Even though I graduated from undergrad with a minor in education studies, I never had any formal instruction in writing lesson plans. But as I gained more teaching artist experience, I was able to beg, borrow and steal lesson planning tips and tricks from all the teaching artists I worked with.
I recently had an eye-opening discussion with our resident teaching artist, Ariana, that led to some significant breakthroughs about how to tighten my lesson plan language. Economy of language in my out-loud facilitation of activities is something I’ve been focusing on this year, and these are the ways I’m finding to apply that to my lesson plan writing.
1. Who is going to read this?
Every residency is different, and every classroom teacher I work with has different preferences in terms of how involved they are with the planning process. I find that my writing style varies depending on who is going to read the plan and tends to fall into one of the following categories:
- The Hit By a Bus Lesson Plan: this lesson plan is fool-proof. It is so thorough that another teaching artist or the classroom teacher would be able to facilitate the lesson from your plan if you get hit by a bus.
- The Personal Cheat Sheet: this lesson plan is for your eyes only. It may contain shorthand that makes sense to you, bullet points for effective visual reminders of what comes next, or anything else that you, the teaching artist, need to implement the lesson. It also may or may not be written on a post-it note.
- Somewhere in between: these lesson plans are usually the ones that maybe a co-teacher and I will write together, but a classroom teacher may or may not see. In-depth explanations of activities are there if they are new to one of us, but the rest of it is streamlined.
2. When Writing Activity Descriptions: What is it?
When expanding the explanation of an activity, asking yourself, “What is it?” instead of “How is this activity going to happen step by step?” immediately helps you slash excess wording. Part of my writing process involves articulating the picture of the lesson I see in my mind, so I usually start with many more words than I actually need to give the teacher a description of an activity.
To describe the activity, “Yes Let’s!” I would probably begin by defining pantomime, then explaining that each person is going to take a turn to say, “Let’s _______” and fill in the blank. Then the class responds with, “Yes let’s!” and pantomimes the activity until they hear me chime the finger cymbals. All of this answers the question, “How is this activity going to happen?” But when you distill it to “What IS this activity?” for the purpose of writing your lesson plan, that paragraph-long explanation becomes:
Students will pantomime favorite activities suggested by classmates.
Of course, sometimes an additional explanation is required. For example, in one of my current residencies, the classroom teacher has expressed a strong interest in learning more activities that she can facilitate in the classroom herself. One of my goals is to give her these tools, so including more specific activity descriptions will be helpful to her to reference after she has seen the activity in action.
3. Objectives and outcomes: to what end?
Articulating lesson objectives is the hardest part of the process for me, and I confess that I often write them last. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about the objectives- there’s no way you can craft a quality lesson without a goal in mind. But when they’re in my mind, often they are in a stage of thought where it’s not really words yet.
Whenever you end up writing your lesson objectives, make them attainable, specific and challenging. To maintain a drive and a purpose behind your curriculum, when writing objectives, ask yourself, “To what end?” An outcome that shows up a lot in my creative drama plans is, “Students will engage the actor’s toolbox (body, voice and imagination)” It’s a great start, but it’s missing a purpose. WHY are they engaging these tools? To what end? What are they going to do once they have engaged them?
Here are the residency outcomes I’ve come up with (after revising) for one of the kindergarten residencies I’m in the middle of teaching:
At the end of this five-session residency, students will
- Engage the actor’s toolbox (body, voice, imagination) to explore character, setting and conflict.
- Recall plot sequencing (beginning, middle and end) to retell a story.
- Create and activate an original story using skills learned.
- Practice active, respectful listening skills and taking turns speaking in order to more effectively share ideas in a group setting.
Bottom Line: It takes more thought, more effort and more time to use FEWER words to convey the same amount of information.
What questions do you have to ask your lesson plan when you’re writing?