6 Killer Tips to Improve Your Lesson Planning

Erica Darr, M. Mus

Jul 3, 2017

One of my favorite quotes is: “I love it when a plan comes together”. I especially love it when a good lesson plan comes together.

All good lessons start with a good plan, and it is essential for teachers to have a good grasp of writing effective lesson plans. Lesson planning can seem intimidating at times but if you keep these six tips in mind, you will have more confidence in the process.

1. Start With The End In Mind

Initially, it seems odd to think of planning a lesson starting at the end, but it actually makes the most sense from a planning perspective.

Let us use the analogy of taking an extended trip. It makes little sense to get in the car and start driving without having mapped out a location for the end of the trip. Instead, you would pinpoint where your journey would start, where it would end, and plan out various stops along the way.

Planning out lessons should function this very same way, and starting at the end gives you a purpose and destination to progress towards.

2. Set Goals and Benchmarks Throughout

If we stick with the analogy of an extended trip, it would be necessary to plan stops along the way.

In a lesson, these ‘stops’ are reflections, checks for understanding, and assessments. These components have to be a part of the plan because it is important to constantly and efficiently check student progress. There are many different means and methods that can be used for these reflections and assessments.

However, regardless of the methods used, assessment must be included in the plan to confirm that students have learned what you attempted to teach them as they navigate towards mastery of the lesson objectives.

3. Anticipate Challenges

How many times have you gone on a trip and packed a first-aid kit or spare cash? We do this, not because we know we will need them, but if an emergency strikes, we want to be prepared.

The same goes for a lesson. For skills and techniques that are more complex, it is always best to have multiple ways to teach them. This can be an active part of the lesson, or simply a backup in case there is a need to attack a concept from a different perspective. This part of the planning process requires a good working knowledge of your students so you can fully anticipate which skills, concepts, or techniques will be challenging.

4. Incorporate Three Levels of Skills and Concepts

Any fun, engaging trip includes a variety of activities to keep the trip interesting and to get everyone involved. When planning a lesson, this means incorporating what I call: “The Three Levels”.

Level One involves activities that are review or slightly below their current level. It helps to reinforce and review the basics of important concepts.

Level Two includes activities that are right where they are at that moment.

Level Three activities provide a challenge or something slightly above where they are. I have found that this approach ensures that students retain and review the basics, focus on present skills, and also expand their thinking into something challenging.

5. Include a List Of Needed Materials

My husband and I always make a packing list when we go on trips. We started making these lists because no one wants to pause vacation time to run to a local store to buy the swimsuit that did not get packed!

Effective lessons should also include a materials list. I did not always do this, but one day I had (what I felt was) an awesome lesson planned, only later to realize that I needed index cards and I did not have any! Had I made a list ahead of time, I would have been able to grab a pack from the supply room down the hall, but instead I was stuck tearing up pieces of paper to improvise on the spot.

It was not one of my best teaching moments. Ever since, I have always made a point to make a list of all the materials and technology that I need for each lesson. This includes items that I will need like a visual prop or metronome, but also materials that the students will need, such as their music theory book, headphones, or a repertoire piece.

6. Put Yourself In Your Student’s Shoes

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given about lesson planning was to put myself in my student’s shoes. If I was a student, would I be getting the greatest benefit from this lesson? Is this lesson relevant and meaningful?

If the answer to these questions is no, then consider some additional ways you can make the lesson connect with your students and with the world. Is there a way to connect this new skill with something they already know? I love using popular music to demonstrate theory concepts because it makes the concept real to them.

It is important to be goal-oriented and to meet objectives, but always remember that we don’t just teach lessons. We teach students.

Erica Darr is currently the director of choral activities and guitar instruction in the Greater Nashville area. She has taught for 13 years in public school and private studio settings. Connect with her on her Well Fed Music Ed blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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