Confused about lesson planning? Look no further for some top tips for success

Experienced chemistry teacher Laura Scoular and her former mentee Hayley Russell recently caught up about the challenges and rewards of lesson planning and why it’s so essential for student and probationary science teachers.

People having a conversation

Source: © Stuart Kinlough/Ikon Images

Talking points: how to perfect your lesson planning skills

LAURA: I can’t believe we are halfway through the school year already.

HAYLEY: I know! The first student teachers have survived their initial placements. They asked a lot of questions about lesson planning and it got me thinking that we could have a wee chat about it.

LAURA: That’s a great idea. As an experienced teacher it’s something that becomes second nature, but as a student or new teacher it is something that can take up a huge amount of time.

HAYLEY: It is an important skill, though, and can make or break a lesson. I think that as a student – or even during the first few months of probation ­­– it is so important to have full lesson plans for every lesson.

LAURA: Some people have a script on their slides so they know exactly what to say. This is definitely helpful for definitions needed from the SQA course specifications, for example.

HAYLEY: Yes! I always have necessary definitions typed word for word. It’s also important to consult the benchmarks for the units you are teaching at any level. The book Teaching secondary chemistry by Chris Harrison is super helpful for new ideas when planning lessons.

LAURA: If I am mentoring students, I expect them to submit lesson plans to the class teachers at least 48 hours in advance.

HAYLEY: Absolutely. This gives the class teacher time to look it over and provide feedback to allow for any changes.

LAURA: It also lets the student get into good planning habits. I know I like to have things planned well in advance and try and keep a week ahead of my lessons.

HAYLEY: I agree. I’d be lost without my planner, although now that I’ve been teaching for a couple of years, I don’t go into as much depth as I used to. Keeping a week ahead is very helpful, especially for any practical lessons where equipment or food orders are required.

Recipe for success

LAURA: You can spend ages developing a lesson plan, but there are always some key things you have to focus on.

HAYLEY: It’s often best to start with previous knowledge the pupils may have. This doesn’t need to be only from things you have taught them. They may have knowledge from outside of school or from other subjects.

LAURA: It’s always really surprising just how much extra knowledge our pupils have.

HAYLEY: Exactly, and it could save you from repeating anything they already know.

LAURA: All your lesson plans should also include learning intentions and success criteria.

HAYLEY: I think people often struggle with the difference between learning intentions and success criteria. It can be easy to mix them up. Learning intentions are what pupils should know, understand or be able to do by the end of the lesson.

LAURA: Success criteria are harder to define. Effectively, it’s how pupils show they have achieved their learning intentions. You should use them to help pupils improve as they progress.

Additional considerations

HAYLEY: You also have to consider assessment in your planning.

LAURA: Absolutely. Formative assessment strategies are essential. It doesn’t have to be an official test every time.

HAYLEY: And making sure you are aware of the high-tariff pupils in your class can help you differentiate your assessment strategies or questioning. It is important to be aware of the pupils who have extra support, who need particular resources or who might not cope well with being questioned in front of the class.

LAURA: Make sure you mention what resources you require and ensure they are organised well in advance.

HAYLEY: I feel that a huge priority is placed on timings of lessons, particularly as a student. Timing can be very difficult.

LAURA: Pacing your lessons is definitely something that improves with experience. I still mess up timings sometimes! It is always better to have too much to do with a class than run out with 20 minutes to go.

HAYLEY: Agreed. This is where extension tasks come in handy.

Your lesson plan should also mention what homework you are issuing and how you are going to mark it. I really do believe that peer-marking homework exercises can be a great metacognitive tool. It is brilliant to see pupils providing feedback to one another on the learning process.

Essential tips for effective lesson planning

  • Create full lesson plans for every lesson.
  • Submit to class teacher at least 48 hours in advance for feedback purposes.
  • Consult benchmarks, Es and Os and the course spec.
  • Link your lesson content to previous knowledge and learning (both in and out of the classroom)
  • Learning intentions and success criteria – know the difference and why they are important!
  • There is no such thing as too much detail. Make sure you include: assessment strategies; homework; additional support needs; and active learning.

LAURA: I would also suggest that you save any digital material on a pen drive or a hard drive. Just in case there are any technical issues.

HAYLEY: Make sure you have all your consumables sorted, too. Anything that needs to be printed, laminated or cut out should be done well in advance of the lesson.

I like to make my lessons as active as possible, which sometimes means there can be more of this work to do, but it really is worth it.

LAURA: Make sure you have looked at any health and safety issues for any experiments you may be doing in class – refer to the SSERC guidelines in Scotland and CLEAPSS elsewhere in the UK.

HAYLEY: Before planning a series of lessons, it’s worth speaking to colleagues to make sure you are at the correct part of the course. It helps to improve understanding of how challenging pupils find particular topics, which lets you know if you need to speed up or take things a bit slower.

LAURA: You can also mention any partners you can use to enhance lessons. Could you bring in STEM ambassadors or external speakers?

HAYLEY: We have young STEM leaders and guest speakers in quite a lot. If you are going to use them you need to have all of the arrangements and paperwork done in advance.

LAURA: This sounds like a lot to do, but as you become experienced as a teacher your lesson plans will get more concise.

HAYLEY: As Leona Lewis would say, it’ll all get better in time!

Tune into Hayley and Laura’s podcasts  for tips on maintaining relationships and work-life balance.

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