Anatomy of a Lesson

 aolAnatomy of a Lesson: AOL Lesson Planning Guide

Recently, I came across a resource my one of my old professor’s shared with us.  I don’t think this is the “end all – be all” formula for effective teaching, but it might serve as a helpful resource for some, or at least stimulate some reflective thinking.

Rather than just posting a link I thought I would take some time to discuss each section below: While reading there is one thing to keep in mind:

A lesson can span more than one class period, so don’t I think this template  indicates we do all of these everyday – just every lesson.

Section 1: Objective & Why it is important:

The First section regarding objectives I’ve talked about at length here and here, So I won’t go into too much detail.  Assuming that we are on board with the practice of using objectives (learning targets) and sharing objectives with students, I would like to focus on the second part of that statement “Why It is Important.”  In the beginning of a lesson, motivating students to learn material is a difficult challenge depending on the content, but one thing we can agree on is that if students determine if what they are about to learn as useful, they will probably put more effort into learning it.  Although it is easier said than done, taking the time to explain why our objectives are useful to students is time well spent.

Section 2: Activate/Assess Prior Knowledge:

This format indicates that we spend up to 20% of class getting students to think about what they already know about an objective.  This is another motivating factor that may allow kids to access text, or content, a little easier.  It is natural that people like to do things that we are good at.  As learners, we feel more comfortable learning about content we already know something about.  This section of a lesson could involve various front loading strategies: KWL, Anticipation Statements, Whole class brainstorming, any activity where students compile their knowledge of a topic prior to a more in depth study.

Teacher input 20%/Student Active participation 45%:

Me: What do I do alone to help students understand the content? (lecture, think aloud, demonstrations,  modeling…)

We: What do we do whole class? (whole class discussion, share-outs, interactive notes…)

2: What do we do in small groups or pairs? (Think Pair Share, reciprocal teaching, summary activities, compare notes…)

You: What do students do on their own: (Interactive notes, independent reading, annotating text, Think, Pair, Share,…)

When interpreting the above, I don’t think necessarily that these steps must occur in order, although they certainly could, but I do see value in hitting each of the four elements during a lesson. I think most lessons involve an element of teacher-directed input- whether that is a lecture, power point, or film, but students also need to process the content or practice the skill.  Doing so in small groups (closely monitored by a teacher) allows students to see how they are progressing in relationship with their peers and can give them immediate feedback and/or validation, while sharing out whole class exposes entire class to how the content or skills were processed by different students.

Identify Student Success 15%:

Ultimately, at the end of the day (or lesson), we need to ask ourselves “How do I know my students have it?”  This is where formative assessments comes into play – a topic which entire books have addressed.  But in terms of lesson planning, it is helpful to always have that question in the back of our minds – How can we tell if students have it? This requires students to demonstrate content knowledge or skill in various formats: paper pencil tests, discussions, conferences, observable behaviors, graphic organizers, summaries, ticket out the door activities…

Connected Practice:

This simply involves, as I interpret this, using the content knowledge or skill students addressed in the lesson to demonstrate mastery of objective.  i don’t think we can get here every day – but the more we do – the more we can make the learning in our rooms purposeful.

Monitor and adjust:

This is a phrase used and heard quite often in education. This basically implies that as the teacher – we are responsible to make sure the instructional decisions we are making are having the desired effect.  This requires us to frequently “take the temperature” of the room.  We can do this internally by being aware of body language and student activity, or we can simply ask students how their learning is going.  The key here, and one of the most difficult elements of being a teacher, is to be able to adjust when things aren’t going as planned – or to adjust when things go better than planned.  And yes, sometimes it seems we need to adjust for both in the same lesson for different students – a daunting task.


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