O.K., so there really is no such thing as a perfect lesson. Even if you were to create the perfect lesson plan the moment you add children to the equation it will never go as you envision! I have created lessons that I have been so excited about, but when I gave them to my students they either fell apart or went over like a lead balloon leaving me shaking my head with bewilderment and sorely disappointed. I’ve also created lessons with a dutiful mindset that were received by my students with such excitement they seemed to explode in a shower of celebratory sparks. Usually, the better I plan my lesson the more likely I am to have success. However, there have also been those occasions when I’ve completely winged it and could not have planned the lesson any better than it turned out. My personal thought about lesson planning is to make a thorough plan (using whatever method suits you), but allow for spontaneity in myself and my students.
Throughout my teacher training I have been given much information on the structure of an effective lesson, required to fill out countless lesson planning forms, clocked a multitude of professional hours practicing, and fumbled my way through many supervisor observations of my practice.
The lesson planning form I was required to fill out for each lesson (I gave several lessons a week) during my student teaching was the bane of my existence! They were two or three pages long, required minute detail, and were very time consuming. No practicing teacher in their right mind would fill out that form for every lesson they gave. The point, however, was not to teach me how to fill out a lesson plan form, but to teach me what makes a lesson effective. It’s purpose was to teach me how to think like a teacher.
Home schooling is of course different than teaching a classroom full of students, but it helps to think like a teacher nonetheless. You wear the teacher hat as soon as you begin your home school day, so why not think like an effective teacher also? It is a skill that is honed through practice (the process of making mistakes and celebrating success) and observation of your child.
Teachers in traditional and private schools usually create lesson plans based on the curriculum used by their school. In most cases the lessons are completely written for them and they plan their execution making adjustments based on student response. Other times they may have a bit more freedom to create a lesson that is more unique and aimed at the specific needs and interests of students in their classrooms.
In your home school you might have a set curriculum for your child and they simply do the next lesson in the book. What if your child doesn’t understand the material? What if they are really interested and want more, but it’s not offered? What if they find the subject so dry and boring they listlessly go through the material at best, and refuse to work at worst? In your home school you might create your own lessons and unit plans. Maybe you do a set curriculum for some subjects and create your own plans for others. Every home school is different so there is no right or wrong when it comes to your personal curriculum choices. That’s one of the beautiful things about home schooling. Whether you chose a set curriculum, make up your own, or do both you are so much more effective when you “think like a teacher”, when you understand how to guide your child’s learning. While every child has a unique learning rhythm there are key components that make a lesson effective. You can use these components to supplement or enhance a set curriculum, or when you are creating your own unique lessons.
Lesson Structure and Key Points
There are many lesson plan templates out there, but I will share a few that I have worked with the most.
- Anticipatory Set– This can be as simple as asking them what they already know or referring to a previous lesson. It can be anything that will get their brains focused on what they are about to learn.
- Learning Objectives– What specifically do you want your child to learn?
- Input– How will you give your child the information? By what means will you communicate the objective? Will you give a demonstration, study a specimen, watch a DVD, conduct an experiment, read a book, go on a field trip, give a lecture?
- Modeling– How will you show your child what the process of their work will be and what a finished product looks like? You could walk them through a math problem, thinking out lout. You could show them how to manipulate construction paper to create a model of a volcano and then label its parts.
- Check for Understanding-This can be as simple as asking a question, or require a little more by asking them to do a quick activity that will help you gauge their understanding.
- Guided Practice– Have your child practice the concept, but stay right with them providing guidance.
- Independent Practice– Let your child practice on their own without your supervision or guidance. Check their work later.
*The Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan Format notes that this is simply a guide and every component may not be present while some may occur more than once during a lesson. It is also possible that a lesson will take more than session to complete.
- Engage– Get their brains focused on what they are about to learn through an activity or accessing prior knowledge.
- Explore– The activities, conversations, experiments, cooperation during a lesson.
- Explain– Students connect prior knowledge with new knowledge and explain the concept in their own words. Teachers explain vocabulary and concepts, encourage student explanation of what they are learning, and guides them to deeper understanding of material.
- Extend/Elaborate– Apply what they have learned during follow up activities.
- Evaluate– Students show their understanding of material. Teachers evaluate students, students evaluate themselves and their peers.
- This is…– The direct instruction part of the lesson where you simply give the information through whatever means you choose.
- Show me…– The part of the lesson where the student demonstrates their comprehension or works with the learned knowledge immediately with the guidance of the teacher.
- What is this…– The part of the lesson or follow up of the lesson where the student demonstrates mastery of the concept or shows they can apply the knowledge independently.
What they Have in Common
- Direct Instruction– They all have a clear objectives and explicitly teach that objective.
- Practice– They all make sure students are practicing the concept with guidance and support from the teacher as well as practicing independently.
- Checking understanding– They all allow the teacher to gauge whether or not the student understands the material.
- Assessment: They all allow the child to show what they have learned.
There are two things I think are very important for every lesson. I think of them like bookends at the beginning and end of the lesson, holding everything together.
- Connect. Always begin with accessing prior knowledge or reminding them of previous lessons learned. This creates a bridge, a connection between what they already know and what they are about to learn. Start with the known and move to the unknown.
- Reflect. Always reflect on the lesson you gave (or helped them with). What went well? Why? What did not go well? Why? Is there something you can improve upon? Is there an adjustment you need to make to help your child understand the concept better? Re-teach the lesson or concept if needed.
It is important to note that there is a difference between a lesson (the introduction to a new concept) and practice (follow-up work assigned after a lesson). A student may have only a few new lessons during the day and the rest of their work will be practicing concepts they’ve already been taught in a lesson. It is the observation of student’s work that helps you decide if a concept is understood, has been mastered, or if a re-teaching is necessary.
These are things you can consider when planning a lesson that will help your children get the most out of the learning experience.
Created by Dr. Benjamin Bloom, Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on getting students to use higher order thinking skills like analyzing and evaluating information that results in deeper understanding of the concept being learned. There are six levels of thinking skills. The levels progress from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills. Guiding a student to use higher order thinking is accomplished through the type of activity assigned and the type of questions you ask during a lesson. Unlike a lesson plan structure Bloom’s Taxonomy gives you, the teacher, the tools to achieve student knowledge, comprehension, application etc. as you are teaching a lesson through specific activities and questions to help your child reach the deepest level of thinking and understanding. It is not necessary to start with level I and work up to level VI in a single lesson. You might only target two levels in a lesson. Some activities like comparing and contrasting strengthen comprehension, but also analysis of a concept.
Level I- Knowledge (recall of basic information)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Define, label, spell, match, recall, retell.
- Questions to Ask Students– What is…? When did ____ happen? Can you recall…? How would you describe/explain…?
Level II- Comprehension (understanding of information)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Compare, contrast, illustrate, rephrase, summarize, classify.
- Questions to Ask Students– What is the main idea of…? Can you state in your own words…? Which is the best answer…?
Level III- Application (applying information)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Build, experiment, solve, plan, organize.
- Questions to Ask Students– How would you solve…? What approach would you use to…? What other way would you plan to…?
Level IV- Analysis (breaking information down)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Analyze, classify, compare/contrast, dissect, examine.
- Questions to Ask Students– What are the parts or features of…? What evidence can you find…? How would you classify…? How is _____related to …? What is the theme…?
Level V- Synthesis (putting information together in new ways)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Build, design, create, predict, imagine, make-up, improve, adapt.
- Questions to Ask Students– What changes would you make to solve…? Can you invent…? What way could you design…? What is the theme…? How would you classify…?
Level VI-Evaluation (personal judgement of information)
- Key Words for Assigned Activities– Decide, defend, evaluate, judge, opinion, agree, prove, disprove.
- Questions to Ask Students– Do you agree with…? What is your opinion of…? What choice would you have made? What judgement would you make…? Why was it better that…? What information would you use to support the view…?
Dr. Howard Gardener came up with eight (possibly nine) intelligences that reveal a persons intellectual abilities and learning styles. In our education system today we value linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We applaud the artists, but come conference time you had better prove your smarts in these two categories to get any credit worth anything! It is sad, but true. Traditionally teachers have conveyed information to students by lecturing which is how Linguistic Intelligent people best learn, or by giving logical information playing to the intelligence of the logical-mathematical learner. Output of information has traditionally been through a written test, again playing to the strengths of the linguistic and logical learners. Howard Gardener has done ground breaking work to prove there are other ways to be smart. Thankfully, many teachers and administrators recognize this and are working to differentiate instruction to reach all students. He developed six intelligences originally then expanded to eight (one source says nine) with the openness that there may be more.
An understanding of Multiple Intelligences can help us be aware of what kind of learners our children are, how they best receive information. I’ve had students that can do huge equations in their heads. Logical instruction was all they needed when learning concepts. I once had a student that seemed to dance to his own beat wherever he went. He needed lots of movement during learning. A young girl in my class loved nature. In fact bugs seemed to find her not the other way around. As teachers we can use a child’s natural abilities to “speak their language” when instructing them.
- Spatial– These are the visual learners! They often picture images in their heads and can even mentally manipulate images. Showing them how to do something works really well. Use pictures, examples, and models during lessons.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic-These learners love to use their entire bodies as they work. They do best when allowed to move during work time as opposed to sitting in one spot. Using movement in lessons really captures their interest as well (i.e. clapping or jumping the multiplication facts.)
- Musical-These learners are gifted in musical arts. They love rythm, singing, and instruments. Learning through songs is perfect for them.
- Linguistic– These learners love words and word play. Verbal instruction and written output play to their strengths.
- Logical-Mathematical-These learners think logically and can see patterns quickly. Abstract logical problems, number patterns and games, and charts are all helpful.
- Interpersonal-These learners are very social! They are very aware of others feelings and moods. Working in groups is right up their alley.
- Intrapersonal– These learners are very introspective. They have a good sense of their own thoughts and beliefs. Assignments that require introspection or personal response would be very engaging.
- Naturalistic– These learners are the nature lovers! They would rather have class outside, or bring the outdoors into the classroom. Botany and Zoology study will be their favorite!
- Existential-These learners are the philosophers. They love questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” They would love open discussion, hypothetical situations, sharing opinions, etc.
Putting it all Together
Teaching is a practice and takes just that…practice. Whether you teach a roomful of other people’s children or your own, you are a teacher. Whether you follow a set curriculum or create your own, you are a teacher. As you guide your child through the curriculum you’ve chosen or create your own lessons and unit plans just focus on two things:
- The components that make a lesson effective.
- How will you connect what they are learning right now to what they already know?
- How will you give them practice both guided and independent?
- How will you check to see if they are understanding the concept?
- How will you assess their learning formally (a written test or equivalent) or informally (work output)?
- How will you as a teacher improve the next time you give (or provide guidance during) a lesson? (Reflect)
It may help you answer these questions if you use the ITIP or Five E lesson templates, but if it doesn’t that’s o.k.!
2. Consider questions, activities, and learning styles.
The type of questions and activities you choose for a lesson or assigned follow up work will help you answer some of the above questions. Hopefully Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you activate higher order thinking skills through questions and activities.
If you know your child’s learning style and intelligences you can better tailor activities that will really engage them in a lesson. Howard Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences can help you with pinpointing your child’s intelligences (they may have more than one aptitude) and choosing activities and assignments that play to their strengths.
How will you improve your child’s lessons this week?