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Six Common Mistakes in Writing Lesson Plans
(and what to do about them)


Dr. Bob Kizlik


October 6, 2014

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There are many maxims in education, great words of wisdom, and sincere advice from countless sources. But, without question, it is true that the very best teachers, the most effective teachers, are good planners and thinkers. The success of professional teachers doesn't "just happen." The road to success for teachers requires commitment and practice, especially of those skills involved in planning lessons and learning activities, and in managing classroom behavior. Planning lessons is a fundamental skill all teachers must develop and hone, although implementation of this skill in actual teaching can, and usually does, take some time. Being able to develop an effective lesson plan format is a core skill for all who teach. So let's begin at the beginning.

In my career as a teacher and teacher educator, I have read and evaluated thousands of lesson plans written by education students at all levels. On a consistent basis, I see mistakes that distort or weaken what the plans are supposed to communicate. If you are serious about improving your skill in planning lessons, you should begin by first thinking carefully about what the lesson is supposed to accomplish. There is no substitute for this. In teaching students how to develop lesson plans, the following are mistakes I have observed that students make most often:

1. The objective of the lesson does not specify what the student will actually do that can be observed. Remember, an objective is a description of what a student does that forms the basis for making an inference about learning. Poorly written objectives lead to faulty inferences.

2. The lesson assessment is disconnected from the behavior indicated in the objective. An assessment in a lesson plan is simply a description of how the teacher will determine whether the objective has been accomplished. It must be based on the same behavior that is incorporated in the objective. Anything else is flawed.

3. The prerequisites are not specified or are inconsistent with what is actually required to succeed with the lesson. Prerequisites mean just that -- a statement of what a student needs to know or be able to do to succeed and accomplish the lesson objective. It is not easy to determine what is required, but it is necessary. Some research indicates that as much as 70% of learning is dependent on students having the appropriate prerequisites.

4. The materials specified in the lesson are extraneous to the actual described learning activities. This means keep the list of materials in line with what you actually plan to do. Overkilling with materials is not a virtue!

5. The instruction in which the teacher will engage is not efficient for the level of intended student learning. Efficiency is a measure that means getting more done with the same amount of effort, or the same amount with less effort. With so much to be learned, it should be obvious that instructional efficiency is paramount.

6. The student activities described in the lesson plan do not contribute in a direct and effective way to the lesson objective. Don't have your students engaged in activities just to keep them busy. Whatever you have your students do should contribute in a direct way to their accomplishing the lesson objective.

A lesson plan that contains one or more of these mistakes needs rethinking and revision. Below is a rationale and guide to help you develop effective lesson plans and avoid the six common mistakes.

FIRST, YOU MUST KNOW HOW TO PLAN

The purpose of a lesson plan is really quite simple; it is to communicate. But, you might ask, communicate to whom? The answer to this question, on a practical basis, is YOU! The lesson plans you develop are to guide you in organizing your material and yourself for the purpose of helping your students achieve intended learning outcomes. Whether a lesson plan fits a particular format is not as relevant as whether or not it actually describes what you want, and what you have determined is the best means to an end. If you write a lesson plan that can be interpreted or implemented in many different ways, it is probably not a very good plan. This leads one to conclude that a key principle in creating a lesson plan is specificity. It is sort of like saying, "almost any series of connecting roads will take you from Key West Florida to Anchorage Alaska, eventually." There is however, one and only one set of connecting roads that represents the shortest and best route. Best means that, for example, getting to Anchorage by using an unreliable car is a different problem than getting there using a brand new car. What process one uses to get to a destination depends on available resources and time.

So, if you agree that the purpose of a lesson plan is to communicate, then, in order to accomplish that purpose, the plan must contain a set of elements that are descriptive of the process. Let's look at what those elements should be. Click here to go to Part 2 on the next ADPRIMA page.

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