Effective Lesson Planning: Beginning Instruction with the Big Picture in Mind

P – Practice effective teaching: inquiry, planning, instruction & assessment.

P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. Teacher candidates plan and/or adapt standards-based curricula that are personalized to the diverse needs of each student.

When evaluating what is essential when planning curricula for any subject and/or grade level, it is important that teachers design individual lessons with the end goal in mind. Similar to an architectural design process, the teacher would begin in a programming and schematic design phase gathering information and planning units of instruction while considering the big picture goals for the year (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). As stated by Koetje (2015), when planning curricula, it is important to ask what you “…want [students] to know and/or be able to do” as well as decide, “what evidence you will accept as proof” of their learning (slide 22). In order to competently plan and adapt standards-based curricula that are personalized to the needs of individual students, teachers should be aware of the learning standards for their subject area/grade level, assess and interpret where their students are at in their learning, and design lessons that speak to their students, also known as the teacher’s target audience.

Prior to planning lessons, teachers should be well informed of the learning standards that will drive their curriculum. Wiggins & McTighe (2005) describe this end-user focused and standards-based process as backward design. Figure 1 illustrates evidence of this process in practice, utilizing three stages of a design sequence. Stage one requires the teacher to identify desired results, in other words to decide what knowledge students should walk away with. Typically, this would be the learning standard. During stage two, teachers assess student understanding over time, as instruction occurs, in order to design well-aligned and scaffolded lessons. Teachers should identify students’ prior knowledge and determine what needs to be learned to meet learning standards. Lastly in stage three, teachers can begin planning instructional activities. Teachers should not design learning activities prior to completing stages one and two. All of these stages should be exercised prior to the lessons being taught. Similarly, an architect cannot design and build a project prior to understanding the requirements, budget, and needs of the end user.

Figure 1. Example of how the stages of design might look in practice (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Figure 1. Example of how the stages of design might look in practice (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

After evaluating this backward design system and reviewing other materials presented in this course, I’ve drafted a diagram that visually simplifies this process. As illustrated in figure 2, learning standards are to be used to determine the central focus of a unit of instruction. Lesson sequences within the unit shall contain well-aligned lessons that scaffold learning with continuous assessments in order to gather evidence of student learning. Classroom activities are to be designed at the end of this process to fulfill the learning targets of each lesson. Lastly, students shall be continuously evaluated and evidence of student learning shall continue to determine the goals of future lesson planning.

Figure 2. Simplified diagram of lesson planning process based on backward design strategy.

Figure 2. Simplified diagram of lesson planning process based on backward design strategy.

In closing, it is clear that assessment and evidence of students’ prior knowledge as well as the learning standards should guide instruction. Rather than plan lessons and classroom activities based on what we feel students should do, it is important that we first address the information and criteria that should drive our teaching, continuously assess where students are at in their learning, and design units of curricula to guide activities that serve these purposes. Teachers should be cognizant of their students’ prior knowledge and learning goals when lesson planning; in other words an architect cannot successfully finalize a large project without a good plan.


Wiggins, G. P. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understand by design (2nd expanded ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Koetje, K. (2015). Welcome to EDU 6150 [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://bbweb03.spu.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_85706_1&content_id=_1029213_1


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