Lesson-planning: Five dos and five don’ts

Written by: Mark Creasy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How should you be planning your lessons to ensure the most efficient use of your time and to best support your pupils’ learning? Mark Creasy offers some practical dos and don’ts

Who do you plan for?

Seriously, stop and think about it. Who do you plan for?

I think the response to this question creates one of the great and false educational narratives, as the dissonance between appearance and reality – even as far as the stated and actual reality – is huge when it comes to planning.

And from this comes a vast pressure being placed upon teachers, which in turn is exacerbating the retention crisis.

We all know (or at least we should) that Ofsted does not require a specific planning format – all inspectors demand is that there is evidence of planning. So why is there such anxiety and stress among teachers when it comes to planning?

To answer my own question: Planning should be for you and to meet your learners’ needs. However, all too often this isn’t the case.

Possibly, because in many cases, the answer colleagues might give to my opening question is: “The SLT.”

Unfortunately, this may be the case if you work in a school where:

  • All plans must be uniform in presentation – like an educational version of The Stepford Wives.
  • The planning format is overly rigid – akin to the 3/5/7-step lesson plans some of us remember.
  • You are given your plans to deliver to your class – sometimes this is also accompanied by a memory stick or online file of resources.
  • The planning is simply an off-the-shelf purchase, with no sense of individuality.

And if you are working in such a school then I am not sure how much this article can really help you!

For anyone doubting the above, they are all real examples from colleagues across the country whom I have spoken to in person, at conferences and via Twitter – oh, and I experienced one of them directly too.

While I don’t believe the list above is the right way to plan – if you agree with my belief that planning is for you to support your class’s needs (and I’m sure you do too) – I can appreciate how external pressures often influence our senior colleagues and drive them towards this position.

Time is the most valuable and rarest resource in schools and so ways to maximise it are often sought. But isn’t there another way?

I think so.

Planning Utopia

To achieve this requires logistical, leadership decisions – but the leaders’ desire to create such conditions will tell you a lot about how the senior leadership team views planning.

It is also worth noting, before going any further, that there will always be more planning that could be done – so you need to be disciplined with yourself as to how much time is spent on planning and know when to stop.

Having said this, for me, planning should be:

  • Always at the same time.
  • Sacrosanct (see below).
  • With a year or subject partner.
  • In a designated, quiet room.
  • With easy access to resources, printing and copying facilities.

Planning time should be sacrosanct in that meetings are not arranged in it and colleagues do not interrupt you – especially with the usual accompanying phrase: “I know you’ve got PPA, but…”

All too often though, it is the teacher who allows this to happen – be clear, disciplined, and polite, otherwise your PPA becomes the very embodiment of “give an inch, concede a mile”.

This list may seem like the Holy Grail, but it really needn’t be. True, there will be occasions (especially in recent, Covid times) where staff absence will affect the first and third items on the list above, but this should be a rarity. Items two, four and five are all easy to achieve and should be seen as a staff right.

Notwithstanding this, I think the following list of dos and don’ts can help all teachers.

The dos

Know your class, what they need, and plan for that: This seems obvious, but all too often to save time primary colleagues will work in pairs so that each plans a preferred subject. This then means that your class has plans not specific for them and you then have to adapt them (well, you should) to meet your class’s needs anyway – which tends to cost, not save, time.

Discuss planning: Working with a partner teacher is ideal for bouncing ideas around. As you are both teaching the same topics and themes, consider how you are going to approach it, generate an overview to follow and use this to be able to plan for your class. This then leads to…

Share resources: When working with a partner, as you will be following the same scheme of work resources are perfect to share. Even better if you print-off a set for both classes – whether via a shared folder or emailing a link. This will save time if you are both going to be delivering the same material, although you will still need to adapt these for your own class on occasion: annotate it, highlight key words, enlarge, etc, etc.

Know your strengths: Not all plans will be created equally. If you are particularly strong in one area then this will likely need less detailed, written planning than another subject where you are less confident/ experienced or where there is more detailed information to convey. For example, as a qualified PE teacher, I know instinctively how to develop the progression for teaching passing in netball so need a more cursory plan than if I had to deliver year 1 phonics – where the plan would likely be reminiscent of War and Peace!

Use your time wisely: Arrive prepared, get set up and get on. Too much time can be wasted in PPA. If PPA is organised as above this is made easier, but you should know what you are going to plan and what needs to be done before you sit down. Have a plan, even a physical checklist, to go through so that you can maintain your discipline. It is also worth considering the order you want to work through things. I would always start with something I want/need to spend longer on, but you may prefer to start with plans that you can create easily and then move on to the lengthier/more detailed plans.

The don’ts

Don’t ignore others: Be prepared to ask for help. Be prepared to talk to colleagues. How do they plan? What can they suggest to help you? After 26 years of teaching, I am still prepared to learn from and listen to others about how I can hone, refine and improve my planning.

Don’t struggle: If you are struggling with your planning, ask for help. Don’t be too proud to admit it. It could be quite simple, like the colleague who asked me a couple of years ago how I got so much done in PPA time compared to her. I pointed out that her time started at least half an hour after mine once she’d: been to the shops for food, eaten it, been back to the class to check on them, returned to get her laptop, diary, etc, allowed others to interrupt her… Alternatively, it could be that when you move from early career teacher status and lose some of the extra time you find it harder to fit all your planning into your allocated time – although the reduced paperwork demands might help here!

Don’t plan too far in advance: Some colleagues will use holidays/weekends/evenings/every waking hour to create quite detailed plans weeks in advance. But what if your learners need more time to grasp a concept? What if there was a fire alarm during a lesson? Any number of unforeseen events could affect the delivery. Yes, do have an overview of what is being taught, in what order and for what purpose, but don’t over-plan – it doesn’t save time in the long run.

Don’t be a slave to planning: As I have said, there is always more you can find to do. Find the way you prefer to work – it will take some time – and ensure you have a clear switch-off point. Your family and friends will say nice words about the you they distantly remember at your funeral, when you have worked yourself to death, but surely it would be better to enjoy actual time with them?

Don’t ignore the children: When you create your overview, before the planning takes place, find out what the children want to learn in the topic. This is ideal for history, geography and RE, but can also be used for other subjects, save perhaps maths. I have written about how to involve your children in planning work in a recent blog (Creasy, 2022).

Ultimately and above all else, make sure you are planning your lessons to meet your learners’ needs.

  • Mark Creasy is an Independent Thinking associate and experienced primary school teacher. His book Independent Thinking on Primary Teaching: Practical strategies for working smarter, not harder (Independent Thinking Press) is out now. Visit https://bit.ly/3Kjwhgl

Further information & resources

  • Creasy: Increase learner engagement by involving children in your planning, Independent Thinking, April 2022: https://bit.ly/3kZtXjP

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