Five Steps to Successful Lessons

  • This blog entry was written by Jennifer Owens, Director of Independent Studies at FPU.

A recent article by Mike Schmoker (The Lost Art of Teaching Soundly Structure Lessons, June 4, 2013 on Education Week Teacher web site ) reminded me that the need for effective strategies for teaching and learning has not really changed since I originally started teaching (and that was, needless to say, a really long time ago.) This is good news to me.

Now, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, I feel that the pendulum has swung back, away from a teaching approach that many districts and schools had embraced – that of teaching to the printed curriculum, step-by-step textbook lesson plans and scripted teacher responses that locked many teachers into a rigid approach of teaching.

Until now, with the adoption of the CCSS in most states, students had lost much of the exposure to content areas that were known to engage students in learning and applying what they learned in creative ways. What happened to the arts and music in education? How many teachers have had to abandon interesting and engaging science experiments, or learning about history and social studies, or career technical fields in the interest of only learning for the sake scoring proficient or advance on standardized tests in ELA and Math?

Many people will agree that adoption of Common Core State Standards, has given the teachers the opportunity to return to strategies to teach with more creativity, and incorporate many of the content areas that have had to take a back seat to teaching primarily ELA and Math. Like many others, I don’t agree that good teaching had to be abandoned in order for students to learn.

This takes me back to the article about the art of creating structured lesson plans. I agree with Schmoker when he states that “for decades, the elements of a well-structured lesson have been marginalized or ignored in most schools, forced to compete for time and attention with unending, successive waves of (mostly) unproven innovations and policy requirements.” It would seem from his inferences that teachers have moved away from the need to master the elements of an effective lesson plan and “the profound impact they would have on student learning.”

So what are these elements that would allow teachers to be able to create powerful lessons?

1.  Learning objectives that clearly state the purpose of the lesson and what students need to learn and be able to do

2.  Teachers’ modeling or demonstrating what students need to do and how to think about the lesson to be able to successfully complete the assessment, using engaging strategies based on research and best practices.

3.  Teacher continually checking for understanding throughout the lesson

4.  Allowing students to apply and practice steps modeled by the teacher (guided practice)

5.  Adjusting instruction if enough students are struggling (think re-teaching or pairing up students to help each other.)

If you think that developing effective lesson plans is passé, think again. Schmoker points out that with three years of highly effective instruction, student will gain an average of 35 to 50 points in standardized tests, and six to nine months of academic progress.

With this information, how many teachers would benefit from professional development, to revisit the importance of improving lesson plans to use the strategies and best practices that have been the focus of recent research? Good teaching, after all is effective regardless of the reform du jour.


  1. Hi, love this article because it says what a lot of us have been saying all along: give us the goals and objectives of what needs to be taught and allow me the creative use of my skills to get my students there! I have had that freedom teaching community college work, but when I was in the grade-school classes, we teachers were tied to bland, one-size-fits-all curriculum much of the time. Keep up the good articles!

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