TM4T NQT Lesson Planning

Lesson Planning - we love to say - doesn't really exist; there is no such thing.  By this, we mean a number of things - four to be precise:

Firstly, lesson planning isn't one single activity: in fact it requires a complex sequence of events-in-time to result in the execution and delivery of each lesson. Arguably, the process starts when you develop your teaching skills in teacher training; though it may have begun with a choice of syllabus and curriculum and text books by your head of department; then someone draws up a scheme of work, and finally you get to prepare for grappling with 8J over comparative religion, or whatever battleground you've chosen.

What this means for you: You need to be clear where your lessons are sewn into this rich tapestry. Understand your present set of skills,strengths and demons; look backwards to see how much of the legwork has already been done, and look forward asking 'how can I make this easier and better next time round?'.

Secondly, the practical planning of individual lessons doesn't happen in any one specific way, so it doesn't require just one set of skills and techniques.. Sometimes it is mechanical and mundane: figuring where-in-the-textbook you finished last week; reviewing the next chapter; photocopying some worksheets and asking Steve if you can borrow one of his starters. Sometimes on the other hand, it is a creative and inspiring process: you come up with an original idea which enlightens and engages your students, differentiated to cater for different learning styles, with imaginative assessment and hand-crafted resources.

What this means for you: Effective time-management means doing things at the best time. If you are going to develop something creative, inspiring and unique you need to have the time - and the energy - to do so. If you need to whack out four lessons in a hurry, you need a different approach and a different kind of energy.

Thirdly, although pedagogical theorists insist that 'learning is learning', different subjects approach the practical issues of lesson planning in different ways. We tend to picture a secondary school teacher in front of a whiteboard with a PowerPoint chugging along, but different subjects - especially practical subjects - use strikingly different lesson patterns; different year groups demand different approaches (Y7 vs Y13) and even different schools treat the topic of lesson planning in different ways.

What this means for you: What it DOESN'T mean is that you've got to 'find your own best way' or 'figure out what's best for you'. It does mean that you need a flexible approach which caters for a range of circumstances; and it does mean that you need to be sensible about what-works-where and what doesn't.

And finally of course, there is the big lie. The Lesson Plan. You know, the sheet with more boxes than a Guardian Christmas crossword. In case you hadn't figured it out: this does NOT form any rational basis for planning a lesson. It is a useful way to document your thinking in a way that others can understand it, but very few sensible teachers use anything like this in planning their regular lessons.

What this means for you: Of course it's nice to be able to roll out a fabulous lesson with an exquisite lesson plan, but you should not confuse this with proper teaching. Real teaching involves not one lesson a week but twenty, and spending two hours polishing your diamond does rarely helps improve the overall quality of your lessons.

So, dear reader: that doesn't help much, does it? But we need to get that notion clear: Lesson Planning doesn't exist; or rather it exists only as an umbrella term to describe lots of important techniques and disciplines. You can't sensibly say that 'lesson planning is boring' or 'lesson planning is hard' or in fact 'lesson planning is' anything. Some of it is boring, some of it interesting; sometimes hard, sometimes easy. I suppose you could say that 'lesson planning is multi-faceted and variegated' but that doesn't help us much either.

So, at last: here is the TM4T approach to what some simple souls call  'Lesson Planning':

1.    Planning in general   

First of all, we separate 'Lesson Planning' from Planning to Teach. 'Planning to Teach' involves planning in advance how you are going to do your work, without dealing with trivial issues like students' learning (joke). Given the lopsided pattern of the teaching year (loads of free time in August, November: not) it is important that you use planning as a routine way of getting your thinking done beforehand. More, much more, here.

2.   Formal Planning

We deal with 'formal' lesson planning as an entirely separate discipline. This is the kind of planning required before an observation, when Ofsted visit, or when you are being interviewed for a job. As a trainee and as an NQT, you will do a lot of this, and it is important that you become wonderful at jumping through hoops, but you mustn't confuse it with real life. Our step-by-step guide to Formal Lesson Planning is here.


For all your 'real' lessons (that is: the ones which aren't being observed) we firstly encourage the practice of
  LP2LP2 stands for Lesson Planning Planning. This means that you focus not just on how you plan an individual lesson, but on how you can plan a lot of lessons.  LP2 involves doing simple but painful maths: if you teach five lessons a day and you have one hour in which to plan them, this means you need to be able to plan a lesson in twelve minutes. In the absence of any statistical evidence, we apply our TM4T version of Pareto Analysis, and assume the 80% of our lessons should be planned in one way, 20% another.  80% will be what we call Bread and Butter lessons, and you must be able to rattle 'em out like shelling peas.

If you want to understand a little of the thinking which underpins LPyou can read about it here. If you are more interested in the practicalities of LPand how it works, click here instead.

Now at this point, I need to remind you that this is a time-management website, not a lesson planning website. If you find that you don't need to do much lesson planning, please, please, don't invest unnecessary time doing so. No matter how you cut it, good lesson planning takes time, and the methods we recommend are no exception. However, if your  LP2 investigations reveal that you really have to start from scratch, then we have methods and techniques to help.

4.     magpieplanning and S&F

We apologise to those who teach on games fields, in workshops, in studios and in labs, but our main method is focused solely on those of us who stand in front of a classroom, with a projector as our friend. Luckily, the principles are clear enough for you to apply it in your own brand of classroom.  The full magpieplanning method is explained in glorious detail here. We have a cut-down version, called S&F which is for those unfortunate enough to live in a projector-free world. More here.