation levels. Fortunately, teachers can use technology in their lesson plans to encourage collaboration in the classroom.”
Group work can also take the burden off of you as an educator to make sure each student is keeping up or challenged enough. You can help the students that need assistance the most while building additional support systems for everyone to use.
“Struggling can be an important part of learning, but at times we expect students to work independently too early, too often, or without any support,” says Shannon McGrath, a K-8 instructional coach. “When this happens, students often look to the teacher immediately whenever they are unsure, and we end up with teacher dependence. Instead, establish a culture where students ask classmates first before asking a teacher.”
Make Your Lesson Plans More Engaging
Each of these technology-based lesson plan tips boils down to one idea: move away from the standard lecture system and make your lessons more engaging. This applies to almost any class you teach.
“The benefit of shorter lectures is well understood by developers of online educational materials who have learned that students often click away or otherwise tune out while watching a recorded class,” writes educational consultant Jonathan Haber.
Many edtech systems are developed to accommodate shorter attention spans while still conveying important information. Haber emphasizes that these tools aren’t just for K-8 learners. Older students can also benefit from shorter lectures and more immersive material — all the way through to college graduation.
Furthermore, make sure the technology you choose is actually valuable. You only have a limited number of minutes with each class. You don’t want to waste it on irrelevant tech. “You can have the best program on God’s green earth, but if you don’t have good implementation of it, it’s all for nothing,” says Alfred Cordova, principal at Taos Middle School in New Mexico.
Even the most experienced educators change their lesson plans each year and adjust how they engage students. By creating detailed notes and flexible plans, you can quickly adapt to any unexpected speed bump, whether it’s a 10-minute fire drill or a three-day school closure.