This post originally appeared on the blog Teacher Ink.
A lesson grows organically out of your kids’ needs and abilities. But with all the new buzzwords and protocols, it can sometimes seem like an impossible maze.
Here are 7 timeless keys to a great lesson. I found that they help me organize my teaching and I hope they help you, too.
1) Your learning target
Your learning target is the starting point. It’s what you want your kids to master, and it should be front and center at all times. Make it SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. Keep your lesson short and lively, and then move into individual or small group work. Finally, through kid-watching, checklists, tasks, or exit activities, be sure that you’ve met your objectives.
2) Remember: the teacher is not the star
Remember: the teacher is not the star, the children are. Students should be proactive and lead high-level discussions without always being prompted by the teacher. They should know how to use resources in the room—books, dictionaries, internet, and anchor charts—and be free to access them. Even 5-year-olds can reflect on their own mastery of the learning target via rubrics, sharing with peers, and exit activities.
3) Ask a mix
Ask a mix of low and high level questions. Involve all the children by having them turn and talk—often and briefly—to the person next to them. English Language Learners can join a group of two, to learn from their answers. Want super-engagement? Try a whole-class conversation where kids call on each other. Just guide them to “go deeper” with divergent thinking. You can end a discussion by posing a thought-provoking question. Groups of six kids can turn and talk about it, and then share their ideas with the class.
4) Check for understanding
Check for understanding with a quick, informal assessment—and do it frequently. For instance, have the students show “Thumbs up if you understand,” or “Explain the learning target to your partner.” Then adjust your lesson or reteach to small groups as necessary.
5) Differentiate for small groups
Differentiate for small groups of kids based on needs, abilities, interests and learning styles. That includes visual, audio, kinesthetic, tactile, group size, space and lighting preferences. When you really know each child you can individualize the content, process, or final product of a lesson.
Please don’t think of this as more work for you. It’s actually a life-saver to get everyone on board. You might have to scaffold, or build little steps to help some kids succeed, while others take creative leaps. All the kids will master the same learning target, but they may take different roads to get there.
6) Classroom management
Classroom management procedures should be in place, with effortless movement; for instance, from meeting area to tables, or to small groups and back. Kids should know how to turn and talk to their buddy, and how to join a nearby group if their buddy is absent. You’ll explain exactly how these routines look—almost like a stage show—then demo with a small group, and practice till they’re smooth. Organize your teaching resources so they’re easy to get to. Ditto for student books, sharp pencils, and other supplies.
For your free Eye Exercise Calming Brain Break poster, click here!
7) Behavior management
Behavior management is a top priority. Ideally, you won’t have to think about behavior. But in practice, kids might lose focus or get off-task. Be prepared to bring them back as gracefully as possible—by saying a child’s name in a pleasant voice, or by doing a quick brain break. For example, try clapping patterns that the kids repeat, doing a brief chant or song related to the lesson topic, or a slow stretch with deep breathing. Above all, keep your classroom tone positive with a deep current of respect and rapport. Rapport will help you save the day, even if things do go wrong.
When you teach, it all comes together seamlessly. That’s when the magic happens.
That’s when you blend your personality into the mix, and show how much you love life and learning. Because without these, you might have the keys to a great lesson, but the doors they open won’t have the same appeal.
I hope you enjoyed thinking about these 7 keys to a great lesson! If you want a thorough and detailed look at The Perfect Lesson, this guide will take you step by step.
The Perfect Lesson includes checklists, charts, cheat-sheets, tips, class posters, lesson plans and lesson plan templates for your expert Danielson teacher evaluation in K – 5.
As always, I’m wishing you all the best!
Renee Dawn has been a New York City public school teacher for over 20 years, and enjoys designing resources that will help teachers feel calm and confident in the classroom. She has a creative approach to teaching the whole child with the common core, music, dance, meditation, conversation and a big dollop of laughs.Please visit her TpT store, Facebook, Pinterest, and Teacher Ink blog for creative teaching ideas.