Planning Instruction & Learning Experiences

Now that you have a clear destination (Stage 1) and a way to measure your success in getting there (Stage 2), you are ready to start planning how you will achieve your end goal. Lesson plans are a road map to facilitate teaching and learning. Lesson planning is an important aspect of effective teaching because it focuses the teaching on the students; however, lesson planning can seem overwhelming and laborious. In this section, you will learn about the third stage in the Backward Design process to design lessons that transcend the simple transfer of knowledge.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to

  • Plan guided practice opportunities.
  • Plan independent practice opportunities.
  • Monitor students’ independent work.
  • Activate student interest with an anticipatory set and summarize learning at the end of a lesson.

Stage 3: Planning Instruction & Learning Experiences

Tips from the Pros: The 1-Sentence Lesson Plan

Consider Norman Eng’s blog post titled Introducing the One Sentence Lesson Plan. The blog provides a detailed description of how to simplify the lesson planning process without losing critical information regarding student and teacher actions.

Review the Pickleball PE unit plan to see how you might identify teacher and student actions using the 1-Sentence Lesson Plan strategy.

The third stage of Backward Design focuses on the instruction the teacher will deliver, and the activities learners will participate in. Wiggins & McTighe (2005, p. 13) suggest that teachers should consider the following questions:

  • What enabling knowledge and skills will students need to perform effectively?
  • What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills?
  • What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught?
  • What materials and resources are best suited to accomplish these goals?
  • Is the overall design coherent and effective?

Considering these questions at the start of the planning process helps the teacher identify what instruction is necessary and what instructional strategies might be most effective in reaching their students. Also, these questions focus the teacher on what actions the students must take to practice the skills during learning activities.

Components of a Lesson

To start discussing how to design quality lessons, we should outline the components needed in a lesson plan. Robert Gagne, an instructional theorist, surmised that there was a nine-step process for creating good instruction. In his book The Conditions of Learning, published in 1965, Gagne outlined the Nine Events of Instruction (CourseArc, 2019).


Image created by CourseArc licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Tips from the Pros: Provide Practice

Consider Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post titled To Learn, Students Need to Do Something. The blog emphasizes the need to include practice opportunities in your lesson planning sequence.

Looking at Gagne’s model, you may wonder how you accomplish all those tasks. Gagne’s model does suggest a logical progression through each of the events of instruction. However, not every lesson will feature all nine events, and they may not follow that order. But in general, every lesson will include at least the four basic components of objectives, presentation, practice, and assessment in some way. One thing that is not clearly defined in Gagne’s model but is supported by other researchers is the active roles students should take in the learning process.

Active learning is any activity or strategy that encourages students to engage in the learning process. Participating in active learning activities increases students’ critical thinking skills, retention of information, motivation, and interpersonal skills (Prince, 2004). Typically, these strategies involve students working together during class but may also be completed individually. If you are looking for instructional strategies to actively engage your students (or lesson ideas), then you might consider exploring the resources curated by the K20 Center. The K20 Center resource includes a range from short, simple activities like journal writing, problem-solving, and paired discussions to longer activities like case studies, role plays, and structured team-based learning. Active learning doesn’t have to take much of your learning time. Giving students just a minute or two to check their understanding of recent material, practice a skill, or identify gaps in their understanding before explaining will help to keep them engaged in your lesson. Before we move on to the next step of planning how you will provide students the opportunity to practice skills, it might be beneficial to briefly explore the topic of lesson planning templates and a common model of instruction.

Lesson Planning Templates*

Lesson plans are meant to support you, not constrain or frustrate you. A lesson plan template provides the following: 1) structure; 2) a logical progression, 3) an emphasis on student engagement, 4) a focus on learning goals and objectives, 5) accountability for skills taught, and 6) an opportunity for teacher reflection. With any template, it will appear there are phases or stages. In reality, lesson plans are more fluid. At their core, they should have a warm-up/review, an opportunity to explore new content, an opportunity to practice/apply this information, a means by which the instructor can be sure learning is happening, and a wrap-up/review. You may go into the practice phases multiple times in one lesson, depending on how much new information you wish to explore with your students. You also may not have a separate assessment phase, as it can be woven into the other two phases.

Here are some common lesson plan templates you might consider.

Explicit Instruction/Gradual Release Model

See It in Action: Gradual Release Examples

Watch a teacher use and describe Explicit Instruction and the Gradual Release Model.

There are multiple models of instruction suggested throughout education literature. However, explicit instruction and the Gradual Release Model are two similar ideas that align with Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. Both models suggest that the cognitive load of a lesson should gradually shift from the teacher to the student. These models are where the “I Do, We Do, You Do” terminology originated. Knowing these models allows us to discuss how to design practice opportunities to help your students master the skills you have identified necessary to meet your learning objectives.

Direct Instruction

Learn More: Scripting Direct Instruction

Check out Chapter 7 in Evidence-Based Education Methods by Hummel, Venn, and Gunter (2004). Review pages 98-100 to learn about what direct instruction looks like and what you would consider including in your script. Then, look at pages 102-104 at the sample lesson scripts provided.

With a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish in your lesson and how you will measure student success, you are now ready to plan how to deliver the information students need to know. One of the most efficient and effective methods to deliver new information to students is through direct instruction (Hattie, 2012; Lemov, 2015). Direct instruction describes portions of a lesson where the teacher explains concepts and models steps to complete the desired task. Common lesson planning formats such as the I Do, We Do, You Do outline use direction instruction during the teacher portion known as the “I Do.” We will break down the components below, but you may find the I Do It, We Do It, You Do It checklist from High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching by Jim Knight helpful.

Often, direct instruction has been viewed as teacher-centered, with students acting as passive recipients of knowledge during an extended lecture (See this blog post for more about misconceptions about direct instruction). However, Lemov (2015) argues that “effective teachers often use direct instruction much differently—with questions and short discussion points and engagement strategies embedded within it, and generally for periods closer to ten or fifteen minutes, whereupon it gives way to guided and independent practice (p. 148)”. Through a script, teachers can ensure that they provide a clear and concise learning experience for their students where they elicit student engagement through questions and addressing any misconceptions students might have.

Guided Practice

According to the Gradual Release Model, after you introduce new learning to your students, you should then guide them through a similar task. This should be a collaborative process where the teacher and students complete a model similar to what students will later be asked to do independently. This process serves two purposes. One, it allows your students an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions they might have. Two, you have the opportunity to assess how well your direct instruction was internalized. Through the guided process, you will notice if you need to re-teach portions or if your students are ready to move on to independent work.

In your lesson plan, you should describe practice activities for students to use the content you just taught. You should plan prompts and questions ahead of time that you will use. For an example of what this might look like, check out the Transformation of Functions lesson example shared by the Houston Intermediate School District (see step 3 on page 2).

Considerations for Guided Practice
  • Check for understanding from ALL students before moving on.
  • Use guided practice activities to allow students to share their thinking with the whole class.
Tips from the Pros: Strategies for Practice

Independent practice can take many forms so long as the task is aligned with your learning objectives. Check out these Sample Strategies for Independent Practice for ideas on how you might add more independent practice into your daily routine.

Independent Practice

Once your students have had an opportunity to practice new skills with your guidance, it is time to allow them to practice independently, with a partner, or in small groups. Teachers often assign independent practice as homework, thinking they will just grade the assignment the next day. However, if we simply assign independent work to be done outside of class, we rob our students of the opportunity for immediate feedback, and we cannot ensure how the work was completed or even if the work is indeed from a particular student. Therefore, setting time aside each day for students to practice will provide you and your students with a great service.

Considerations for Independent Practice
  • Plan activities directly related to lesson objective(s).
  • Allow sufficient time (about 15-20 minutes) for students to work, share, and expand understanding with their peers.
  • Use a timer to let students know how much time they have left to complete the work.
  • Provide practice at appropriate levels of difficulty (you may have to differentiate)
  • Provide feedback in the form of redirection, reteaching, and extension.

In your lesson plan, you should describe practice activities for students to demonstrate mastery of the new material you have just taught. For an example of how an independent practice session might be noted in a lesson plan, check out the Determining Point of View/Frame of Reference lesson example shared by the Houston Intermediate School District (see step 3 on pages 2-3). Also evident in the sample lesson is a foundational component of independent practice where the teacher circulates to provide feedback and collect data. In the next step, we will learn how to intentionally monitor student practice to accomplish both tasks.

Monitoring Student Progress

Students require regular feedback while learning new information. Hattie (2012) suggests that teachers should help students answer the questions of where am I going, how am I doing, and where do I go next? Shute (2007) proposed nine guidelines for using feedback to enhance learning (see Table 2 on page 30 of the Focus on Feedback Research Report). Some areas to focus on with your feedback are to keep your feedback focused on the task and pause to ensure students correctly interpret your feedback.

The ability to obtain feedback when learning new skills plays an important role in the learning process. Students should be allowed to practice new skills where they can get immediate feedback from the teacher (Popham & Baker, 1970). Teachers should plan practice sessions and monitor student thinking throughout lessons. You have worked at planning guided and independent practice sessions, so the next logical step is to plan how you will monitor student progress toward your learning objectives and provide appropriate feedback.

Aggressive Monitoring is commonly used to assess student work and provide immediate feedback. Bambrick-Santoyo (2016) argues that monitoring during independent practice is the most important opportunity you have as a teacher to positively influence student learning. Check out the detailed blog post from Meghan Thompson about how to plan and execute effective monitoring of student practice sessions to respond to student needs and misconceptions in real-time. Be sure to check out:

Keys to Aggressive Monitoring

  1. Create an exemplar of student work you desire to see.
  2. Anticipate student errors/misconceptions.
  3. Plan questions to address common errors/misconceptions.
  4. Create a monitoring pathway to access as many students as possible.
  5. Track student answers for planning purposes.
  6. Provide students with written feedback via codes.

Engage & Closure

Tips from the Pros: Introductory Activities

Read Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post regarding Anticipatory Sets to learn more about this strategy to engage student interest.

Listen as North Carolina educator Chris Goodson shares some of his favorite game hooks to engage students. (7 min)

Review a past “Teach Like a Pirate” Twitter Chat for 100+ ideas on how to add “Hooks” into your lessons. If you like what you see here, consider checking out Dave Burgess’ book, “Teach Like a Pirate.”

Register for a free account for the Sanford Inspire Professional Development modules for teachers. Under the Building Teaching Practices, you will find the Professional Practices Unit, which includes learning modules over lesson openings and closure.

Effective lessons frame the introduction of new learning, practice, and assessment with an introduction and conclusion. The introduction component of a lesson is often referred to as the hook, anticipatory set, or engagement. Regardless of what you call it, the purpose is to engage student interest and attempt to activate some prior knowledge to prepare students for the learning session you have planned.

The introduction of your lesson does not have to be very long in duration, but it should be engaging. You can use this opportunity to review past material. A common practice is to include a Do Now activity, sometimes called bellwork, at the start of class. This is a useful practice to help support any entry routines you have set up at the beginning of the year, as it gives students something to focus on while also giving you time to take care of minor administrative duties such as attendance. Another benefit of the Do Now is that you can provide additional independent practice that helps reduce forgetting. This is a common practice to start a lesson, but I do believe that if you stop here, you may be falling short of gaining your student’s attention before you introduce new learning.

If you start with some form of bellwork, then after discussing your bellwork, you should find a unique way to introduce your learning objectives for the day. You don’t have to have something amazing every day, but finding a unique way to transition from that routine into the new learning you have planned may help capture your students’ attention and allow them to start looking for connections to what they already know.

Teachers should plan to actively engage students in reflection after learning experiences. Though a few research studies have investigated lesson closure (Webster, Connolly, Schempp, 2009), lesson closure activities have been shown to increase students’ retention of concepts resulting in improved student achievement (Bloomquist, T. D., 2010; Cavanaugh, Heward, & Donelson, 1996). Lesson closure can come in various forms, the key is that the teacher engages the student to do the cognitive work of reflecting, connecting, and retrieving information. Ensuring that students do the cognitive work aligns with what we know from how the brain works.

Learning is deeper and more durable when the learner must put forth an effort. Retrieving information from memory strengthens the neural pathways within our brain map (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014). Similarly, restating learning in your own words and connecting it to what you already know allows for greater recall (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Harvoth, 2019). The end of a lesson or learning activity is an ideal time to solidify what students have learned and start to build the pathways to remembering. Therefore, ending your lessons with opportunities to summarize what they have learned and low-stakes quizzes to recall key concepts may benefit your students’ overall success.

Digital Learning Approaches

If you are interested in learning about how to blend active, engaged learning in both digital and in-person settings, consider the ideas shared in the resources below.


Lesson planning is a critical part of becoming an effective teacher. By aligning your objectives, assessments, and learning experiences, you are intentionally planning to ensure student success. Being prepared will help keep you and your students on track. However, you should remain open to being flexible in modifying your plans to take advantage of teachable moments and address the needs of your students.

Summarizing Key Understandings

Peer Examples

Suggested Activities

Check out the self-guided modules from the IRIS Center of Vanderbilt University.

References & Attribution

Attribution: “Lesson Planning Templates”  section was adapted in part from Lesson Planning by the University of Utah, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Bloomquist, T. P. (2010). Effectiveness of closure in lesson design: A quasi-experimental investigation (3446498). [Doctoral dissertation, George Fox University]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Cavanaugh, R. A., Heward, W. L., & Donelson F. (1996). Effects of response cards during lesson closure on the academic performance of secondary students in an earth science course. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 29(3), 403-406. doi:

CourseArc (2019). Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction [Website]. Retrieved from

Harvoth, J. C. (2019). 12 insights from brain science to make your message stick. Chatswood, Australia: Exisle Publishing.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach like a champion 2.0: 62 techniques that put students on the path to college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Popham, W. J., & Baker, E. L. (1970). Planning an instructional sequence. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Prince, M. (2004) Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education 93 (3) 223-231.

Shute, V. J. (2007). Focus on formative feedback. Educational Testing Service.

Webster, C. A., Connolly, G. & Schempp, P. G. (2009). The finishing touch: anatomy of expert lesson closures. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 14(1), 73-87.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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