The Basics of Lesson Planning


Lesson planning is one of the most important things teachers do. Many methods and formats for lesson planning have circulated within teacher preparation programs and professional development seminars. Today, I’d like to reduce them down to the most essential points, and show you how I go about planning my music lessons.

The best place to start is at the end. After you have taught the session, what do you want your students to have learned or to be able to do? This is called the objective. Because everything you and they do during that class period must be moving toward achieving the day’s goal, that goal must be clearly stated before the class gets under way. Your objective must contain the answers to these two questions:

  1. By the time this class period is over, what will my students understand or be able to do as a result of their time in my class today?
  2. How does their new understanding or ability to do something fit in to the overall plan for the course, what they have already learned, and what I plan to teach them in the future? Individual lessons should be part of a series of related and sequential classes that lead to an essential goal.

The answers to these questions must direct everything else you do, and be measureable.  Every day, an assessment should take place that lets you and the students know where they are in relation to where they started and where they are going. Each individual class must have manageable, realistic goals that balance between challenge and skill set so that students stay motivated and keep moving toward the goal.

Once you know your objective for the class, post it so the students know what is expected. Teachers can hardly expect students to work toward a goal if the teacher is the only one who knows what that goal is. Post the objective in the front of the room where everyone can see it, and make sure every student knows the objective at the beginning of class.

After stating the objective, the next section describes what you and the students will do during the lesson to prepare for meeting the objective. Use three basic steps to learning: learn how, practice with help, do without help. Begin by telling, showing, demonstrating, or describing how to do what you want the students to do. If you are going for an understanding, use your own stories, comparisons, pictures, or whatever it takes to transfer understanding to students, then have students come up with stories, comparisons, pictures, or whatever to practice communicating their understanding to you with prompting if necessary. Next, have students explain the concept without prompting. If you are going for a performance, use the same sequence substituting performing for describing or explaining. The sequence is always this: first you do it, then the students do it with you, and then the students do it. Always find the simplest way to achieving a goal. Keep all learning activities as simple as possible. They must be cost effective. Activities that are time-consuming and complicated but that result in little gain in knowledge or proficiency should be avoided, no matter how clever or fun they may seem.

Generally, lesson plans describe what the teacher will be doing during the course of a lesson, but planning what the students will be doing every step of the way is just as important. Indicate in your plan when the students will be writing, responding, singing, playing instruments, brainstorming, working alone, working in groups, etc. Thinking the lesson through from the students’ view allows you to solve logistical problems before they happen, and forces you to consider what needs to be set up, or what needs to be moved during the lesson. It also helps you be sure you actually have something for all students to do at all times. Plan where you will be and where the students will be throughout the lesson. Always arrange the room so that you can come up along side every student at any time completely unobstructed.

With all of this in mind, here is what a typical lesson plan template might look like:

  1. Objective (Post in the front of the room): (What do I want my students to understand or do to by the end of the lesson?)

How does this relate to what my students have already learned?

How will this be of value or be applied in future lessons?

  1. I do—Teach: show, demonstrate, model, explain, and/or describe what students will do. Describe exactly what you and then they will do.
  1. We do—Repeat step 3, but this time with the students doing it with you. (Use some combination of questioning, discussion, performance, writing)
  1. They do—Repeat step 3 again, but this time have the students do it without your help.
  1. Assess—This can be done during step 4, or it can be a short culminating activity. Every student and you must know how s/he has done before they leave the classroom that day.

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