Powerful Lesson Planning


Graphics created by Alina Veja, Aileen Miracle, Teacher Laura, and Glitter Meets Glue


Planning is the foundation of a successful lesson. But it has gotten a pretty bad rap lately as administrators and state regulators clamp down on teacher freedom to instruct students. Despite its decrease in favoritism, planning can be creative and joyful if we let it.

We have to get past the dreaded requirement of a lesson plan, and shift our focus to designing a learning experience that will light a fire under students so that they take charge in their journey as a learner and slay new, challenging content with ease.

If we aren’t excited to write the lesson plan, we aren’t going to be excited to deliver the lesson plan. As a result, the kiddos aren’t going to be excited to experience the lesson plan.

The most effective approach to designing an engaging lesson is to plan backwards for an entire unit or quarter of a school year.

How do you implement backwards design?

  • Grab a blank calendar the length of a quarter or unit
  • Plug standards into a day on the calendar, taking time to think how long it would take to completely teach that standard (ie. standards are long-term and objectives are short-term)
  • Once standards are plugged in so that they can all be taught by the deadline, break down the standards into bite sized teachable chunks, called objectives
  • Use the calendar map of standards and objectives to plan daily lessons in depth

What should you include in a lesson plan?

Snag this checklist to keep nearby as you plan all of your lessons and try this free lesson plan template.

  • Grade Appropriate Standard
  • Measurable Objective
  • Required Materials
  • Necessary Vocabulary
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility:
    • Direct instruction (I do)
    • Guided practice ( we do)
    • Independent practice (you do)
  • Aligned Activities
  • Measurable, Aligned Assessment
  • Differentiation
  • Higher Order Questioning
  • Teacher/Student Actions
  • Pacing
  • Warm Up + Closure

Don’t let standards drown you. They are anchors that keep you focused on the most important aspects of the content to teach, but there is plenty of room for your teacher personality to shine through. Innovative educators use standards- the end goal is the same, but the pathway to get there is unique, inspiring, and engaging so that students are held accountable and take ownership.

How do you allow for teachable moments?

Student questions and enthusiasm have a place in the classroom only if the teacher has planned to incorporate them throughout the lesson. Sticking to a rigid schedule only keeps you on track to your pacing guide, but does little to impact your students’ learning and development. Kids can easily get derailed during a discussion, so implement a “parking lot” and any comments or questions that aren’t directly related can be written on a post-it note and placed on the “parking lot” poster to be discussed the last few minutes of class or at a more appropriate time later. However, sometimes there comes a time where a topic or question arises that is related but not included in the lesson plan. Teachers have to decide if taking the detour will positively impact their students’ understanding of material or if its best to stick to the script.

Throughout my career, I have learned that teachable moments, when chosen carefully, can strengthen relationships with students, prepare them for the real world, peak the interest of a disengaged learner, and inspire students to be problem solvers in their communities. I wouldn’t change these impromptu moments for anything because the impact that the outcomes had on my students and myself have been life-long.

In short, educators can remain effective while keeping their creative edge by planning backwards, ensuring each lesson has the necessary components for student mastery, and capitalizing on teachable moments when appropriate. No longer should lesson planning be a dreaded process, but one that is exciting for the teacher and inspiring to the students when executed.



How do you effectively plan?

About the author, Gretchen

I am a teacher trainer and coach. Working elbow to elbow with teachers and teacher leaders to ensure instructional proficiency and student achievement soar lights me up. We have a real need in our nation for strong educators to remain in the field. My blog, book, podcast, courses and instructional materials are geared towards empowering teachers (and those that lead them) to receive the support needed to grow and thrive today, tomorrow and always.