Lesson planning

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As a trainee you will probably be expected to write a detailed lesson plan for your teaching course. Of course, you want to be prepared, but where do you start, and how should you go about planning lessons throughout your career?

Effective teaching, which is crucial for students’ understanding and progression, is supported by effective planning (DfE, 2017). However, lesson planning is not a form-filling exercise – it’s a process of thought and reflection. Planning a lesson should begin with what you want students to learn, rather than what they should do – it should fit into your broader scheme of work, involving the topic you are teaching, the knowledge students already have, and what you want them to take away from the lesson (McGill, 2017).

What does this mean in practice? There are a range of options to consider in the planning process that can help to make it efficient and effective for you and your students:

1 Get to know the students you’ll be teaching

Before planning your lesson, you need to be sure about who it is you are teaching. Of course, you need to know the basics – year group, subject, set – but what other information can you find out about the individuals in your class? What are their names? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are there any children with SEN? What are their likes and dislikes? Look at their details, but also ask other teachers who teach these students for anecdotal evidence to help build up a full picture.

2 Find out what they know

This is particularly important if you are teaching a one-off lesson. Find out what was covered in the last few lessons they have had. You don’t want to be repeating content they’ve already studied or steaming ahead to something they won’t understand. Find out what they learnt and ensure the content you decide to teach fits chronologically with the previous lessons.

3 Decide what your aim for the lesson is

Avoid lesson planning traps – particularly ones that focus on interesting activities. One may come across (or try to find) a ‘good’ activity and then reverse engineer the lesson objectives to match the likely outcomes of the activity. Over time this can become an exercise in keeping students busy.

4 Focus on the reality

The need for planning lessons will never go away, but this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours making individual lesson plans.

5 Keep the objectives simple

Over-planning generally leads to ‘under-learning’. Be wary of including too many activities and objectives. Break objectives down, and don’t try to cover too much content.

6 Focus on the learning

Too often, lesson planning begins without focus on the learning: the bigger picture is not examined. Try asking yourself these questions:

  1. Where are the students starting from?
  2. Where do you want the students to get to?
  3. How will you know when they are there?
  4. How can you best help them get there?

Finally and perhaps most importantly …

7 Don’t try and do everything!

You are a trainee teacher in your first few terms of teaching. There is a lot to learn. It’s better to focus on one or two elements that you want to practice and refine in this lesson, than to try and cram in everything you’ve learnt so far and not really do any of them properly. If you refine, for example, your Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques in one lesson, then next time they will come more naturally to you and you can move on to adding in a new starter technique without overloading yourself.

For more tips, pick up Ross’ book Mark. Plan. Teach. at: bit.ly/MarkPlanTeach.


DfE (2017) Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Planning and Teaching Resources: Report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group. Great Britain: Department for Education.
McGill R (2017) Mark. Plan. Teach: Save Time, Reduce Workload, Impact Learning. London: Bloomsbury Education.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. A
    Angela Murphy

    This will be a great article to direct trainees to once they start to take on the responsibility for lesson planning. Gets straight to the heart of why we plan and what the plan should help teachers to achieve for their students – and he thought processes that make sure this can happen. Thank you.

  2. P
    Paul Marsden

    Fortunately, I have read this at about the right time. I feel like I am now starting to struggle with the workload. So it has been nice to remind myself that I am new to the job and I can’t learn everything at once.

  3. G
    Gemma Goulding

    This was so reassuring to read, it is important to understand that as a trainee you are at the beginning of your learning journey and are not expected to know and do everything that a fully qualified teacher does. It all comes in time and you get better and better!

  4. h

    I have, in the past, been activity lead rather than learning lead. I now have a class that I know really well so can strip back on the need to ‘keep them busy’ whilst I get to know them and really plan how to take them on a learning journey.

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