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Teaching Guide: Writing Lesson Plans

There are many approaches to writing lesson plans. Some instructors develop their plans independently from scratch, while others borrow plans from a shared curriculum. Some carefully write out all the details for their lesson, while others use a brief outline. Your approach to writing lesson plans will depend on various factors: how well you know the material you're teaching, how long you've been teaching, the kinds of teaching you've done, and the students you expect to have in your class. There is no single formula for writing lesson plans, but this guide will help you think through some of the processes that other instructors have found valuable to their own lesson planning.

Guidelines for writing lesson plans:

Consider Your Destination

When creating lesson plans, always keep your destination in mind. Where do you want students to end up? If you're planning daily activities, think about how these activities connect to the larger goals for the course. Ask yourself, how will each activity prepare students for the upcoming portfolio assignment? Assuming that your assignment sheets accurately reflect the course goals, use them at the beginning of each unit to determine:

From these questions, create a list of smaller objectives to use as stepping stones for your destination. If you are planning writing assignments for student portfolios, your list of objectives may include:

Portfolio 1 - Objectives for Teaching Summary/Response

Sequence Your Objectives

While sequencing your objectives, consider how each one builds off another. How might one objective prepare students for learning another? If reading critically helps students summarize an argument, you might address your critical reading objective before teaching summary.

Also, think about what your students know. Given the information they already have, which objectives would be best met at certain points in the unit? Will simpler objectives work better at the start of a unit? Will more complicated objectives make clearer sense to students after some basic objectives have already been met?

Finally, determine how your sequencing of objectives will best meet these goals and requirements for the upcoming assignment.

Know Your Time Frame

While sequencing your objectives, be aware of the amount of time allotted for each portfolio. Based on the overall goals for the portfolio, determine how much time you will need to spend addressing each objective. Keep in mind that a single lesson will address only one or two objectives. Some of these goals will be easily met, while others will present a challenge for students. You may decide to build in extra time to review concepts that are more challenging.

Try to be flexible, but remain within a reasonable time frame. Spending three days on one essay may be too much (even if students are thrilled by the subject matter). One strategy to help you keep up your pace, is to utilize outside resources such as the CSU Writing Center or online tutorials. The Writing at CSU home page contains plenty of online resources as well. Use these resources to compliment discussions and save you some time in class.

Below is an example for how you might organize your sequence and time frame for the first student portfolio:

Portfolio I - Sequence and Time Frame for Objectives:
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4

Develop Activities to Meet Objectives

Once you've sequenced your objectives within a given time frame, the next step is to create activities that will help students meet each objective. Decide which activities are most relevant to your desired objectives. Take the time to revise existing activities and to create new ones that meet the needs of your class. You may also combine activities or eliminate some that seem less related to your objectives.

Two questions that you should always keep in mind when constructing activities are: "What do my students already know that will help them meet a desired objective?" And, "What activities will best help students meet a desired objective?"

Below is an example illustrating how you might design activities to meet a particular objective:

Objective: Students will use critical thinking skills and critical reading strategies to become better writers.

  1. Define critical reading and provide a list of strategies on an overhead (this is useful because many students do not know what critical reading is).
  2. Model critical reading strategies (show students how to implement critical reading strategies).
  3. Have students practice critical reading strategies with their homework.
  4. Ask students to respond to an in class writing, describing their experience with the critical reading assignment. Have them speculate as to how this process of critical reading will influence their own writing. As a group, discuss the connection between reading and writing.
Just as you did with objectives, you'll need to create a sequence and time frame for your activities. Which activities should come first? How much class time will each activity take? Planning this out ahead of time will help you create smoother transitions between activities and it will help you connect your activities to larger, writing-related objectives.

Check for Understanding

The final step in planning lessons is to make time for assessing students' learning. How will you check to see that students understand the new concepts you're teaching? When will you revisit the material that they didn't quite grasp?

Intervention along the way can help you learn what students are struggling with. Many instructors collect homework once a week, or assign quizzes and short writing exercises to assess their students' progress. Conferences and e-mail exchanges are other effective means for gauging students' understanding.

Depending on what you learn from using evaluative measures, you may need to revise your lesson plans. If students' homework indicates that they're having trouble summarizing main points, you may spend the first fifteen minutes of the next class reviewing this concept. Addressing such struggles early on will help students face the more challenging objectives that follow.

Just as you did with objectives, you'll need to create a sequence and time frame for your activities. Which activities should come first? How much class time will each activity take? Planning this out ahead of time will help you create smoother transitions between activities, and help you connect your activities to larger, writing-related objectives.

Sample Lesson Plan Format

Materials needed:
Class Announcements:

  1. Class Objectives: Write out the goals or objectives for class. Try to limit these to one or two things.
  2. Connection to Course Goals: Describe how your daily objectives connect to the overall course goals.
  3. Anticipatory Set: Sometimes referred to as a "hook." Use an informal Writing to Learn (WTL) exercise, a question, a quote, or an object to focus students' attention at the start of class. This activity should be brief and directly related to the lesson.
  4. Introduction: Write down what you'll need to inform students of the daily goals and class procedures. Be sure to explain how these procedures relate to students' own writing.
  5. Procedures: List your activities, including any discussion questions and transitions along the way.
  6. Conclusion: Describe the objective for the lesson and point students forward by connecting your objective to their own writing.
  7. What to do Next Time: Leave space in your plan to reflect on the lesson and suggest future changes.
Also see the guide on Planning a Class for help with writing introductions, transitions, and conclusions.