Lesson Planning: How Early is too Early?

Written by Julie Osterhout
One of the most time-consuming parts of teaching is lesson planning and prep work. People who don’t teach often speak of how nice the schedule must be—getting home earlier than most jobs, no need to sit at a desk all day, and, most importantly, those summers off! What people don’t understand is that the amount of hours teachers work far exceeds the time they spend instructing in the classroom. Before a lesson can be taught, it needs to be planned and prepared for. Not to mention the grading, evaluation, and assessment that comes next. And don’t even get me started on writing comments, answering parent questions or updating bulletin boards!

Let Shoelace Learning help you with planning by signing your class up for a FREE reading comprehension game that will keep them learning all year long.

Teacher grading at her desk

With summer drawing to a close, my colleagues and I are starting to plan (or feel guilty that we haven’t started yet), and it begs a question: When is the best time to start planning? There are several different camps on this, with two main schools of thought:

  1. All In Advance: You should plan everything – the whole year, before the year starts. This way you can have a clear vision for what you’ll be doing each day, and that long view will allow you to guide the class and manage your time.
  2. All In Real Time: You should wait until you’re in it and lesson plan as you go. This allows you to adapt to the kids in your space, who will inevitably have different needs than the students you taught last year. It also makes the unexpected, like a snow day, much less stressful to manage, because it only derails that week, rather than derailing the entire schedule for the year you’ve already made.

The Perfect Mix

Personally, I’m a fan of a hybrid method. Lesson planning for the whole year in a minute way doesn’t feel practical, but chunking out when you’ll be covering, like units and main topics makes a lot of sense. When it’s a few weeks before the next new topic, I like to sit down and flesh out how I’d like to fit the content into the time. For the start of the year this can be tricky, because I haven’t met my students yet and for me, adapting to what they need is the most important factor.

Lesson Planning Is An Art

On paper, planning seems very straightforward. You have 5 days a week with a set amount of time so you plan activities that will take up that time. However, I can count on more than one hand when a lesson did not take the amount of time that I anticipated. For that, I must pose a very crucial question to you:

What’s worse: an activity taking significantly less time than you thought leaving you to scramble OR an activity taking significantly longer than you thought leaving you to have to rearrange and condense somewhere else?

Planning is the delicate balance of allowing enough time for the lesson to develop and still having enough materials to fill the time. The last thing you want is for your students to see you sweat! Therefore, the answer is to be prepared. 

Pro Tip: With each unit, have 2 “just in case” activities that can be used at any time. Check out Dreamscape’s Resource Hub for Prep-Free, Print-and-go Activities. Also, have a solid understanding of which activities you can skip should you be cutting too close with your pacing.

Whatever you choose, flexibility is important. At times new content just doesn’t stick like you thought it would. Sometimes a situation arises in class and everyone needs to pause and digest. Sometimes it snows. A lot. The most important thing is that you as the teacher feel ready for class each day, and that your students feel heard, cared for, and capable. It’s also important to make sure you have enough space to get everything done, while also having time to do things that have nothing to do with school. We’re all better teachers when we’re well-rested!

Let Us Join You! We would love to continue to support you with planning and student growth all year long! Sign your class up for FREE and see how our game and resources fit into your classroom. 

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