Active Lesson Planning

The principal goal of education is to create individuals who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. We keep reading we have to be more “innovative” and I fully agree. However, being innovative doesn’t happen by chance. Being innovative also doesn’t mean “winging it” and seeing how it turns out. Creative and interactive lessons need structure too to be successful. If I leave for a trip and need to know where I am going, what is the first thing I do? Open my GPS app and add the destination, and a map and directions will show me the way. The route might change, we may stop to look at a screen, or take a break – but we have a road map from the start.

In education, our GPS is our lesson plan. We know where we want to go, and we set a course to get there. 

As we purchase and implement new tools, use innovative instruction, and ask students to move from consumers of knowledge to creators of it, we still have to know how to get the knowledge to them in a sequential and organized manner. 

A solid lesson plan should provide you, the teacher, the direction and the ability to visualize the path of learning that consists of the “what, why, and how” of the teaching-learning activities. Your lesson plan is a sequence of well-organized learning experiences that connects instructional events. I believe an effective lesson plan also provides opportunities for students thinking to be visible and allows them to interact and ask questions, tap into their background knowledge, and build new skills to make connections to a real-life situation to practice critical thinking skills. The use of real-world scenarios will increase rigor, relevance, and critical thinking. 

During my many years in the classroom and as an instructional leader, I believe educational practices are guided largely by what Segiovanni (1985) has termed “mindscapes.” Mindscapes are mental frameworks or paradigm through which we envision reality and our place in reality. Beginning in the early 1980’s the mindscape that drove teaching practices has changed. This change is the move from psychometric/behaviorist philosophy to the cognitive philosophy of education. 

I have read many books on lesson planning including Skillful Teacher by Saphier, Powerful Lesson Planning by Skowron, and Classroom instruction that works by Dean to name a few to help me guide my thinking as an instructional leader. Additional authors include Stiggins, Arter, Chappinus, Reeves, Wiggins, and McTighe. Part of being an instructional leader is taking in all the information and making it your own with your lens and flair. Below is what I feel is essential to plan a lesson to enhance student participation and engagement.


The purpose of the warm-up is to create a structured 2-5 minute period of time in which students engage in a range of possible activators that may or may not tie to the learning objective or the activities that will support the student attainment of the attended learning. The warm-up sets up the students’ mental framework.

  • The warm-up activity helps stimulate brain activity.
  • Research also shows that in this period, children can move to learn from their short- term memory to their long-term memory.

Framing the Learning:

  • Framing learning is a combination of activities that establishes clarity for the lesson.
  • Framing learning ensures that the student understands what s/he will know and what s/he will be able to do.

The parameters of “Framing the Learning” are:

  • The objective: The What
    • An objective states what a student will know and be able to do.
    • Use of objectives raises students’ scores
    • Students know what they’re going to learn and what to focus on when they read, listen, watch, or interact during the instruction
  • Agenda: The how
    • Informs the student of what they are going to be doing an in what order
    • Each part of the agenda should be linked to the completion of the objective
    • Provides a clear guideline for teacher and students
  • Big Idea/Essential Questions: The Why
    • Provides a focus for the learning
    • Helps the student internalize an understanding of the overall learning –”Do I know the information necessary to answer the question?”
    • Leads to improve student performance

The Learning Experience

During this component of the lesson, students should be engaged in activities that promote the justification of their work to themselves and to one another connected to the objectives and learning outcomes. Or as I like to call it Active Learning! Knowledge is not transmitted directly from teacher to learner but is actively built up by the learner during learning experiences. During this time, the students develop understanding by using ideas to incorporate new information or assimilating new experiences to what they already know.

A knowledge-building community is essential because learning does not occur in isolation. The notion of collaboration, not only between teacher and students but also among students is crucial to the development of knowledge. Plan collaborative learning during student learning experiences that pushes thinking and develops critical thinkers.

Lesson Closure

Closing a lesson require students to internalize their learning and helps them to summarize learning. A closure should promote metacognition, allowing thinking about thinking; the process of considering and regulating one’s learning. The closure is too often missed due to “ran out of time” or a quick “wrap up.” The closure is critical to cementing instruction, moving from a group of tasks to deepen student learning and retention.

Impact Words

Part of that planning is discussing and understanding the educational language involved in lesson planning and collaborating around instruction. We as educators throw around buzz words and not know the meaning or the purpose. But you may be nervous to ask because you feel “everyone else knows” or you feel exposed and think you are the only one who does not know the “buzz word”. So I wanted to throw some buzzwords and meanings out there to support as you build lessons and collaborate with colleagues. 

  • Activator – an activity designed to get students’ minds active and in gear about a topic before they learn anything new about it
  • Anchor – finding a place to put newly acquired information; attaching learning to previous experiences to build upon previously internalized knowledge and schema
  • Big Idea – important ideas that students should carry away from the study of a topic; understanding that is intended to last a lifetime
  • Check for Understanding – knowing when students do or don’t understand
  • Criteria for Success – the qualities that must be present for performance or product to both meet the standards and be deemed successful
  • Differentiation – specific ways for each individual to learn as deeply as possible and as quickly as possible, without assuming one student’s road map for learning is identical to anyone else’s
  • Essential Question – derived from the desire to understand; requires real-life applied problem solving; resides at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy; its answer is not found but invented
  • Explanatory Devices – tools that can be used to present information and explain concepts within any approach to teaching
  • Metacognition – Thinking about thinking; the process of considering and regulating one’s own learning
  • Monitor Progress – the teacher’s understanding of each student’s progress in relation to the objective; an awareness of the development of mastery over time
  • Presenting Information – introducing new ideas and skills
  • Student Engagement – motivated effort; attention to the task; active participation in learning
  • Summarizing – explicitly pulling everything together for all to see or hear
  • Transition – a break between two different learning experiences or environments

Routines are essential in the classroom because students know what to expect and thus feel safer in the environment. Having consistent lesson planning and pace makes it easier for students to focus on the flow of instruction, know what is coming, and comprehend what they are being taught. With a concrete lesson plan in place for each day, it’s easier for teachers to establish this routine because they don’t have to make last-minute adjustments, and students are ready for the learning.


*Originally posted on Aims network:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: