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…..



PGCE, GTP, DTLLS – Are they really useful?

I was browsing the education pages on BBC news and came across this news story…Image

The third paragraph in particular caught my attention. “The government wants more teacher training to be delivered ‘on the job’ instead of in university-based courses”. So should the conventional, theory led teaching qualification be scrapped in favour of an apprentice-style award?

If you ask anyone who is currently doing their teaching qualification, they will all say one thing – there is so much theory. Now ask them if they think it is useful and the majority will state that its all useless. During my studies I thought that the whole process was just a box-ticking exercise and a real teacher doesn’t need to know what behaviourism or the process model is – they can just teach. I had already been teaching for 6 months in a FE college so I believed that I was a natural born teacher and spending hours with Petty, Scales and Tummons would not change a thing. But I was wrong…

This afternoon I sat down with my team and my manager explained to us that our formal observation week would be in a few weeks time. The format would be the same as last year, one observation at any point in the week. My manager then went on to pass out a 2-sided A4 sheet of paper with everything the observers would be expecting to see in the observation. I was one of the last to receive the handout and I was seriously worried watching the faces of the ‘old guard’ as they read through the list. The handout finally reached me and I was surprised…..pleasantly. The list demanded lesson plans with differentiation, class profiles, assessment records, schemes of work with employ-ability skills and reflection periods. So whilst my esteemed colleagues were quaking in their boots, I was thanking my teaching qualification for teaching me all about professional practice. Now I am starting to realise that my teaching qualification really has helped me become a better teacher. If the process moved out of the classroom and did become more ‘on the job,’ I doubt I would have been prepared for the observation week coming up. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no point learning all the theory if you don’t have the natural ability to teach. We need to have an element of learning on the job so that we can put any theory we learn into practice. For those of you sitting through countless lessons on curriculum theories, hang in there. It may seem like what you’re doing is pointless, but it is sinking in and it is affecting your professional practice in a very positive way!

Lets hope I can make my teachers proud by getting an ‘outstanding’ in my obs week!

changing students mindsets with no help from the Arctic Monkeys

I suggest you listen to a song. It is by the Arctic Monkeys and it’s called ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cos I Move Your Chair’. In the song, the ‘Monkeys take you through a list of things you shouldn’t do. From listening to the song I now know that I shouldn’t ever “find a well known hard man and start a fight” and I definitely shouldn’t wear a shell suit on bonfire night. But the Sheffield boys missed out one key lyric from their song….

…don’t give back marked work at the end of a college day…

I’m not sure what you would rhyme that with, I’m not sure whether it would sound any good sung along to drums and guitars. But I do know that giving students their marked assignments back at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon is a definite no no….especially when it hasn’t passed. I can understand my learners points of view. They have to attend around 4 hours of lectures of a course they signed up for and they even had to go to McDonald’s for lunch. So why now is this teacher who spends hours marking their work telling them they have to do work?! Bless them, they are naive. They think they can half-ass an assignment and pass it first time. Once I had explained to the students that the ones who had passed could go home and the ones who hadn’t were staying to complete it, I knew I had done my job! No I’m not being sadistic, my job isn’t making students life hell. Those students who did stay completely changed their work ethic and I swear I could of heard one of them say “I’m gonna work harder on it next time”. Giving students these small life lessons is why I do the job. The reason I am a teacher is not only because I want to pass on my knowledge, I also want to improve each student as a person. In my eyes, it is my job to make polish the rough diamonds I have and to make each student more employable. When you see a students mindset change, it makes it all worthwhile 🙂