Time-Saving Tips for Creating Effective Lesson Plans
Blake Fetty is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Central Oklahoma
Every teacher must face this conundrum on a regular basis, especially towards the beginning of their career: “How can I create engaging and effective lesson plans for my students without dedicating an inordinate amount of my time to lesson planning?”
In our first few years of teaching, this task is daunting. We have not yet acquired enough resources and teaching materials to cover all our curriculum. It can feel like our lesson plans are bare bones and in need of sprucing!
Where do we turn to find more resources that could enhance our lesson plans? There are a variety of options and outlets both online and in-person available to all of us. In this post, I will share a few of my preferred resources and strategies for creating lectures and supplementary content.
Use What’s Already Made
The best advice I ever received from a fellow teacher was to “use what is already made.” There has never been a better time to find resources online, from YouTube videos, to sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, to activities and lesson plans, to instructor resources on the Today’s Learner blog.
During a typical prep session for my week’s lessons, I’ll do a quick YouTube search for a relevant video clip. Video clips can spice up any lesson plan if they are carefully selected. For example, in my experience as a Spanish instructor, any culture-related lesson plan is greatly enhanced by a video introduction of the culture. It helps the students get into the mindset of the lesson, and focuses their attention on the topic at hand.
I also like to peruse Teachers Pay Teachers for free (or very cheap!) resources. You can buy whole lesson plans, study guides, activities, and games for a variety of disciplines. I have used this site to purchase a variety of resources over the years.
Beyond those sites, there are an abundance of resources available in the Instructor Resource Center of my online learning platform. I have downloaded many of these files to have them at my disposal while lesson prepping. They include topical slides, various versions of quizzes and exams, interactive classroom activity prompts for students, role-plays and visual aids, among others. They have been invaluable to me, and they’re free with the platform!
Borrow From Your Colleagues
In my experience, it is a huge advantage to maintain a network of colleagues in my discipline. This includes other teachers I went to college with, my graduate school cohort, and current colleagues. It is not against the rules to borrow materials from other teachers! However, be prepared to reciprocate if they ask.
If I’m in a bind and need resources, I first go to my colleagues and ask them, “Do you have something good for teaching ‘x’ topic?” If not, then I turn to online resources.
I recently had the opportunity to collect a vast trove of teaching resources for my discipline. I reached out to some friends from college who graduated with me and found out that a few of them have recently left the profession (mainly due to the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic caused for many teachers). However, while this made me sad to hear, I was able to ask them to share their teaching resources in their entirety. I received more files than I know what to do with! So now, my resource library has essentially tripled, thanks to the generosity of my old colleagues, and the fact that I maintained those relationships over the years.
The same happened to me two years prior when a long-time colleague retired. I sent her a polite email asking her if she would be willing to share her resources and received more than I had hoped for. Ask your colleagues to share, and you’ll have an even broader base of resources to draw from when you go to create your lesson plans.
Dive Deep Into the eTextbook
Textbooks have come a long way. The abilities of eTextbooks have far surpassed the traditional mode of “reading from the book” in class. I have found eTextbooks to be invaluable, and I will share a typical daily scenario with you from my own teaching experience.
On a typical morning, while getting organized to head to classes, I am often confronted with a harsh truth about my lesson plan: It could use a little more oomph. Not every lesson we create is exciting. While that is okay, and we are only human, sometimes it can be as easy as finding that one targeted activity from the eTextbook that can take your lesson plan to the next level. For example, in the eTextbook that I use, there are great audio prompts for students to practice with, video clips and comprehension questions, real-world readings and excerpts for reading comprehension, and cultural readings, videos, and audio that students always enjoy.
If I find that the lesson plan for the day is too basic, I try to jazz it up with something from the eTextbook. I tell my students that before we jump into the main lesson, I want to do a little reading comprehension/listening comprehension/culture share with them. It can go a long way, and if you’re skilled in modeling basic teaching best practices, you can make an activity work well on the first try.
Create Something New
As for creating your own materials, I think it’s most important to have a clear vision of your lesson plan. Consider:
- What do you need?
- How much time will you have for this activity?
- Is it necessary to make a handout?
- Is it necessary to use slides?
- Will this lesson plan be pencil and paper? Online? A combination of the two?
Once you can visualize the ins-and-outs of your lesson plan, you can get to work compiling your resources. If I do not have a good resource for a lesson, one thing I like to do is create a game or quiz on my old standby tool, Socrative. It is very similar to Kahoot and other apps for creating instant quizzes, polls, and games for in-class application. I can create a variety of games within minutes using these tools.
You can also use some of these tools (Socrative, Kahoot, or TopHat) if you are running short on materials. For example, if your lesson plan ends early, and if your students are trained in how to use the app or website, you can create “live” polls and end-of-class assessments to test your students. This can be an easy way to engage with the students and requires very little effort to create.
By using a variety of these tools and methods, any teacher, whether beginner or veteran, can create lectures and supplementary content with ease. When you find yourself in the inevitable time crunch of lesson planning, ask yourself:
- What do I already have?
- How much time do I need to “fill” in this lesson plan?
- What is available in the eTextbook and other online resources?
- Do I have a colleague who could lend me resources?
By taking all these resources and strategies into account, every teacher can feel better prepared for each day’s lessons.
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