Teaching effective lessons in your classroom…the critical stage in the learning process.
This is where the “rubber hits the road.” This is the point where your students increase their knowledge… or not.
The lesson delivery sequence
If you followed my advice, you've already incorporated engaging activities into your lessons such as technology, video, interactive whiteboards, small-group work, etc. But all of that can fall apart if you, the teacher, feel disorganized in your delivery or become frazzled when things don’t go as planned. So, let’s address the process of delivery.
I've outlined already that a lesson will generally follow this sequence:
As a Group
Gathered in your classroom focal point:
1. Introducing the standard/goal
2. Teacher demonstrating application of the standard (“I do”)
3. Teacher and students working through an application of the standard together (“we do”)
4. Students working through the application of the standard on their own (“you do”)
5. Giving instructions for individual work and checking for understanding
At their desks or in small groups, depending upon the curriculum or lesson:
6. Reinforcement activity (such as worksheets)
7. Supporting individual learners to enable them to successfully complete the reinforcement activity
As a group
Back at your classroom focal point:
8. Reviewing of lessons learned, student self-assessment of mastery
Let's go through this process step-by-step and flesh out some details. First, before we begin teaching effective lessons, a few notes on what to do with the stacks of paper you have created.
Storing lesson plans
When you have finished your lesson-planning process, you will undoubtedly have several packets of paper: paper-clipped, binder-clipped, Post-It-noted, and rubber-banded.
The last thing you want to be doing when you have a classroom full of children staring at you is rummaging through your lesson-plan piles looking for what to do next. That will get you flustered before you even begin.
What you need is a little bit of organization. What you need is another tub from the dollar store!
I've always tried to stay two weeks ahead on completely-prepped lesson plans. I've heard teachers say that they like to plan out through the end of the unit, and that's fine, but as you are approaching the end of the unit you'd better be doing some planning on the next one! Thus, my two-week guideline.
Once these lesson plans are ready, I place them into my “two-week tub.” This is a dollar-store dishpan with dividers for days of the week. Everything for the next teaching day goes behind the appropriate divider in the order in which it will be taught.
In other words, if my teaching schedule goes “math, reading, spelling, social studies,” then the lesson-plan packets for each of those curricular areas are placed in that order behind the appropriate tab for the day. The rest of the two-week plans are stored in a similar way.
Video tips: organizing printed lesson plans
You can immediately see the advantages:
- The tub keeps everything in one place, as opposed to spread around the room.
- It can be carried about as needed without jumbling the contents.
And the big one:
- When it's time to teach the next subject, I know exactly where to go and exactly what to grab without any fumbling.
The mini-lesson is the big debut of your lesson plan.
I’ve already cautioned you about ensuring that the lesson is “mini” to stay within the attention span of your students. If you are introducing only one concept, then the lesson shouldn't need to be overly long. If it’s longer than fifteen minutes, no matter how great the lesson is, you will lose their attention. Now, let's talk about the mechanics of lesson delivery.
In order to ensure that all attention and focus is on you – and to ensure that you have quick behavioral control – students should be gathered in your main teaching focal point before beginning.
You’ll be working on some problems together, so have them bring personal whiteboards and markers or clipboards and pencils. This is important even if you’ll have some kids working in front of the group on the whiteboard (interactive or not).
1. Introduce the standard/goal
Start by telling your students what they are going to learn. This includes the learning target (the standard) for the lesson and also an introduction with a real-world example. For example:
“Today we are learning about inference, which is how to understand what an author – or even one of your friends – might mean even if they don’t write it out or say it.”
Tell them why you are going to learn it.
“It’s important to understand the meaning behind the words in order to fully understand what someone is communicating to you. Without this understanding, you might miss out on a whole lot of information.”
Then have them turn and talk to a partner to restate the goal of the lesson in their own words.
After this introduction, dive into your lesson plan. After a more in-depth introduction of the concept, including examples they can see, you’ll proceed to the “I do,” “we do,” “you do” portion for applying the standard. This means that you demonstrate, then you all work through a problem together, then the students work through one on their own.
2. Demonstrate application of the standard (“I do”)
Work through an example, using your document camera or the whiteboard so that all can see your process.
3. Work through an application of the standard together (“we do”)
Have the students work an example that is similar to the first one on their personal whiteboards, while talking you through how to do it. Make sure everyone can see you work your example.
Next, have the students work an example that is harder than the first one (raising the rigor) on their personal whiteboards, while talking you through how to do it, for all to see.
4. Have the students work through the application of the standard on their own (“you do”)
Finally, every student works through an example on their own, using personal whiteboards or clipboards. They can hold up their work when they are done so that you can see if they have mastered the concept.
Be ready to do more than one problem this way if you see that understanding is lacking. And don’t hesitate to up the stakes a little with a more rigorous problem.
Finally, have your kids share, in their own words, what they have learned.
5. Give instructions for individual work and check for understanding
Provide instructions and expectations for how to complete the independent work when you break up the mini-lesson, and have a student repeat those instructions in her own words. Then off to their seats (or small groups) they all go.
Video tips: teaching a math mini-lesson
“Really? All that in 15 minutes?!”
You may be thinking that there is no way this can all be accomplished in fifteen minutes. But if you do your mini-lessons the same way in every subject every day, the children will quickly get into the routine.
You will be amazed at the amount of content you can cover – with very high engagement – when everyone learns and follows an efficient learning process. Essentially, you are setting an expectation for how your lessons will go and, with practice, your students will conform to those expectations.
6. Start the reinforcement activity (such as worksheets)
The work that students undertake independently after the mini-lesson is designed to cement in their minds the concepts you have taught by way of practical application. Often, this is a worksheet, whether it be math problems to puzzle through or reading selections to parse and analyze.
Remember what I keep saying about rigor! It's this independent reinforcement activity that will scaffold your students from basic understanding up through more advanced and difficult application.
A child who works his brain harder – even harder than is required for mastery of grade-level standards – will better remember the concept than one who has done the bare minimum.
7. Support individual learners to enable them to successfully complete the reinforcement activity
This is where my circle table comes into play. Some kids will need to head back to your one-on-one focus area right away after a lesson, and that's okay. You will often find students who can do the independent work immediately, but they lack confidence. A lack of confidence can be just as debilitating in gaining knowledge as a lack of understanding.
Circle-table work is very brief. You're not there to do the work for the students, of course, so your conversation starts with having them share what they are confused about, then working an example together. Immediately after, they do an item on the worksheet on their own so that you can pinpoint any mistakes they are making and correct them.
Then back to their desks they go to continue muddling along on their own.
You are then free to circulate the room, checking in on and helping other students. You should always have a “hot list,” either in your head or written down (if you need a reminder); essentially, you need to know who needs your extra support based upon:
- How they were grasping the mini-lesson
- The results of their prior work in the subject
- Their status as an English language learner
- Whether or not they have an IEP in this subject
But don’t focus only on those kids; during your drive-by’s, make sure you give plenty of pats on the back and encouragement to everyone. And use those questioning strategies rather than handing out answers or meaningless compliments.
Finishing the lesson
8. Review lessons learned, have students self-assess mastery
After independent work, pull the students back together for a period of self-reflection that will further cement what was learned. Ask:
“What was our goal today?”
“How are you doing on achieving this goal? How do you know?”
I have my kids give themselves a numerical ranking by holding up their fingers with a three, two, or one:
1 = I still need help
2 = I'm getting there
3 = I've got it
Ask the children:
“How do you know if you have mastered this topic?”
“Do you feel like you're ready to teach this to someone else? How do you know?”
You may find, during this mini verbal assessment, that there is still work that your entire class needs to do to achieve mastery. This will be further clarified when you check their independent work, which we will consider in another article.
Rinse and repeat
Does that whole process seem sort of intense? Well, that's because it is! Learning new concepts is an intense process, but, really, it boils down to the following steps:
- Introduce a small portion of something new
- Work on it together a little bit
- Work on it alone with support
- Review what's been learned
Teaching effective lessons
What I have shown you are the practical steps in carrying out the “gradual release” method of learning. It seems intense because it is very intentional, and there are no wasted steps.
And believe me, there is no time for wasted steps in an elementary teacher’s life!
Kids, like all humans, love routines. This is nothing more than a routine that you establish about how teaching and learning occur in your classroom. Your students will get on board almost immediately, and you will be amazed at how quickly you can move them to higher levels of mastery – and how much content you can cover!
Now let's talk about individualizing.