How I Plan An Excellent Lesson


Ladies and gentlemen, I achieved a 1 in my formal observation. I’m sorry if I’m coming across as smug or arrogant but I’ve worked bloody hard for a long time and it feels great to finally get the recognition for it. For those of you who don’t know, most observations in the UK are graded from 1-4 (1 = excellent, 2 = good, 3 = satisfactory 4 = unsatisfactory, or along those lines). The meeting with the observer was really positive and as you can tell I came out feeling happy and relieved. As I entered the staff room, I was greeted with the expectant faces of my colleagues who were full of praise upon hearing the result. After a few “congratulations'” and “well done’s” I was asked an interesting question…

“Got any tips for getting a 1?”

We had a great chat and my colleagues said that I should put my advice into a document, so, here goes.

How I Plan An Excellent Lesson

The following is a general structure that I follow when creating a lesson. The main things an observer is looking for are:

  • Is learning taking place?
  • Does the lesson show differentiation?
  • Does the lesson promote inclusivity?
  • Are the students engaged?

1. Starter – Every lesson should have a starter that settles the students in. It should be engaging and provide a basis to the start the lesson. Starters can include simple things like a word-search or a crossword, but I prefer starters that are not so common or something that can set the tone for the lesson. One method I use is to print out a recent news story that applies to the subject we will be learning in the lesson. Once the students come into the class, they read the news story and the group can then debate a set of questions set by the tutor. Another starter that is popular with my students is a lesson by lesson current affairs quiz. With subjects like business, economics, politics and law it can be a useful way of getting the students engaged with the subject in the real world.

2. Recap – Its important to recap, one thing that an observer looks for is that you, the teacher, are checking whether each student is learning. By doing a recap you are showing that the students have learnt what was taught in the lesson before and it also sets the starting point for learning in this lesson. The most obvious and arguably the most effective way to recap is to simply ask questions based on previous lessons. To ensure that you are promoting inclusive learning, try to direct the questions at a variety of students to ensure that the stronger students do not keep answering. Differentiate your questions to each students, giving the harder questions to the more able students and vice-versa.

3. Activities – There are a million different theories on teaching activities but I just follow some simple rules

  • No activity should last longer than 20 mins – I try to use a PowerPoint presentation for the whole session that is embedded with a variety of activities e.g. pair work, class discussions, team tasks etc.
  • Get the students moving – one technique that my mentor passed to me that I try to incorporate in every lesson is to make sure the students don’t stay in their seat for the whole lesson. I find this works a treat and observers love it as it combats boredom and adds an element of fun to the lesson. There are a couple of good ways of doing this, you could get students writing on the whiteboard or use teaching tools like triptico (see previous post). In my lesson, I used the ‘FindTen’ activity on Triptico and invited students up to the board to identify the correct answers. By doing this, the observer can see that I am assessing the students, you can also get the students to explain their choices to the class so that they are doing the teaching as well as you.
  • Vary the activities – if time allows, try to use a variety of activities e.g. don’t make students do pair work twice, use pair work once and then a class discussion.
  • Show differentiation – observers want to see that you have planned a lesson that stretches the strong students as well as catering to the needs of the less able. Make sure that any activity you use has extension tasks so that able students are not left sitting around doing nothing. A good technique to use is pairing strong students and weak students together so that they can help each other, or, if a strong student finishes an activity quickly, get them to help out someone who is struggling.
  • Always be assessing – never just deliver a PowerPoint and bombard the students with information. As a teacher it is your job to ensure students are learning and an observer will want to see that you are checking on learning. This is simple, throughout the lesson make sure that you are questioning the students on the content.
  • Never give up on a student – one thing that stopped me from getting a 1 in the past was that I allowed a student to not answer a question. When they couldn’t answer a question I directed at them, they didn’t know so I passed the question on. What I should have done, what you should do, is to help the student, encourage them and steer them towards the answer to help build their confidence.

4 – Plenary – Once the activities have taken place it is important to summarise the lesson so that the students realise what they have actually learnt! Again, the most obvious way to do this is to use simple questioning techniques.

5 – End – For me this is the most important part of any observation. The observer basically wants to see that every student has learnt and they cannot mark you well on this unless you test every single student in the room. Here are my favourite methods:

  • Exit quiz – ask questions based on the lesson, students cannot leave until they have correctly answered a question. It is good because every student gets a chance to prove themselves but is sometimes hard for the tutor to make fair.
  • Head to head – Set up a ‘competition table’ at the front of the class and put the students into pairs (try to pair up similar ability students). Each pair comes to the table and goes head to head on a question. They are given mini-whiteboards each and must each answer a question. This provides an element of competition which the students love and it also gives one student the chance to explain to the rest of the group why they chose a particular answer.
  • Mini-assessment – You could just carry out a mini test that you can mark out of lesson time.

In my opinion, this structure can be the basis for an excellent lesson, but it must be delivered with passion and energy. You can plan the perfect lesson that has the best activities but unless you create an environment that encourages and inspires students, your lesson will never be ‘excellent’.

Remember, I’m no expert but I hope this helps…..



5 thoughts on “How I Plan An Excellent Lesson

  1. Dear truthofteaching,

    I’d like to ask whether or not you do some sort of formal preliminary assessment to understand what your students already know about the topic, or do you confidently acquire this understanding through simple dialogue in the “starter” section?


  2. Hi Charlai,
    Generally when starting a brand new topic I will a simple starter activity to assess prior knowledge. I like to give each student a board marker and give them one minute to write anything they think is associated with the new topic. Then we have a class discussion on the topics.
    With my course, I tend to adopt the strategy that no student has any prior knowledge, that way you can ensure that no student is left behind because they don’t know the basics.
    Hope this helps

  3. Great tips for non teachers within your plans. In reading this I can see real ways to apply your plan to our work. So interesting reading into what goes into a teachers lesson plan! Great article. 

  4. With your first tip, I have always found a question is a better way to immerse students into material. Instead of giving them an article about North Korea`s leader, for example, you could ask the students what the line is between proper and excessive government involvement. You would be surprised by how quickly it becomes a deep and involved conversation, especially if the first few classes of the term had answers and discussions that felt safe to the students. I say that as a simultaneous student and teacher!

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