The Anatomy of a Great Lesson Plan Template

Lesson plans are as old as teaching itself is. And every teacher has his or her own approach to creating a lesson plan.

Some have the vaguest outlines. Some plan their lessons to the minute. Some follow tried-and-true templates while others draw up lesson plans from scratch.

Still, the best lesson plan templates share a common composition. So, if you understand what those common components are, you have a template that can apply to any subject at any grade level.

Our software embraces this premise. Planbook allows teachers to create a useful and universally applicable template with our customizable lesson sections. You can see what those looks like in our app tutorials.

Below, we dig into each of the six components of a great lesson plan template so that you always have a solid foundation to work from, whether you use a spiral notebook or an app to record your lesson plans.

1. Objectives/Standards: What Do You Want Your Students to Learn?

Objectives and standards are technically two different components, but they serve the same goal: Understanding what it is you’re trying to teach your students. So, it makes sense to discuss them at the same time.

Let’s start with objectives. As a teacher, you owe your students a personal responsibility to define measurable learning outcomes (emphasis on “measurable”). Dr. Nicola Ward Petty at the Learn and Teach Statistics blog has some nice examples of what measurable objectives look like in her stats class:

“Students will be able to:

  • “Identify different levels of data in new scenarios.
  • “Explain in context a confidence interval.
  • “Determine which probability distribution out of binomial, poisson or normal is most appropriate to model in an unfamiliar situation.
  • “Compare two time series models of the same data and evaluate which is more appropriate in a given context.”

On either side of any of those above objectives is a consideration. One level up, you must be able to connect the learning objective with the overall goal of the course. One level down, and you must be able to describe what, exactly, it means to “identify different levels” or “explain in context” a concept you’re teaching.

Teaching @ Colorado State University has a helpful tutorial to guide this process:

“Make these building blocks strong. Added together, the objectives in each of your lesson plans carries the weight of the entire course. They must be specific, stated with precision, built upon the previous, and directed toward the next. Everything must dovetail. Here are the three main considerations:

  • “What do you want your students to know or be able to do when the lesson is over?
  • “How will you have your students prove their proficiencies: a quiz, a quick in-class writing assignment, a short question and answer session?
  • “To what degree, level of accuracy, or correctness (i.e. 80%) should your students be able to answer or perform for you to consider the lesson learned?”

Of course, there is one more consideration when developing objectives, and one that’s likely even more top-of-mind: Standards. Any teacher will need to shape learning outcomes to fit the applicable standards of the school system and the state.

“Hopefully, you are using the standards as a foundation for what you teach so that your students are learning the material they should be learning; that’s the science of teaching,” math teacher Karen Lea says in an excellent article addressed to new teachers. “Then you take the standards and create objectives for your students; that’s the art of teaching.”

2. Pre-Assessment: What Context and Prior Learning Will Your Students Bring to the Lesson?

When creating lesson plans, make sure there is plenty of room in your template to explore and assess what your students already understand about the concepts you plan to present. Before you present an idea, it’s necessary for you to understand your students’ capacities to engage with and ask questions so they can build stably upon what they already know.

This kind of assessment is ongoing, of course, and it takes both implicit and explicit forms. Implicitly, you have your own intuition about whether students get it.

Explicitly, there are a few ways to gauge your students’ understanding before you present an idea:

  • You can quiz them.
  • You can lead with a simple question-and-answer session.
  • You can hand out KWL charts and work with students as they assess for themselves what they know, what they want to know and, after the lesson, what they’ve learned.

“Every step you take to set students up for success in learning pays high dividends,” Gini Cunningham writes in The New Teacher’s Compendium. “One of these is the bright smiles of achievement on student faces as they ‘get it.’ Another is the deep personal satisfaction gleaned from doing a job well. Few rewards are greater than positively affecting the lives and learning of children.”

3. Instruction: What Learning and Teaching Activities Will You Use?

How are you going to introduce and reinforce the lesson? If you were to ask a non-teacher to write up a mock lesson plan, that person would probably focus entirely on this section.

In general, the instruction time of your lesson will break down into five phases:

  • The anticipatory set to focus attentions
  • Some background or introductory information
  • Direct instruction
  • Guided practice
  • Application

How much time you spend on each depends on several factors: The material, your students’ pre-assessed level of understanding, what activities are necessary to reinforce the instruction. Early in their careers, many teachers try to plan instruction time to the minute in an effort to maintain control. Invariably, that planning goes off the rails, and some teachers get caught without a contingency plan.

So, when laying out the phases of your lesson, leave some flexibility for the timeline to skew, and have contingency plans ready so you can respond to your students’ needs in the moment.

Finally, as Tara Arntsen writes at Busy Teacher, leave enough room in your lesson plan template that you can thoroughly describe your plan of instruction. After all, you never know when you might need to take a sick day.

“When writing lesson plans, be sure to include what part of the textbook you are covering in the lesson, the target structure, new vocabulary, directions for all the activities you intend to use, and the approximate time each section of your lesson will take,” she writes. “The idea behind a lesson plan is that another teacher could pick it up and successfully teach your class without further instructions.”

4. Homework and Assignments: How Will You Ask Students to Apply This Learning?

Whether your lesson plan leaves room for independent work during class time or later on the students’ own time, it’s important to prepare assignments to “reinforce skills and synthesize knowledge,” as Beth Lewis writes at ThoughtCo.

These assignments are also necessary to assess how well students absorbed the material and met your own objectives for the lesson.

5. Materials and Technology: What Will You Need to Achieve the Learning Objectives?

This is usually a smaller section, but don’t forget to leave room in your template to create a checklist of all the materials and devices you need to deliver the instruction.

In other words, write down everything you can’t teach the lesson without. This includes:

  • Any PowerPoint slide decks
  • Computers and auxiliary devices such as projectors or speakers
  • Any videos you might want to show
  • Handouts
  • Textbooks
  • Even guest speakers, if that would be useful

6. Assessment: Did Your Students Meet Your Learning Objectives?

Finally, build in some time to take stock of whether you got your students to meet the learning objectives you set out for them. This is how you build your own knowledge base about your classroom as the year goes on, and you begin to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Bonnie P. Murray at Scholastic has a few questions you might want to pencil into the template to guide your assessment:

  • “Was the lesson successful?
  • “Were my students interested?
  • “Did my students learn?
  • “What didn’t work?

Then, build in a little time to think about what you can improve upon when you teach this lesson again:

  • “What will I do differently next time?
  • “What can I do next to build upon this lesson?
  • “How can I make it flow?”

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