Teacher at whiteboard in front of students

Lesson planning: Tips for trainees

Advice for trainee members on lesson planning, timing and pacing, and tips on how to save time.

As a trainee teacher, you are likely to be required to produce a plan for the lessons you teach. There is no prescribed format or length for lesson planning. All that is specified in the Ofsted framework is that 'teachers plan effectively, using clear objectives that children understand'.

Your school will probably have its own planning format to allow for consistency, but there are generally three types of plans – long, medium and short-term – used together.

Long-term plans

Long-term plans are for the year, outlining which topics will be covered by each class (and in each subject for primary) at what time in the year. They will have been done by the class teacher before the autumn term and are usually based on a whole-school curriculum ‘map’. This will usually be based on the national curriculum requirements if you are in a maintained school. You must familiarise yourself with the national curriculum for your subject or year group.

Medium-term plans

Medium-term plans are for the academic term or, more usually, half term, setting out what specific aspect of the curriculum will be covered in week-by-week format. You will be required to do at least one of these, most likely in your final term.

Short-term plans

Short-term plans are best done for a group of lessons rather than lesson-by lesson. They can vary in the level of detail, dependent on the requirements of a school, but as a trainee, you should assume you need to cover them in great detail. Your programme will likely recommend what you need to include, and this should also help you to provide evidence towards meeting the Teachers’ Standards.

Do not forget to evaluate lessons; what went well? What went not so well? What would you do differently next time? Are there any children who exceeded expectations? Any who did not meet them?

Lesson timing and pacing

This is something which will become easier with practice, but an important thing to bear in mind as you plan your first lesson is how to pace it - too few activities can lead pupils to seek diversion whilst too many can get them confused. The transitions between classroom activities can be unstable periods which need effective orchestration. They are well handled when preceded by some advance warnings: 'There are three minutes before we return to the whole group', 'We've been working on this experiment for 10 minutes now so you should be about half way through'. 

When thinking about activities, make sure you know what you are trying to achieve. Do your planned activities achieve learning outcomes? Most importantly, do your pupils understand the goals of the classroom activity? It is paramount that your pupils are engaged on the learning journey and for this to happen, they need to understand where they are going and how what they are doing will get them there. You also need to think about how you will recognise and reward pupil effort.

Who else needs to see your lesson plans?

Your plans are for you and other professionals working with you. But occasionally, others will need to see your planning. When Ofsted inspectors arrive, they will look for clear objectives that show your intentions for what children will learn and how these objectives will be achieved. Inspectors will not expect to find a particular model or format for planning, they will be much more interested in the impact of planning on your teaching and the children's learning.

Your time should be used for aspects of planning that are going to be useful for their own purposes, and which have a direct impact upon the quality of learning and teaching. Don't spend time producing documents that don't meet these purposes. Also don't feel you have to start with a blank sheet when planning for the week ahead. Good quality plans are already available. Utilise plans written by colleagues and other plans on the internet.

As in other professions, experience can and should be shared. Collaborative planning can be liberating, supportive and effective. Work with other colleagues, draw on their specialist knowledge and involve teaching assistants where possible.

As you write your plans, think about what you are going to assess. Be selective, focus on the key aspects of learning that you wish to assess, and highlight these on your plan, then use a simple system for recording pupil's progress. Link curricular targets to your plans for groups of pupils and some individuals.

During your placement you might ask to see how other teachers plan. You should expect to receive support in your planning from your class teacher and your mentor. Your planning is likely to be more detailed while you are learning what works and why, but you should explore with your mentor/tutor what effective planning could look like as you become more confident.

A few tips to save time

  • Use the previous year's plans and add your own ideas.
  • Work with colleagues in the same year group - split up the work and share your plans and resources.
  • Some things are the same each week so if you use a similar week's plan you only need to amend the details.
  • Keep a copy of everything.
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