Curriculum managers’ planning is vital for successful lessons. Lynn Maidment discusses her recipe for effective lesson planning

To ensure successful learning and teaching, teachers must use a number of skills from their considerable learning armoury. These include: planning, recording, chal­len­ging, dem­­onstrating, securing, managing, adap­ting, explaining, discussing, interro­gating, rev­­iewing, evaluating, modifying, estab­lishing and questioning. Now ask yourself if you could do all of that without planning for it.

The effective lesson plan is the means by which all of these things are prioritised and orchestrated. It is the means by which we can provide for the diverse and complex elements of learning lesson on lesson. The planning that underpins lessons must be robust, relevant and manageable.

Why plan lessons?
Planning what and how we teach is something that every teacher embraces every lesson of every day of their teaching career. The days when teachers could go in to a lesson without planning have long since and thankfully disappeared. Lesson planning for the 21st century requires a deep knowledge of a variety of issues. Effective curriculum managers know who within their teams can model the way forward for others and who will be the weakest links in need of strengthening and support. The aim is always to raise the team’s performance and attainment, and collaborative lesson planning can provide the catalyst for that.

A model of teacher effectiveness, the report carried out by Hay McBer for the then Department for Education and Employment, (DfEE) June 2000, states that:

By adopting a professional approach, teachers’ energy can be channelled into planning and setting expectation, targeting the key elements which will make the difference to their pupils, and the results they are able to achieve.

In essence, this is what lesson planning is: an opportunity to formalise the process that effective teachers undertake, in some form or another every day.

Lesson planning should be seen as a key developmental aspect of a teacher’s ongoing professional reflections and planning. Appropriate plans provide a framework for revisiting and evaluating the success of the lesson in meeting its objectives.

Impact of new curriculum
Key to successfully implementing the new statutory curriculum that came into effect in September is the lesson-planning format, as teams work out their best way forward to embrace this, in many cases, less prescrip­tive, more flex­­ible framework for teaching (see:

As schools wrestle with the changes, they will be working together to identify lesson planning that allows for oppor­tun­ities for greater personalisation. This will be achieved through the range of approaches to assessing learners’ knowledge, skills and understanding that must be planned for.

The increased flexibility in the curriculum will give teachers more opportunities to focus on assessment for learning strategies and to provide greater support and increased challenge for those who need it.
(The new secondary curriculum. What has changed and why? QCA, 2008)

In the wake of the changes, some schools appear to be making assumptions that lesson plans for all curriculum areas can be organised in the same way. Let us not forget that one of the major drivers for these changes has been the need to promote curriculum flexibility and personalisation. So it would be a travesty if, in planning for this with our students, we disregard the professionalism and needs of our individual subject teams. It is possible to plan for a cross-organisation approach that does not militate against professionalism and individualism.

There are those who argue that:

The traditional lesson plan of objectives, content, methods, materials and evaluation needs to be replaced by a strategic approach and a tactical lesson plan (TLP) in which the learners are at the centre … [focusing] on what the students will be doing and how they will be doing it. (Diane Montgomery, ‘Realising potential: understanding need’, in Curriculum Briefing: Motivating underachievers – realising potential, vol 6, no 3, pp3-6, Optimus Education, 2008)

Whatever your belief and that of your team, your individual and collective needs should be the underpinning rationale for the devel­op­­ment of your scheme of work (SoW).

Schemes of work and weekly planning Increasingly, schools rely on weekly plans to gain an insight into the curriculum, its content and delivery. These weekly plans are often sketchy and identify, within the school’s established SoW protocols relevant cornerstone of subject teaching and outlines of the programme of work.

The scheme of work is a comp­re­h­en­sive plan that shows subject by subject, key stage by key stage, the overview of what is being taught and how it connects the past, present and future in the context of student learning.

The scheme of work identifies the ‘broad brush­strokes’ of information concerning dif­fer­entiation, grouping strategies, imme­d­iate resource implications, timescales and other detail relevant to the curriculum area within which the scheme is grounded. These schemes are not a substi­tute for les­son planning. They are the essential focus on which to establish lesson-by-lesson plans. They help provide team members, students, inspectors, parents and senior managers with that all important snapshot of what is being taught.

Teachers tend to find the scheme of work particularly helpful when considering the range of experience being offered to their students. They provide an invaluable mid-term planning tool when identifying opportuni­ties for peer observation, training and development needs and opportunities for special educational needs (SEN) interven­tion and collaborative planning.

For experienced teachers, the combina­tion of scheme of work and a weekly overview is often considered to be adequate detail on which to base effective learning and assessment. However, this matter is one of departmental and school policy: staff are obliged to follow the guidelines and expecta­tions of the organi­­sa­tion within which they operate. The benefits of planning a lesson-by-lesson approach are substantial as they help practitioners to develop and demonstrate a clear understanding of core elements of lesson planning.

Whatever approach a team adopts, there are a number of key curriculum principles that need to be considered in the lesson planning format that is adopted – see the box below.

Key curriculum principles to incorporate

  • Objectives
  • Differentiation
  • Breadth and balance
  • Progression
  • Continuity
  • Coherence
  • Depth
  • Relevance
  • Personalisation and choice
  • Assessment – both formative and summative

Core requirements
When considering lesson planning, teachers need to align their teaching with the revised programmes of study and the attendant subject framework, and team leaders need to align their planning expecta­tions with the real constraints operating on teachers’ time and energies. Asking for the impossible is a recipe for disaster, so temper your expectations with a strong dose of realism before you go to your team to discuss lesson-planning expectations.

The recent national curriculum overhaul has meant that teams need to review current curriculum content, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses so they can then modify and develop accordingly to the new guide­lines. There is an implicit and explicit need for subject teams to explore how to make student progress the main focus of the curriculum. This work is taking different forms in different teams, but a number of common denominators will be seen in all good lesson plans. They will plan in opportu­nities for covering a range of accepted imp­or­tant learning behaviours and experiences, including those in the box below.

Learning opportunities to include in lesson plans

  • Develop enquiry skills
  • Problem-solve, both independently and in pairs or groups
  • Explore options and evaluate outcomes
  • Process information
  • Convert mistakes into learning
  • Reflect and review
  • Use a variety of learning styles and approaches
  • Develop social skills
  • Take responsibility for own and other’s learning
  • Convert mistakes into positive learning opportunities

When you are secure, your teams can then develop a planning template, perhaps through looking at other teams’ and schools’ lesson plans, distilling from each the parts you want to use and personalising it with your own specific criteria. What will result, over a period of time, is a lesson format that reflects your curriculum needs, has an awareness of curriculum require­ments at a national level, of whole-school policies and team decisions and places at its heart the need to consider learners’ needs while keeping the teaching team focused with­out being overburdened by administration.

It is also likely to identify the direction your team is going in and address issues of student’s prior learning, making opportun­ities for person­al­is­ation explicit and identi­fying key assess­ment opportunities. When you finally think you’ve got it right you’ll probably find that the team has outgrown it and you’ll go back to the drawing board. But such is the dynamic of teaching.

National considerations
There are a range of national considerations and this is not the place for detailed review or information on them. But it is as well to be aware of them as you tackle your lesson planning. So make sure you have up-to-date information on some, if not all of the areas listed in the box below.

 Informed lesson-planning: information to consider

  • Revised curriculum
  • Gender dynamics
  • 14-19 curriculum
  • Learning styles
  • Effective groupwork
  • Functional skills
  • Learning platforms
  • Every Child Matters (ECM)
  • Inclusion
  • Social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) agenda
  • National initiatives for securing two levels of progress at key stages including information on Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) and assessment for learning

Assessment for learning (AfL) appears to be rising like a phoenix from the ashes in some schools. Revisiting the AfL strategy is a worthwhile exercise for all of those looking to review their SoWs and lesson planning. The Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group identified that:

The single most important thing to change in teaching practice is the minute-to-minute and day-by-day use of assessment. That’s AfL. The kind of formative assessment that really impacts on a pupil’s achievement can’t wait until the books are marked or even until the next lesson. If pupils have left the classroom, and you have to wait until they are back before you’ve adjusted your teaching you’re already into catch up. (Christine Gilbert HMCI, ‘Seizing success 2007’, NCSL Annual Conference)

With a substantial groundshift in the curric­u­lum taking place, teams must consider what they need. When a draft agreement has been made and a format is coming together, it is often wise to pilot this with experienced staff to get further reflections on how to improve the process. When a whole-team consensus has been reached, curriculum leaders might wish to consider the implementation process on a phased basis, either year group by year group, class by class, teacher by teacher. In this way, any wrinkles in the process can be ironed out along the way.

Choosing lesson-planning format
The answer to how to decide on which lesson-plan format is best for you is both simple and complex: you review with your team the things you need to cover and then experi­ment until you find the right model.

It is important for teams to realise that the more experienced a teacher becomes the less they need to rest so heavily on the daily lesson plan. Your team might wish to adopt a planning sequence that addresses particular needs at specific times. When reviewing a new SoW, you might decide that it is necessary to carry out a lesson-by-lesson evaluation; when revisiting an established programme you might decide on a model where there is a ‘temperature’-gauging exercise, in other words you decide to review one part of the learning sequence by writing a specific plan for it. There is much flexibility for teams to decide, within the policy and practice requirements of their schools and colleges, how and when they use lesson plans and how they revisit and review the outcomes they identify.

Finding the right lesson-planning format is often a process of trial and error. As prof­es­sionals, we need to model the things we tell our students about the value of making mistakes and as such we must create teams in which it is safe to make mistakes because we recognise and respect them as part of the learning process for us all.

The process of deciding on a lesson planning format, reviewing and reformatting is a dynamic one that moves and changes according to national and local imperatives and the school and team’s declared priorities in terms of school development planning (SDP) and departmental and team self-evaluation (SEF). It would be wrong to assume that once you have arrived at the model that seems appropriate today it will remain so for all time – it will not.

There are some schools that have tried to move to whole-school models of lesson planning. In essence, the idea seems a commendable one, but in practice it is often unworkable. Models adapted from the lesson-planning format of one team and then, regardless of professional debate and whole-school con­cerns, enforced in all curriculum areas are difficult to justify. By striving for uniformity of information they have not left room for professional discretion and identity. But a desire for unif­ormity does not have to pre­clude indiv­iduality. We all know of different depart­ment teams who cover the same ground in their lesson planning, but who do it in ways that are wholly unique to them and respectful of their teachers’ rights to celeb­rate diversity and professional judgement.

A degree of uniformity may be achieved by all teams in a school by ensuring certain givens are included in all lesson plans. If the lesson format is the same in all subjects, then all students will know how the lesson is to begin, develop and end, regardless of which lesson they are in. This is particularly useful for youngsters who find difficulty in organising themselves. For this reason, lesson-planning formats can be divided into objectives setting, exposition and plen­ary or as some school prefer to refer to the lesson format: introduction, main activity, review and plenary. With the decision made to include these fundamental elements in a lesson plan, teams can then decide to include other elements that may be of high priority to them. Foremost among these will be the need to identify assess­ment opportunities within the lesson. These assessment foci will depend on the culture and ethos of the school but more and more schools are using AfL practices to inform their evaluation of student learning.

Once a lesson-planning culture has devel­­oped, it is neither difficult nor onerous to go through the lesson plans to identify the opportunities for developing the learning behaviours identified in the box below. Additional areas of importance will be identified by the team’s self-evaluation and review process and those can then be catered for in the context of the school’s agreed, whole-school lesson format. In this way, it is possible for the school to achieve a degree of uniformity across the organisa­tion while allowing for team or individual priorities and character.

Learning opportunities to include in lesson plans

  • Develop enquiry skills
  • Problem-solve, both independently and in pairs or groups
  • Explore options and evaluate outcomes
  • Process information
  • Convert mistakes into learning
  • Reflect and review
  • Use a variety of learning styles and approaches
  • Develop social skills
  • Take responsibility for own and other’s learning
  • Convert mistakes into positive learning opportunities

All lesson plans will need to identify the name of the class teacher, the unit of work being studied and its place in the sequence of learning. Beyond that if teams are focusing on such issues as learning styles they might include a list of the preferred style for each pupil in the class; if they are focusing on group dynamics they may include information related to seating plans and/or intended work groupings and so on. Whatever the individual or team focus, it can be integrated into the lesson plan.

Devising short-, medium- and long-term plans
When devising lesson plans, you need to con­­sider short-, medium- and long-term plans, classroom organisation strategies (including the use of other adults) and a range of practical considerations.

Long-term planning will operate within the framework of the SoW the team is delivering and within that, the lesson plan can provide a valuable framework for the daily execution of the scheme. It may be that a department delivering a new SoW decides as a team to plan each lesson in the term or half-termly sequence and to review it together at key opportunities. If this is the purpose behind their lesson planning, they must ensure that the infor­mation they need to support their evaluation process is identified in the lesson plan and can be easily distilled when deciding on how the SoW might be improved, stream­lined, re-energised and so on. In this way, it is possible to see how relatively easy it is for a team to use detailed lesson planning as part of its evaluation process: to be a short-term daily programme that contributes in a dynamic way to the sum of a teacher’s knowledge about the success or otherwise of what they are teaching.

Whatever the purpose and place of the daily lesson plan it must have an evaluation focus – see the box below.

Evaluating lessons to inform future plans

For each lesson, ask:

  • What happened?
  • What effect did it have?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How could it be improved?
  • How might the teacher/students have behaved differently?
  • How should things be done next time?

Reflective teachers will undertake this activity instinctively, but providing a framework within which this reflection can be evaluated is a valuable tool in collecting such evidence and an essential weapon in raising the awareness of those in the team who are less inclined towards such reflec­tion.Without assessment and re-evaluation of planning, effective teaching cannot be maintained.

Lesson plans need to note anticipated out­comes and allow for the teacher to review these against actual outcomes and to then modify future planning accordingly. Within the assessment section of the plan, the teacher and associate staff are looking for evidence of progress and suc­cess with respect to those stated outcomes.

Lesson plan distilled
Planning becomes more streamlined with experience. From an Ofsted perspective, clearly stated objectives, differentiation strategies and accessible outcomes remain key features looked for in any plan.

From a teaching perspective, such plans provide a teacher with structure and security while giving a solid framework against which to positively respond to pupils.. Good planning underpins flexibility and supports creativity. Core elements of lesson planning are likely to include those set out below.

Core elements of lesson planning

  • Class details – including a register with SEN information and learning styles audit
  • A seating plan – if the department/school/individual has such a policy
  • Homework – when will it be set? Does it underpin and develop the lesson’s learning in a meaningful way?
  • Subject details – including the lesson’s place in the sequence of the SoW
  • Learning objectives – concisely and clearly expressed, probably identify no more than two for each lesson
  • Review of the previous lesson in the series with reference to any adjustments made as a result to the current lesson
  • National curriculum/strategy links
  • Resources and safety details – this may take the form of a simple checklist of health and safety information
  • Procedures – details of the lesson concisely expressed (see the next box for more details)

The final item listed, the procedures section, is the most detailed section of the lesson plan. To develop this well, it might be worth considering some or all of the issues set out below.

Procedures: key issues

  • Are the students’ activities clearly expressed in sufficient detail for colleagues and observers to follow?
  • Is there a clear structure to the lesson? How will you set the learning objectives? What time have you allowed for the plenary?
  • Are the key learning points apparent?
  • Is new vocabulary apparent?
  • Are differentiated strategies apparent?
  • Is the use of non-teaching personnel set within the learning context of the lesson and have they had involvement with or seen the planning for this lesson? Have you take account of their views?
  • What part is information and commu­n­ications technology (ICT) playing in the lesson plan?

Effective learning objectives

Effective learning takes place when learners understand what they are trying to achieve, so it is essential that learning objec­tives are identified at the outset of a lesson. They become the clear focus for the lesson’s dev­el­opment and a focus for its review; a focus that can be understood by all involved. 

What the teacher intends the students should learn is called the learning objective; how achievement will be demonstrated by pupils is called the learning outcome. The learning outcome is what the teacher has decided is the evidence for achievement of the objectives.

For a learning objective to be effective, it needs to be the principle building block on which the lesson is built and to be clearly articulated and easily evaluated. Lesson objec­tives are often, but not exclu­sively, most effectively expressed in terms of ‘to’ state­ments such as those in the box below.

Examples of learning statements

  • To identify and describe…
  • To describe and explain…
  • To recognise…
  • To know…
  • To work with others…
  • To participate in…
  • To explore…
  • To combine and organise
  • To communicate ideas…
  • To generate ideas…
  • To reflect on…
  • To be able to…
  • To plan…
  • To consider how…
  • To use a range…
  • To develop an awareness by…

In this way, learning objectives can be devel­oped to incorporate the learning focus for the lesson. Lesson objectives should be spec­ific, measurable, achievable and time-bonded (SMART). Practitioners who involve too many objec­tives will be setting them­selves up for failure. When a teacher ident­ifies the lesson objective(s), they should also reflect on previous lesson outlines making it explicit to the students how this lesson fits into the developing theme and sequence.

Inclusive learning
As teachers:

We want every child to fulfill their potential, regardless of their background or circumstances. (Every Child Matters: change for children in schools, DfES, 2004)

To achieve this, we are increasingly looking at what promotes effective learning. When we do this, we see there are a range of immu­t­ables. We know learning happens most effectively when, among other things:

  • we feel safe, secure and respected
  • we can vary the activity
  • gender-specific tasks are planned for
  • we can use a range of inter-related skills
  • there is a rationale we clearly understand
  • we can measure our success
  • the brain is hydrated.

To promote opportunities for these things to happen, we need to plan breaks into our lesson plans that allow for learners to change activity, have a drink and so on.

Research has shown that a pupil’s cultural background, ethnic group, physical charac­teristics and gender effect how they are perceived by their peer group, their teachers and on how they perceive themselves. Teachers too can be influenced by socially prevalent stereo­types and prejudices. Self-image and esteem have a profound impact on all of us; our sense of personal worth, what we do and what we feel we can achieve and the direction our life takes us in are influenced by these two components.

To maximise the learning potential of all students, teachers need to consider the issue of inclusion – see the box.

Planning for inclusion

Inclusion is:

  • about being part of the setting
  • about the belief that all learners are individuals and have equal rights
  • about believing that every learner has the right, where possible, to have needs met within the mainstream
  • about seeing difficulties as challenges for the learner in their current environ­ment and not as unalterable problems
  • about differentiating activities to meet the needs of the learner
  • helping each learner access all areas of the curriculum
  • allowing every learner to build relationships
  • allowing every learner the right to initiate ideas and contribute to learning.

Taking account of these fundamental truths will constitute a large amount of the work that teachers undertake in relation to their lesson planning. To encourage these things to take place, the teacher will need to consider the differentiation of the tasks, the physical layout of the classroom, the groupings and settings in which the student works and the language, learning objectives and teaching strategies they use and their attitudes to their pupils.

When planning the lesson, teachers need to remember to treat every student as an individual and never assume they know what works for every learner in their class. At times, it might be advanta­geous for the teacher to invite another adult into the classroom as an observer to give objective feedback to inform their future lesson planning. The important thing is to ensure equality of access, opportunity and experi­ence for all pupils in your care. If by using an observer you discover that you are not achieving this, you can quite simply look at the issue of inclusiveness under the headings of attitudes, physical layout, language, learning objectives and teaching strategies, and identify why you think it is not inclusive before developing strategies to improve inclusion.

Effective lessons
Research and commonsense have shown that in classes run by effective teachers, students are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it. They feel secure in an interesting and challenging learning environment where teachers ensure pupils provide a variety and range of learning opportunities that stimulate thinking, dialogue and discovery. They include behaviours such as those identified in the previously identified Hay McBer research report – see the box below. 

Learning opportunities to include in lesson plans

  • Develop enquiry skills
  • Problem-solve, both independently and in pairs or groups
  • Explore options and evaluate outcomes
  • Process information
  • Convert mistakes into learning
  • Reflect and review
  • Use a variety of learning styles and approaches
  • Develop social skills
  • Take responsibility for own and other’s learning
  • Convert mistakes into positive learning opportunities

The most important thing about lesson planning is that it supports teachers in the daily search for excellence and transforma­tion and for this to happen it must be relevant and purposeful, long on impact and short on tedium. In the hands of skilled and sensitive profes­sionals, structure and purpose will be tempered by flexibility and intuition, enriched by creativity and imagination and distilled by professionalism and the belief that every child matters, as does every teacher.

Achieving effective lessons

  • Involve all pupils in the lesson
  • Use differentiation appropriately to challenge all pupils in the class
  • Use a variety of activities or learning methods
  • Apply teaching methods appropriate to the national objectives
  • Use various questioning techniques to probe pupils’ understanding
  • (Source: A model of teacher effectiveness, Hay McBer Research Report for the Department for Education and Employment, June 2000)

Lynn Maidment, independent education consultant, specialises in training, develop­ment and managing school improve­ment and curriculum review.

This related Case in Point aims to show you how, with the case study school sharing how its whole-school approach to lesson planning gave teachers licence to take risks and try out new ideas, enabling more engaging, relevant and well-paced learning.