Lesson planning

Lesson plans are a roadmap to success. Careful planning at the course design stage , including deciding on a course delivery approach, should be followed by thoughtful lesson planning for all classes.

Many of the lessons or class sessions at Lincoln University are 50 minutes duration, but longer class sessions exist. Different nomenclature exists including lecture, lectorial, tutorial, workshop, laboratory, studio, practical, field trip. However, the name does not always reflect the nature of the delivery, for example, some lectures are run interactively like tutorials. Regardless of the duration or name of your class session, lesson planning will help you deliver a well-thought-out session and will help your students get the most out of the learning experience.

A lesson plan is a road map for teachers of how to effectively use class session time to help students learn what needs to be learnt. It lays out the direction your teaching will take; a real confidence boost before a class session and maximises your chance of providing a meaningful learning experience for your students.

Lesson plans have three key components:

  • Outcomes for student learning
  • Teaching and learning activities
  • Strategies to check student understanding

We’ve outlined below six key steps to follow when preparing a lesson. But nothing is set in stone, there is always room for improvement. During your class session share your lesson plan with your students, and after your class session spend a few minutes reflecting on what worked well and why, and what could be done differently. Use this to upgrade your future lesson plans.

Steps for preparing a lesson plan

1. Identify the learning outcomes for the class session

What do you want students to learn by the end of the class session? Rank the learning outcomes in order of importance and determine which can be effectively developed during the class session. It is necessary to strike a balance between depth and breadth of coverage. Given too many details, students lose sight of the main ideas. Or, when too many ideas are presented and not developed, students fail to gain understanding. Be sure to cover no more than 3-4 main points in a 50-minute period.

2. Develop an introduction

Your introduction should stimulate student interest, encourage students to start thinking about the topic and allow you to get an understanding of students’ prior knowledge. It is also good to provide a connection to the previous class session and explain how the current class session fits in the topic or module. Here are some opening strategies you could try:

  • Use a brief interactive exercise that asks students to pair with a partner for two minutes
  • Share a story or anecdote related to the content
  • Demonstrate what students will be able to do by the end of the class session
  • Relate content to previous class material, homework, or current events
  • Ask students to spend 2-3 minutes writing about or discussing with a partner, the concepts or issues that were part of their preparation material
  • Raise a provocative question that will be answered during the class session. Ask students to discuss it with a partner, write about it, or respond to it verbally
  • Open with a three-minute Q&A session, using questions that will lead into the content.
3. Plan the specific learning activities and their sequence

For each learning activity, consider what the teacher will do, what the students will do, how much time will be allocated, what resources are needed, and what instructions need to be provided. A valid learning activity is for students to listen to the teacher explain a concept (see some ideas on how to organise content below). Remember to try to vary your format of presenting at least every 15 minutes to help combat student fatigue and loss of concentration.

4. Plan how you are going to check for student understanding

Consider student questions that may arise.

5. Develop a closure

Summarise the key points covered, referring to the learning outcomes. Leave your listeners with something to remember, for example, a quotation, an on-screen image, a call to action, a connection that reverberates back to your catchy introduction, a curiosity-inspiring transition to the next class session. Try concluding using the same approach you used in the introduction – if you started with a provocative quotation or question, return to it.

6. Create a realistic timeline

Be flexible and adapt to the specific classroom environment. If students ask questions that generate a useful discussion, make sure you modify your lesson plan to allow that discussion to occur.

Lesson planning applies not only to your “content” class sessions but also to your first and last class session. A successful first day can be a key component of a successful class. See our section on Teaching Practice for ideas about planning and delivering day one. 

Organising content in your class session

The order that you present content in your class session, and your course as a whole, will be influenced by a number of factors including the discipline, the course level, the course design and your approach to teaching practice. Here are some approaches to organising content for you to consider.

  • Cause-Effect: Events are cited and explained (ie, one can demonstrate how the continental revolutionary movements of the late 1700’s affected British politics at the turn of the century).
  • Time sequential: Ideas are arranged chronologically (ie, explaining the steps in a clinical supervision model by talking about the first step to be undertaken, the second step and so forth).
  • Topical (Compare and Contrast): Related elements of various selected topics are focused on successively (ie, etiologies, typical histories and predisposing factors of various diseases).
  • Problem-Solution: The statement of a problem is followed by alternate solutions (ie, the Cuban missile crisis could begin with a statement of the foreign policy problem followed by a presentation of the alternative solutions available to the president).
  • Pro-Con: A two-sided discussion of a given topic is presented (ie, the advantages and disadvantages of banning single-use plastic bags).
  • Ascending-Descending: Topics are arranged according to their importance, familiarity, or complexity (ie, when introducing students to animal diseases, the diseases of primary importance could be discussed first, the tertiary/less important ones last).