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3 key components of an effective lesson plan

Joanna BurnsOctober 16, 2018

Teacher Helping Male High School Student In Classroom

Are you discouraged because you can’t seem to get your students to pay attention in class? Are you tired of looking back at a sea of young, unresponsive faces while teaching lesson plans that you spent hours putting together? Perhaps you’re even doubting your calling as a teacher and suspect you should’ve joined the circus or been a zookeeper instead.

Before you pack your bags and head to clown school, a little adjustment to your lesson planning may be a better solution. Besides, I hear that clown makeup doesn’t do anything for your skin except exacerbate acne and leave tracks of tears from crying about your terrible decisions.

To make the much better decision to improve your lesson plans, start by heeding a few simple yet effective tips from a fellow teacher. These three key components of a lesson plan will help to inspire your seemingly dispassionate students.

High School Students With Teacher In Class Using Laptops
Photo credit: Monkey Business

3 things  to think about when creating a lesson plan

1. Be mindful of your audience

It’s not about you — it’s about them

Before I even start tackling the what of my lessons, I wrestle with the who. When I’m planning a lesson, I do everything I can to avoid asking, “How am I going to teach this lesson?” Instead, I ask myself, “How will my students best learn this lesson?” Starting my lesson planning with an audience-driven approach enables me to develop lessons that are much more effective and engaging.

It’s very easy for us teachers to get lost in our learning objectives and the assignments that we think will best demonstrate student comprehension. However, when we get down to the neutrons and photons of teaching, the most important piece of the process is our audience, which is then followed by the contents of our lesson.

As teachers, we can forget that at the center of even the most complex lesson is a very simple truth: You have a message that must be communicated to your audience of students. Every teacher-student interaction begins at this fundamental intersection. With that in mind, I find it useful to put my marketing cap on and to reevaluate the different ways my students best consume and retain information.

After all, teaching is essentially selling information to your students in exchange for their attention. If you can’t convince them that they need the information you’re teaching, then they probably won’t pay you any attention.

Think about it: In every instance of communication, the speaker’s message will only be as strong as how well it is received by its listener.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where your go-to lesson plans haven’t been as effective as they once were with your previous classes, don’t forget that you were teaching that lesson to a different audience. While your message hasn’t changed, your delivery must be adjusted to meet the needs of your new audience.

For example, given the wealth of technology available, it’s a good idea to keep up with all the new learning tools and gadgets that are available to teachers. Students are immersed in technology outside the classroom. Finding a way to bring technology inside the classroom to help you with your lesson objectives is a sure way to resonate with your tech-savvy students. After all, the more tools you can use to reach your audience, the better.

Remember, teachers are communicators of invaluable messages to audiences that can vary in more ways than the Lannisters and the Starks. In order to win at the game of lesson planning, be mindful of the fact that your audience is just as important as the contents of your lesson.

2. Engage your students

Help them to help you … to help them

I established the importance of an audience-minded approach to lesson planning in the first tip I offered. So, it makes perfect sense that the second tip on planning better lessons is to create opportunities for your students to actually engage with your lesson.

In other words, help your students help you by providing them with ways to make their learning more interactive. In doing so, you’re better equipped to help them learn what they need because they’ll actually be paying attention in class.

Disclaimer: I know that this probably sounds like old advice to seasoned and novice teachers alike. Nonetheless, please don’t be quick to dismiss it. It’s more important than you think.

Coupled with keeping an audience-minded approach, this old piece of advice has the power to breathe new life into your lessons if you let it.

Let me offer myself as an example.

With the needs of my student audience at the forefront of my lesson planning, I found that I was encouraged to create more meaningful ways for my students to engage with my lessons. In the past, my lesson planning was more about me than it was about my students. But now, I’ve been inspired to enhance my lessons with more meaningful and customized engagement activities.

As a former high school English teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching fourteen-year-olds “boring” poetry. The old me used to focus on content. I’d try to pick the poems that were the least “boring” to teach, but I was riddled with anxiety with how I was going to maintain my students’ attention for the next three weeks as a result. It was only when I took a more audience-minded approach, as opposed to one centered on content, that I was able to develop a lesson plan that dynamically engaged and connected with my students.

My new lesson plan to kick off the poetry unit included listening to songs and reading poems from different time periods centered around the theme of “revolution,” a topic which any generation of young students can relate. I shared an excerpt from P.B. Shelley’s “Masks of Anarchy,” the lyrics to The Doors’ song “Five to One,” and the lyrics to Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back” to demonstrate to my students how invaluable poets are to society because they are often the voices of our generation. In essence, I framed the unit of poetry by showing my students how poetry has been useful and necessary for them. This was much more effective than just simply telling them about the content that they were required to read during the next three weeks and what to expect on the exams.

Simply put, it’s important to first establish a connection and interest between your message and your audience of students. If you do this, their attention will naturally follow.

3. Collect metrics

You’re not a mind-reader

Once you’ve developed your new, improved, and audience-oriented lesson plans, it’s helpful to establish a benchmark so that you can measure the level of student engagement. After all, hard data is much more informative than the conversations you have with yourself in the confines of your own head. Having empirical data equips you with invaluable information that helps you better understand your audience, thereby enabling you to continue planning effective and engaging lessons. Once again, it never hurts to try to view things through the goggles of a marketing professional when planning a lesson.

An important thing to remember about measuring student engagement is to ask questions that can meaningfully impact your lessons. For example, instead of asking your students whether or not they enjoyed your lesson, you should ask them how they think the lesson could be made better. Remember, it’s not about you or the content. Rather, it’s about the students because they are your audience.

If you decide to measure student engagement by creating surveys, consider using tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms. They’re more dynamic and accessible options than the old paper and pencil approach and offer your students more privacy to truly say what they want.

Now go forth and win the game of better lesson planning!

The teacher’s life certainly has its challenges, but many of them can be met just by planning better lessons. I hope these key components of a lesson plan will help you set the stage for a more engaged classroom. I’m confident that your students will thank you just as my students have thanked me. Good luck!

Photo credit: Monkey Business /

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