Creating a lesson plan

One of the requests we have had from a lot of sessional law teachers is for advice about creating lesson plans.  I am sure there are a lot of different ways to approach planning out a class. Here are some thoughts about how I approach it, focusing on classes in which a problem question or hypothetical is the focus of the time spent in the class, and on a face to face context for teaching.

I have several goals in planning out a class.  Some are entirely prosaic.  First, I want to make sure that I don’t forget to tell students about a crucial date or an upcoming event, or I want to make sure I have established groups for a task that will take place in the following week.  If a written document is expected in the following class, I make sure I will remind students about it.

Depending on the class, I might also have a list of needed equipment. Water for a two hour lecture? Whiteboard markers? Recording device? Handouts? USB drive?

Having a written plan allows me to think in advance about what sequence of activities and information will make best sense from the point of view of the class and to ensure I will be reminded to adopt that sequence and not the one that seems natural to me.  If I hope that students will connect what we did last week with what we are doing this week, I need to make that explicit, and setting that up as an early element of the class in my lesson plan is part of that process. If am aware of links between content in my subject and the topic being taught in another subject to the same cohort, I will create triggers for making that connection overt in my class plan. For me, one example would be reminding students in my first year criminal law class that they have been learning structured problem solving in their legal skills topic and that this is a great place to apply them. If I want to include a summary of this week’s key points, I need to schedule that in my plan.

I also like to have a map of key content and skills to be covered in the class, set out in a logical and structured form.  Sometimes I create this by creating a table with the elements of the main offence being addressed on the left, the key precedents we will apply in the centre, and some prompts about the scenario on the right. Sometimes it might look more like a checklist. Provided it keeps me on track, ensuring that I don’t miss some elements out or–when I am teaching many repeats, forget which class I taught this point to already–it is doing its job.

Time management can be crucial.  It took me a lot of years of teaching to be confident about managing the content of a class within the allotted time, given how diverse and unpredictable the interactions in my classes can be, even when they apparently cover the same material. If time management is a big concern for me I will have decided in advance which elements of my plan are crucial and need to be covered, which are optional and can be dropped if time does not allow, and what options I might have for delivering content more time efficiently if the class turns out to need more time spent on something I did not predict would be time consuming.

For me, though, the most important aspect of pre-planning a class is thinking about engaging learning activities and planning time in such a way as to make sure that they are not routinely dropped in favour of passive (for students) content delivery (by me) that is unlikely to provide an optimal learning environment for students.  I will figure out in advance whether ice breakers are needed; whether question time might be useful; whether I need to take paper for students to write down their ‘muddiest point‘ or ‘most urgent question’ or to undertake an informal, anonymous survey of how students are experiencing the class.  I will decide whether I should break the class up into prosecution and defence to prepare arguments, and if so, for the entirety of the problem or for smaller chunks of content.

I would encourage discussion among teachers who are teaching the same subject about how to approach running the class itself and what kind of lesson plan the person who is leading the teaching team would expect to follow or for the team to be following. Different institutions and different staff experience differing expectations, levels of support and levels of autonomy.

How do you plan your classes?  How do you plan for online teaching interactions?

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