NB: This post does no longer represents my latest thinking. I’ve updated my approach to planning here.

Like all teachers, my main aim in life is to run, whooping, out of the school gates by 3 o’clock. My time is therefore precious and I can’t be wasting it mucking about planning lessons. Fortunately for us skiving scoundrels,  SMW recently told us that as far as Ofsted are concerned there is no need for lesson plans. As long as lessons are planned.

These are my two guiding principles for lesson planning:

  • Marking is planning
  • Focus on learning not activities

So, how’s this for a minimalist approach to lesson planning? Just answer the following questions, and then try to ‘break’ the plan:

  1. What did students learn last lesson and how will it relate to this lesson?
  2. Which students do you need to consider in this particular lesson?
  3. What will students do the moment they arrive?
  4. What do you want students to learn and what activities will they undertake in order to learn it?
  5. How will you (and they) know if they have made progress?

By breaking the plan I mean that you should conduct a thought experiment where you anticipate everything that could go wrong and consider your response. A bit like a risk assessment.

The only other consideration I will typically indulge in is whether the plan is likely to produce ‘flow’. Basically, is the level of challenge complemented by the level of support? Here’s  my handy visual for mapping flow based on the ideas from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s book. The theory is that if lessons are high challenge/low stress students will be more likely to enter the mystical state where time flies, they become utterly absorbed in their work and ideas just, er… well, flow.


I have the diagram above up in my room and regularly ‘take the temperature’ of a lesson by asking students to place themselves on the graph. This gives me valuable information about whether I need to raise or lower the stress or challenge of a particular activity. Invaluable.

But can you really do all this in two minutes? No. Of course you can’t. Certainly not from scratch.This was a bit of a childish response to Ross McGill’s rather nifty 5 minute lesson plan which you can download from the TES here. And I have adapted (shamelessly pinched) the ideas for this quickfire approach to planning from John Tomsett’s marvellous Lesson Progress Map which can be found here.

I do, however, believe that teachers often spend too much time on lesson planning, and that marking is generally a better use of time. In fact I’d argue that marking (if done well) is planning. If you’ve thought carefully about your medium term plan and have a clear overview on where students are supposed to get to, marking their books provides all the input I need to plan purposeful lessons.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most of the time we spend planning gets wasted thinking about Question 4. You can save yourself a lot of frustration and get some elegantly simple ideas by using something like the Learning Event Generator.

Why wouldn't you?

Why wouldn’t you?

In any given week I’ll sometimes spend a disproportionate time planning one or two lessons but most will be put together in no more than 5 minutes. My formula tends to be that if every fourth lesson for every class is a corker, all will be well. Using a checklist like the one above could help us streamline the process of preparing lessons and free up more time for formative assessment. Or having a life.

Anyway, give it whirl; see what you think.

Related posts

Planning the ‘perfect’ lesson
Work scrutiny: what’s the point in marking books?
Are worksheets a waste of time?