October 7, 2016 by

Plan and Prepare: Four Lesson Planning Tips to Improve Student Achievement

By John and Rachael George

“Uhh . . . the only time we have been required to create lesson plans here was when someone was going to be fired.”

The dreaded lesson plan. Why is it when someone mentions lesson plans, you can guarantee there will be groans, heavy sighs, and lots of eye rolling? Lesson plans always get a bad rap in the world of education, and it’s not always justified. Planning and preparing for every day and every subject is one of the cornerstone habits of being a highly effective teacher and is necessary to close the achievement gap. The effect lesson planning has a teacher’s practice is significant, and the effect it has on student achievement and
growth is even greater. Why would you not lesson plan?Lesson Planning Tips

In the world of education work, day-by-day or period-by-period planning and preparation is an imperative. Whether your district utilizes Danielson, Marshall, or another rubric for standards of performance on evaluation, planning and preparation is a domain in and of itself. The reality is, whether or not you want to admit it, planning and being prepared makes you better at your practice. From seasoned veterans who have been in the same content area to newbies that are experiencing the classroom for the first time, all educators can and will experience significant benefits from planning and being prepared for each period, every day.

Unless teachers are planning based on the nuances that are associated with each group of students they face in every period or content area, how in the world can they expect to deliver what their students need? The complaints that often come from being required to turn in lesson plans communicates that “I know more and know better than anyone else about what my students need regardless of what students’ grades and scores on assessments tell me.” A lack of lesson planning shows a teacher’s lack of monitoring instruction, a lack of reflection on instruction, and, sadly, a lack of adjustment and reteaching.

Planning and preparation is the foundation for solid instruction. The diversity of our students and the situations and circumstances they live in and face on a daily basis means that we as professionals need to be the ones who are flexible and reflective. In order to do that, we need to plan and be prepared to deliver. By doing so, we are able to be adaptive to the needs of our students.

Need help with your planning for the week to help boost student achievement? Try some of these tips to help get you started.

Don’t Worry About the Format

Often, this is where teachers get stuck. They have a hard time moving away from the traditional detailed lesson plan that was required in their teacher prep program and finding something that is practical and useful in the classroom. Don’t let this hold you back; try some different formats and methods. Some teachers really like paper and pencil while others prefer using a spreadsheet or Google Doc. If you find that it doesn’t feel right, tweak it and try it again.

Start with the Basics

Lesson plans don’t have to be elaborate or complex. In fact, if you focus on the standard being taught with applicable learning targets that are explained in student-friendly language, you are already on the right track. Use this to help drive activities associated with each learning target that foster high levels of engagement. Sprinkle in vocabulary for the lesson and connect it back to the essential question you want students to answer along with the assessment and you are all set!

Differentiation . . . Scaffolding . . . Oh My!

As your plan develops, don’t limit yourself to just the middle of the road students. Challenge yourself to think about all the learners in your room and how you are going to reach and grow them. Are there ways you can help them access grade level materials if they are struggling? How are you going to extend the thinking of the students that have the skill and concept mastered within the first part of the period? Remember to consider all students.

Make It Meaningful

Just because you are following a curriculum with fidelity doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about lesson planning. Instead of just moving from page 41 to 42 to 43, take a look at the standards, activities, and learning targets to see how you can build connections to your students and the real world. Curriculum and pacing guides don’t have to hold you back; make the learning meaningful to your students!


John George currently serves as the principal of Dexter McCarty Middle School in the Gresham Barlow School District. He was the Oregon Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014. Prior to serving as a middle school principal, he was a turnaround principal and a district office administrator. George specializes in instructional improvement and turning around struggling schools and districts. Connect with George on Twitter @duckfan66.

Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School” as recognized by the State of Oregon. George specializes in curriculum development and instructional improvement as well as working with at-risk students and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.