Friday, February 7, 2014

Fast Lesson Planning Ideas

I am a mentor teacher this year for the first time ever! One of the topics that my mentee wanted to explore was quick, effective lesson planning. So today, I'd like to share:
Learning to plan quickly has been high priority for me since I started teaching.  When you're teaching a combination class, or any class for that matter, time is definitely the biggest obstacle to conquer.

It takes me around 15 minutes to plan two weeks of math for two grades. I spend around 10 minutes planning whole group reading for both grades- including Seatwork and Read to Someone activities. Writing, Social Studies and Science take varying amounts of time, but it takes me less than 45 minutes to plan two weeks of those. 

Here are my top SIX(ish) tips for fast lesson planning:

1. Be extremely thoughtful when setting up your lesson plan template.
A little bit of work at the start of the year can save a ton of work in the long run.

I have many procedures and activities that I repeat daily or weekly, so at the start of the year, I set up my plan book to reflect that. It always takes me around two hours to set up, print, and bind my plan book, but after I do, It's smooth sailing from there.

We do Word of the Day each day, so that is typed on my template. 

I follow the same basic lesson format for Go Math each day so my math boxes are set up like a form. I just fill in the page numbers and IXL skills because the verbage is all in there. If I change up the format a couple of times, per week, I just cross out the pre-printed part and write what we're doing instead. (ex: math notebooking rather than a book lesson.)

For whole group reading, we do the focus skill on Monday- with an anchor chart. We review the vocabulary on Tuesday, we begin reading and discussing the story on Wednesday, we continue reading the story on Thursday and on Friday, we do test-taking skills and a Kagan Vocabulary game. Again, I just write in the page numbers of what we're doing.

If you want to see my plan templates as an example, you can grab them on TN for free. Click {here} to snag them!

2. Tab out your books for fast lesson planning.
Okay, I don't do this myself and I wouldn't recommend it for every textbook, but having tabs in certain books can help you plan much faster. Our reading basal, for example, has its own spelling and writing lessons- along with a LOT of other lessons I don't use, so it would always take me forever to flip through the pages to find the pages I needed to quickly plan. 
My brilliant para invented this wonderful, free tabbing idea- she prints out labels and tapes them to pages with clear tape. This little revolution has slashed my reading planning time in half. At least!

3. Use district and school-promoted strategy words in your template.
This partially for the person who checks your plans, but it can be pretty dang helpful to you as well. Use the buzz words when you set it up so that you know you're meeting expectations throughout the year and so does your principal. 
Here are some examples of key buzz words at my school:
  • Marzano Vocabulary
  • Kagan Structures
  • Quick Writes
  • Modeled/Guided/Shared/Independent Instruction (Gradual Release of Instruction)
  • Guided Reading
  • Word Work (instead of spelling)

I work these into my plans at the start of the year and then I use the strategies more easily.

4. Type all of your state standards somewhere on your plans.
We're required to have them on there, so I type them up on the template because:

Also, I type them off to the side so that they're not taking up space within my small-as-it-is-already plan boxes.

5. Think outside the box when it comes to plan setup.
 When I was making my guided reading plan template, I was stuck on the Monday-Friday plan format. However, we only read two books per week and practice strategies within those books. It was a  redundant waste of time to write the title and level of the same books three different times (for each group!) So, I switched my plan formatting to reflect the usage of two books per week. Sometimes the books take three days per book and sometimes they take four- so not listing the days of the week in Guided Reading helps me tremendously. It also gives me way more space to write notes! I just started using this plan format- and I especially like the reminders in the right hand column about Guided Reading best practices. This seriously helps me so much.

6. Here are a few more quick tips for lesson planning:
  • Bind and tab your district pacing guides for all of the subjects- so that you can see them at a glance. Mine are bound into my plan book, but it would probably be smarter to bind them separately so you don't have to flip back and forth.
  • Hand-write your plans. I'm serious. I can quickly plan during short bursts of available time when I hand-write them- it truly takes me longer to do it on the computer. Also, you don't have to wait until you have every subject planned to use your plan book!
  • Use a folder for the covers of your plan book. Just cut it down the middle and bind it. You can put any testing data that you'll use for planning along with any random papers you get from meetings. This keeps them close as a handy reference. This saves you time because you don't have to go and look for those papers to use them while planning.
  • Buy writing units on Teacher's Notebook. Bonus points if rubrics are included. These are SO helpful in streamlining the writing planning process if your district doesn't have a set writing curriculum.
  • Give your para a list of things you need her to do with your small groups, teach her how to use the planning resources, and let her plan it herself!! My para is so so so so so so wonderful. She plans relevant math games, word work activities, and even her reading groups. When she has extra time in class, she browses Teacher's Notebook for more lesson ideas. I am so lucky to have a wonderful helper like her.
I'd love to hear more ideas!! Was there anything I missed to help new teachers (or any teachers) plan faster? Comment below!


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