When it comes to teaching, lesson planning is a necessary evil. While lesson planning can look vastly different depending on your district or administration expectations, the fact remains that teachers spend a lot of time doing it.

But we have some good news! Simple habits can help you save hours every week without sacrificing the quality of your lessons. Below we have compiled 11 tried-and-tested tips that are sure to reduce stress and save time!

11 Time-Saving Lesson-Planning Tips

  • Track your planning time
  • Set aside focus time
  • Find your ideal planning time
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants
  • Work with your colleagues
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Use templates
  • Utilize a top-down approach
  • Plan in batches
  • Ask your class to help
  • Use social media to your advantage

1. Track Your Planning Time

When you help students set their own personal goals to achieve, you know the secret is to make sure the goals are specific and measurable. Use this same strategy for your own goal-setting!

To save time when you’re planning your lessons, you first have to know how much time you’re spending on it in the first place. Start by tracking how much time you spend planning your lessons using a productivity app or another time-tracking tool. You can also jot down start and end times on your lesson plan notes.

After a few weeks, you might look back and be surprised by how much time you’ve spent on lesson plans. Don’t see this as a defeat! Instead, look at it as an opportunity. Once you find and implement the lesson planning strategy that works for you, you can start reclaiming your time.

2. Set Aside Focus Time

From community forums for teachers to inspirational websites and social media, lesson planning can be a collaborative activity. Getting lost in Pinterest boards and talking through lesson plan ideas with other teachers helps to abate some of the isolation teachers can feel while they’re stuck at home grading papers and preparing for the next day.

We’re not suggesting you stop doing those things. However, it can be useful to set aside blocks of “focus time” to spend exclusively on one task. Spend one focus block of around 10-15 minutes on looking for inspiration. Then, spend a focus block on gathering and modifying activities for your class. Spend yet another focus block on finding engaging media related to your planned lessons.

Repeat this process until you have everything that you need. Then, spend a final focus block on the lesson plan itself, where you put everything together!

Keep in mind while you’re working to focus on that one specific thing and avoid rabbit holes when possible. Sure, it’s intellectually fulfilling when you let the research take the wheel and allow yourself to go wherever your mind wanders. However, this can end up costing you precious time.

Maybe you start by searching traditional Irish folktales to share with your class for St. Patrick’s Day and then a few hours later, after you’ve clicked a series of semi-related links, you’re deep in the etymology of the Scottish language. That’s amazing!—but now you don’t have any Irish folktales to share. Take the focused path instead, bookmarking the interesting but unrelated links you want to check out later.

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3. Find Your Ideal Planning Time

You’re probably used to doing your lesson planning whenever you can find the time—but are you using the right time? Ideally, you want to choose a time of day when you’ll be the most effective, creative and efficient. If you know exactly when that time is for you, try to use that time for lesson planning whenever possible. At the very least, make a sincere effort to do your lesson planning when you’re not exhausted and checked out of the day.

Being strategic about when you plan your lessons means you’ll be able to devote more focused time to planning said lessons. You’ll be able to accomplish more work in less time!

4. Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

There’s something almost magical about creating a lesson plan that is fully your own: your own style, all the information you want to share, eclectic yet somehow cohesive because it was made by you.

That being said, there are tons of resources at your fingertips where all this work has already been done for you (or mostly done for you if you want to customize it).

Consider investing in a year-long resource bundle from a site like Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers can post their activities, lesson plans and other resources for other teachers to buy. The year-long resource bundles are generally a better deal than paying for individual activities throughout the year.

Plus, they help you organize the whole year from a more top-down perspective, which we’ll talk about more later.

5. Work with Your Colleagues

Collaborative lesson planning can be both fun time and work time. Ideally, you’ll want to plan with no more than one or two people (any more than that, and it’s a party. Save that for the actual party time). Consider working with other teachers who have a similar teaching style, teach the same grade level and know how to stay focused on the task at hand.


6. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Unless you’re a first-year teacher (welcome!) or it’s your first year teaching a new grade level (you’re going to do great. Good luck!), you likely taught the same curriculum last year, meaning last year’s lesson plans are the perfect place to start.

Rather than reinventing your whole lesson plan, just refresh it! Update the pop culture references and anything related to current events; put more emphasis on anything that was extremely popular with last year’s class, and try a different tactic for anything that was… less popular. The best part is that you can do this every year and continue to refine your lesson plan until it’s perfect and achieves the results you want.

The key to making this a real time saver is to put some serious consideration into your file management. Organizing files—whether they’re paper or digital—certainly isn’t the most interesting or entertaining task. However, you’ll thank your past self for putting in the extra effort when it’s easy to find what you’re looking for by the time next year comes around.

7. Use Templates

If getting started is the hardest part or your strength is closer to editing than iteration, make a simple template that allows you to fill in the details.

This can be nothing more than a list of all the main bullet points of your everyday classroom routine: greeting each other, mini-lesson, activity, recess, etc. Once you have the template, it’s easier to fill in the specific information, subjects and activities you’ll be working on each day!

8. Utilize a Top-Down Approach

How often do you plan a week’s lessons one day at a time before realizing midway through the week that things have gone off-track enough that you need to take the lesson in a completely different direction? If your answer to this question is “often,” then you should consider using a more top-down approach.

Create a lesson plan for the entire week, rather than focusing on one day at a time. Establishing everything you intend to get through at the beginning of the week (list the lessons, activities, videos, chapters, etc.) will make it easier to fit everything into each day.

teacher-asking-his-students-a-questionIt will also be less stressful to move things around as needed since you’ll have a good idea of how much progress has been made during the week, as well as how much you still need to cover.

9. Plan in Batches

Have you ever tried sitting down one weekend and writing all your math lesson plans for the next month or two? If not, give it a try! You won’t regret it.

Planning your lessons in batches organized by subject saves the time you spend getting out the pacing guides, textbooks and resources each day before sorting through those to build on previous lessons and set up future plans.

Front-load all that time into one lesson planning session. You’ll be surprised at how much faster it is to plan four weeks of one subject than it is to plan one week for several subjects.

Spend one day doing all your math lesson plans and the next doing your reading or science lesson plans. If you plan for one month of lessons each day, you’ll only need to spend the last week of the month lesson planning for the next month!

tip If you really want to get ahead of the game, try to do as much lesson planning as possible during the summer break. Working in subject-based batches will make the lesson planning go even quicker, and you’ll be able to get back to some much-needed down time!

10. Ask Your Class to Help

Giving your students a choice and a voice in their learning helps them build confidence, acknowledge how they like to learn and improve their decision-making. It can also save you a lot of time! 

Break down the concepts they’ll need to learn; allow them to explore the lessons, and have them do teach-backs to demonstrate what they’ve learned. You can also have smaller groups, like classroom pods, create lessons for the whole class. Assign each pod a subject for the day, and you’re all set!

11. Use Social Media to Your Advantage

You can plan a long lecture, or you can find a YouTube video or a TikTok (follow us while you’re there!) that teaches the same thing in a fun and engaging format in just a few minutes—difficult choice, right?

There are nearly limitless options when it comes to online content creators specializing in kid-friendly versions of scientific, mathematical and language arts concepts. Many of them have scripts written by people with advanced degrees in the subjects they explore.

There’s Always Room for Improvement!

Saving time when you’re planning your lessons isn’t a goal to achieve once and forever; it’s a process that requires consistent review and recalibration. Try some of these tips over a set period of time and evaluate how it went. 

Consider what really worked for you and what didn’t work at all. Is there a chance the things that didn’t work could work if you made some small changes? Is there a new tip you think might work especially well?

When it comes to anything to do with teaching, our general advice is to keep whatever works for you and your classroom and chuck the rest (with exception to any mandated standards set by your school and district; work within all of that as best as you can)!

Turn Your Students into Published Authors!

If you’re looking for an easy, engaging and creative activity that you can include in your lesson plans, our FREE classbook publishing kits are the perfect fit! Turning your students into published authors takes less time than you’d expect, and our publishing project can be easily adapted for any class, lesson, topic or theme.

Simply sign up online, and we’ll turn your young learners into published authors. We include a step-by-step guide and suggested timeline so that you can stay on track, and we’re available to help throughout the entire process. You can also read this blog post that explains the entire process in detail.

A classbook makes for a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom, and your students’ parents can order copies, too!

You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you’ve banked so much saved time, put it to good use by relaxing and recharging. Never forget to carve out some time for yourself!