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Take the Pain Out of Planning: 5 Tips to Kick the Lesson Planning Blues

Lesson plans. Those two words instantly kick up the blood pressure for nearly any teacher. But don’t stress. Instead, follow this advice for creating low-stress, highly effective lesson plans.

1. Focus on Standards and Goals

If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? “I start with lesson plan pages I create myself,” says Kathryn Satterfield, second-grade teacher at Chapin Elementary School in Chapin, SC. “They are adapted according to the English-Languages Arts and Math programs our school has adopted.” Have a copy of Common Core or other required learning standards handy to keep the overall requirements in focus as you create your plans.

Help your students focus, too, by sharing your plans. Begin each lesson by telling students what the lessons are for the day. Be sure to cover what they are expected to learn, and why it’s important. This gives the kids a context for learning and provides a structure that many young minds need.

2. Use a Calendar

It seems so obvious, but overlooking a holiday or early release day can throw you way off course. Be sure to customize your calendar to include a daily schedule in addition to school holidays and in-school events and field trips.

A custom calendar “allows me to be creative in my planning when considering all subject areas, such as science and social studies,” says Satterfield. “My plans also follow my daily schedule so that anyone who comes into my classroom can see what I’m working on.” That’s especially helpful for substitute teachers, aides and parent volunteers.

3. Don’t Over-Pack the Schedule

Students need time to absorb new material, so create a realistic timeline for lessons. “Always plan some extra time for student questions and class discussions,” suggests Mindy Zaidman, special elementary educator at Public School 251Q in Queens, NY. “Don’t try to cram everything into one lesson.”

Things don’t always go exactly according to plan and students don’t always learn on your schedule. Check your plans at the end of the day to make adjustments based on your pacing and the students’ needs. That allows you to regroup for the following day, and makes planning for the next grading period and even the next year more efficient.

4. Keep It Simple

Don’t make lesson planning more difficult than it has to be. “If I can streamline my lesson plans so they can be in a format of ‘fill-in-the-blank’ when appropriate, then I can better use my time for something else,” says Satterfield.

Zaidman likes an electronic format. “If you’re unable to complete a lesson, you can just copy and paste the lesson to use for the following day.” Use spreadsheet software to build a form that includes your learning goals, materials required, standards met and projected time required.

5. Check Your Progress

Most folks have at least one bad memory of a trip to the chalkboard in front of the class. Though it seemed the teacher’s soul focus was humiliation, it was more than likely an ill-planned attempt to assess the effectiveness of that day’s lesson.

“How will you know the students have learned it?” asks Jeff Kurtz, third-grade teacher at Black Diamond Elementary School in Black Diamond, WA. “Teaching is not one size fits all.” Good lesson planning includes a way to assess whether the students have achieved the learning goal and can apply it. Try classroom discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and even no-grade pop quizzes to check and record class progress. Then update your lesson plan to include the assessment and the results.

Mastering efficient lesson planning can lower your stress and boost your confidence in the classroom. Still feeling overwhelmed? Kurtz recommends seeking the advice of a fellow teacher. “Probably your most valuable resource is a trusted colleague.”

The daughter and granddaughter of teachers, Carolyn Evans saw early on that the education profession required unwavering dedication and countless hours of work. She currently serves on the School Improvement Council for Chapin Elementary and volunteers regularly. Follow Carolyn on Google+.

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