This is a photo of a teacher writing a lesson plan.

As a teacher, you understand the importance of foundational skills, both for your students and for yourself. There is no more important foundational skill for running a successful classroom than the ability to write a lesson plan that will help to foster authentic curiosity, focused engagement and creative thinking.

Whether you’re a newer teacher still finding your footing or a longtime teacher with plenty of tricks up your sleeve, there’s no better time than the present to review your current process for opportunities to improve, and we’re here to help!

Why Are Lesson Plans Important?

An effective lesson plan will be more than just a list of topics to be crossed off throughout the day—at a minimum, it should include the lesson’s learning objectives, learning activities and a knowledge check to assess how well students understand the material. A super effective lesson plan will also plan for the unexpected by including some extra time for questions, tangents and mini classroom discussions where you and your students can learn from each other.

The mere existence of an effective lesson plan will make your teaching life exponentially easier. By having a clear understanding of the goals of your lesson and a defined strategy for how to meet those goals, you’ll improve your students’ abilities to learn the material and apply that knowledge to future lessons.

Set Your Learning Goals

Rather than explaining what students will do, try to focus more on what students will learn. As for any other situation where goals are to be set, the goals in your classroom lesson plan should be specific and measurable.

First, determine which state learning standards will be addressed with your lesson. This will help you set goals for each lesson based on your school’s curriculum and the knowledge your students are already starting from.

Next, find your old—or a new—collection of materials and activities for the topic you’ll be covering with your lesson. Look over your resources and decide the best way to present the information in the lesson by using what you’ve got, adapting it to better fit the state learning standards you’ll be working on or finding something completely new or different!

Finally, consider your students. Where are they currently on their path to mastering your state learning standards? Where do you believe they’re capable of getting to by the end of the lesson (or the end of the topic)?

Consider the Big Picture

The more you’re able to plan ahead now, the more time you’ll be able to save in the future. Ideally, you could finish next year’s lesson plan over the summer break—but we also know a lot of fantastic teachers who plan their lessons from week to week (and occasionally from day to day). If that’s how you do your lesson planning and it works for you, we support you! If you’d rather plan ahead in the future or maybe discover some new tips, read on!

When you create a lesson plan, it’s incredibly beneficial to take some time to plan not just your individual lesson plans, but also how you intend to teach the entire topic. Creating a meta lesson plan that explains how the lessons relate to each other and establishes the most effective order in which to teach them can be very helpful.

It will save you time and help you avoid teaching the same details more than once or in more than one lesson (unless you’re doing that intentionally to reinforce those details over a series of lessons).

This is also a good time to note any equipment needed, resources and materials that will be used and vocabulary or skills you want to introduce to your students at the beginning of the lesson. Front-loading information in this way has been determined to make it easier for students to learn and retain the new information more effectively.

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Time for Time Management

One of the key points of lesson planning is determining how much time should be devoted to each lesson so that your elementary school class can fully learn all the necessary material without spending so much time going over the same thing that your students lose interest.

Every plan should include the approximate amount of time you intend to spend teaching the lesson—with some bonus time in there for extra questions, classroom discussion or just joking around and having a fun time!

While some classes may breeze through certain topics much faster than expected, others may not be so quick to pick it up. If you start to notice a pattern, like the majority of students showing signs of disinterest or becoming frustrated and confused, be prepared to shorten or extend your lesson plan to accommodate for your class’s needs.

Know Your Classroom

No two classrooms are ever the same, and your lesson plans should be written with that in mind. Does your class include students with IEPs? Does your classroom include gifted students? Do you have students who appear to understand the lesson when you talk to them about it but fail assessments or knowledge checks? You may need to modify, shorten or lengthen your lessons depending on any number of factors.

Keep these things in mind when you’re writing your lesson plan (or when you’re modifying your existing lesson plans for a new classroom).

It’s also beneficial to have a good understanding of the different types of learners you have in your classroom.

  • Visual learners respond best to images and graphics. They learn by watching someone else do something or viewing a diagram of how to do something, before imitating what they see. This type of learner tends to have a good memory for visual instructions and rarely needs to be shown how to do something more than a couple of times.
  • Auditory learners respond best to verbal instruction. They learn by listening to someone explain how to do something, and then following the verbal instructions they were told. This type of learner tends to have a good memory for verbal instructions and will be able to complete the task without asking for the instructions again or needing to refer to notes (if they take notes, they may be the next type of learner).
  • Read/write learners respond best to written instructions. They learn by reading the instructions and then following the instructions they’ve read. This type of learner often prefers to keep the written instructions on-hand to refer to while completing the task; they don’t necessarily memorize the instructions after reading them.
  • Kinesthetic learners respond best to a tactile, hands-on approach. They learn by experimenting and would rather try to figure something out themselves than be given instructions. This type of learner can become frustrated by lessons that don’t have a tactile aspect. Any time you can add a hands-on portion to your lesson will be fun for the whole classroom and especially benefit kinesthetic learners.

You can survey your students and ask them how they learn best to determine what learning styles you should emphasize.

How You’ll Make It Happen

Once your goals are set and you have a good understanding of how your students best come to understand the world, choose an assortment of activities to help reinforce the lesson. The different activities you choose should ideally engage several different types of learning styles throughout the day, both allowing students to learn in their preferred way and challenging them to sometimes try another way of learning to find out whether it works for them.

In addition to offering activities that target different learning styles throughout the day’s lessons, it’s also an amazing trait if you’re able to teach the same lesson plan to engage with different learning styles. This can mean something like having a math worksheet and also providing something tactile for students to use to visualize the math problem.

Knowledge Check

At the end of the lesson, you’ll evaluate the success of the lesson plan by assessing how well your students have learned the new information. Knowledge checks can be done in many different ways, including quizzes, standardized assessments, worksheets or writing assignments.

You can have your students teach back to you (or each other) or summarize what they learned. You can also lead a classroom discussion to review the material and address any remaining questions your students have.

This helps you to be sure that your students are on track to meet their academic goals and gives you more opportunities to reinforce anything that your students are failing to understand. You can add additional practice like a short homework activity, revisit the material as part of a future lesson or more deeply evaluate whether a student could benefit from additional learning resources.

This will also help you find places where your lesson plan could benefit from updates to make it more effective. You could also replace it with another lesson plan that could better teach the material.

Plan Your Segues

Imagine doing story time for your reading lesson and then after you’ve finished leading the classroom discussion about the story, you immediately switched to a math lesson with everyone still sitting in a circle in the reading area. Sounds jarring, right? To avoid a similar—albeit far less over-the-top—version of events, make sure to plan how you’ll switch from teaching one subject to teaching the next.

If you have a convenient recess or lunch bell time, that’s an easy one. It can also be helpful to put similar topics—or topics that have at least one thing in common—in the lesson plan one after the other so that you can use the thing in common as a way to help bridge the gap between topics.

A Word on Templates

Yes. The word is yes. We are strongly in favor of using templates whenever possible to save time you’d otherwise waste recreating work you’ve already done before. 

Buy, borrow or create your own lesson plan template that includes the following:

  • A title including the subject, topic and grade level
  • State-specific, school-specific and general educational standards the lesson should address
  • How the lesson relates or reinforces other lessons throughout the year
  • Teacher-specific standards you want your classroom to achieve
  • Activities, material and resources that will be used in the lesson, including web links or any equipment you’ll need from the school
  • Vocabulary words that will be learned during the lesson
  • A knowledge check to track how well students learned the lesson

Customize and format the lesson to your liking, save it as a template in your word processing program of choice and go take a 20-minute break. You’ve earned it with all the time you’re going to save the next time you have a lesson plan to write!

Help Your Students Become Published Authors!

You can help your class create their very own classbook and become published authors by using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll provide everything you need to publish your students’ writing and illustrations, including any help you need along the way.

Nearly any classroom subject or area of focus is the perfect place to start brainstorming about your classbook project! Each of your students will contribute one page of text and one page of illustration to help create something so much more than the sum of its parts—you’ll get a free classroom copy, and parents can also order copies to keep at home as a literary time capsule and keepsake for the future.

You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you have more insight on how to write a lesson plan for your elementary school class, your students will benefit even more from your gentle guidance and commitment to their future success!