The Best Way to De-Stress Lesson Planning
Every year, teachers find themselves with more and more responsibilities – and less and less time to plan and grade. It often feels like there is no time to actually teach.
Lesson planning is central to teaching, but it can take forever. Moreover, it can feel like a shot in the dark – what should be taught and when? Even if districts provide a yearly curriculum map, teachers don’t necessarily know how to hook one lesson to another.
When I first started teaching, planning and preparing lessons took forever, and it usually happened on my evenings and weekends. It was so stressful to never know what I was doing the next day or the next week. Planning like that leads to burn out.
So How Can Teachers Plan More Effectively And In Less Time?
For me, lesson planning became easier and more effective once I stopped planning individual lessons and started thinking in units. A unit covers multiple weeks instead of one period, and it provides a framework for understanding how the lessons fit together to build student mastery.
Once I stopped trying to plan individual lessons, I actually gained more time to teach. First, I planned weeks of lessons instead of planning every day. Second, I no longer blindly followed my given curriculum, blindly teaching every lesson even though they didn’t all fit my standards.
Moreover, I could reuse my units each year, tweaking the overall plan to fit my new students or improving a lesson within the unit. I no longer had to recreate the wheel every day.
How Do I Start Planning Units?
If you are new to developing units, I advise you to start small – pick a topic that you are very comfortable teaching and enjoy. Don’t try to plan every unit at once – they become easier to plan with practice. By starting with your favorite topic, you gain experience in unit planning on a subject you already know well. (We all have topics that we have to learn before we can teach them – work on those later.)
The best plans focus on your learning standards. Analyze your standards. Which ones fit your unit topic? For example, if you are creating your Colonial America unit, pull out all of the social studies standards for Colonial America. You need to fit all of them into your unit, but some may be given more emphasis than others. You should also pick out skills that easily fit into your unit, such as specific reading and writing skills. These standards can be used to support the content standards. For example, a lesson within the unit might teach both main idea and the Colonial regions.
Once you have identified your standards, determine what students should know and be able to do at the end of your unit. Use that to develop your student goals. Perhaps they should be able to explain the cultural difference between the colonies by writing an essay comparing the regions. Once you have identified your final goals, you can develop your unit, designing lessons that build students knowledge and abilities until they can successfully complete the final activity.
Planning units changed my teaching completely. I felt more in control of my class, because I knew what students needed to learn and how my lessons fit together. I no longer stressed about having plans each week, because I had plans ready for a few weeks. I felt more relaxed and effective.
If you would like to learn more about unit planning, please see How to Develop a Unit Plan.