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Writing Effective Lesson Plans for Early Childhood Classrooms

Writing Effective Lesson Plans for Early Childhood Classrooms
Amber Tankersley, PhD
September 24, 2019

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is an edited transcript of the webinar, Writing Effective Lesson Plans for Early Childhood Classroomspresented by Amber Tankersley, PhD.

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the purposes and benefits of writing lesson plans.
  • Identify and analyze the parts of a lesson plan.
  • Explain how to create effective lesson plans for their classrooms and programs.

Introduction

Not only do I teach child development courses such as our curriculum course and our guidance and communication course, but I also supervise our student teachers and our preschool lab. Lesson planning is something that I start teaching in several classes before they would be doing student teaching and the lab so that they can write effective plans when they take over as a lead teacher. In the beginning, I often see people who are a little apprehensive about writing lesson plans. I know coming through my experiences in my undergraduate, our lesson plans were really long and they didn't always have the best flow. I have found some other ways to tweak lesson plans to make them really fit the needs of a classroom and of a program, and it's something that can be tailored to fit any individual's needs. 

Why Plan?

Why plan? When I started out of college in a preschool classroom, I was told I had to write lesson plans. I panicked because I was used to a very long lesson plan format, which didn't really seem to fit the needs of my preschool classroom. Little did I know, we didn't have a format for our lesson plans and they were not very uniform. The teachers in this program got together and developed our own lesson plan format that worked. I've tweaked it over the years, but I truly understand the purposes of why we plan.

Planning is key for any high-quality early childhood program. Planning and sharing our plans with other people such as parents, observers, administrators, and licensing and accreditation entities shows that we are professionals. It shows that we are intentional with the types of activities and information we want children to learn from. Planning helps us outline how objectives will be met. Planning will allow you to tie particular standards to an activity and document that.

Planning helps us organize our thoughts. We may have some ideas of carrying out an activity with children, but if we can actually write it out in a lesson plan, it helps us not forget key elements, it helps us make sure that everything's developmentally appropriate, and that we have the right types of materials to carry out the activity. Lesson plans can also help us see how a particular activity is connected to other curricular areas or how it's connected to other themes or ideas that we're using in a particular classroom or setting. This pulls in the whole idea of integration and that everything goes together.

Lesson plans can almost function as a shopping list or a road map for gathering materials and helping make sure that you are well planned and rehearsed before you actually carry out the lesson plan. My undergraduate students use lesson plans as a roadmap that they carry close to them sometimes when they are teaching a lesson because it's security. Once you've written a lesson plan, you know what your plans are. It will help you carry out those plans to make it the best possible experience for young children. Lesson plans also help you see the big picture of how you're addressing the needs of every child. Lesson planning helps you differentiate and plan for the many different ability levels and needs of students in your classrooms. Lesson plans also help serve as documentation that we're doing the best things with our young children.

In our preschool lab, our lead teacher keeps track of lesson plans that she has written. Our student teachers also filter in their lesson plans for when they are the lead teacher. Even for our students that are just teaching three lessons in a semester, we document what they are doing because some of the activities are so fabulous because they're new and they're fresh and they're excited, that it helps show our licensing that we have a wide variety of activities that the children engage in. It helps us with our accreditation process and documenting that we do target a variety of learning activities and we do target a variety of standards or domains with young children.

I'm going to share one of my favorite stories about lesson planning. When I was in my preschool classroom right out of college, we hung our lesson plans outside our classroom door along with a little schedule that let whoever walked by the door know what was going on for that particular week. I had a parent ask me one time flipping through my pages, "What are these?" I said, "Well, those are my lesson plans." The parent replied, "What do you mean your lesson plans?" I said, "My lesson plans for the activities that we're doing this week." The parent responded, "I thought the kids just played? I replied, "Well, we do play. We learn through play, and here are all the fabulous things that your child is learning through play." That parent stood there and went through all these lesson plans and was so excited that their child was getting so much more than what they thought they were getting. Even though it was the same activity that I would have done whether I had the lesson plan or not, it really helped let other people know what I was doing and that what I was doing was intentional and it was important for that intended audience. I was always a little nervous that families or someone would look at my lesson plan and be judgmental about what I had planned, but it really served as a tool to show people that I am a professional, I know what I'm doing and that this is what's best for young children.

That leads me to the last aspect of why we plan. We plan to help us reflect on our teaching practices and how well children have obtained certain skills or concepts. Sometimes planning helps me decide if I'm going to do an activity again. I never throw away a lesson plan, even if it was a terrible lesson. I've had many terrible lessons, but I never throw them away because part of my reflection piece to a lesson plan may say don't ever do this lesson again unless you think of this, or only do this if you have these children or these characteristics of children in your classroom. Some things just don't work with a particular group. That helped me reflect on my own practices and what I needed to do in the future.

Lesson Plan Process

Format

  • Choosing a format
    • Create your own
    • Requirements
  • Basic elements
    • Objectives
    • Materials
    • Introduction
    • Activity
    • Child assessment

Now let's look at the actual process of lesson planning.  There are a couple of pre-things to think about. One is the format. In your program, there may be a certain lesson plan format that you use and you have no other choice. You may be able to create your own or adapt other people's lesson plans to fit your needs. One of the handouts that you have for this course is a lesson plan template. You can adapt it if you'd like as it's very basic. It is actually a little bit more basic than what I use with our own preschool here, but I wanted it to be more generic for anybody to be able to adapt it to fit their needs. There are plenty of lesson plans that you can find online and in different books or curriculum programs. It's important to find something that fits your needs and that fits your program.

The basic elements that you'll find in all lesson plans are the objectives, the materials that you need to carry out the lesson, the introduction, the actual activity, and then how the children would be assessed on their mastery of the different objectives.

Lesson plan template

Figure 1. Lesson Plan Template.

Figure one shows a basic lesson plan template. It includes your name, the date that you think you're teaching the lesson, a name for the activity, and what learning domain is the focus of the activity. There's a spot for objectives, materials, location, lesson introduction, main activity, closure, transition, questions, how you individualize the lesson, the assessment piece, and then reflection or self-evaluation. We will discuss each of these pieces in a moment. This could be adapted to fit so many different needs. For example, maybe you always know where a particular lesson is going to happen so location may not be important for you. This is just a starting point. It's very basic. I hope that if this doesn't work for you, you find a way to tweak it and make it work or find a way to supplement a form that you are already using, to help you plan those activities for young children.

Goals

  • Determine the overall purpose of the plan
  • Where might your goals come from?
  • Short-term and long-term goals

One of the first things that we have to do when we are getting started writing any lesson is to think about what the big goals are. These are not the specific objectives for the lesson, but my overall purpose. What is my big goal for this activity? Is it to have fun? Is it to target a particular skill? Your goals are going to come from different places. Your goals may come from a sheet of themes handed to you by your director. When I first started in my career, my big-picture goals came from the list of themes by month given to me by my director. Those were the starting point for my lesson, so those were my overarching goals. I knew I needed to target friendships in November and I knew I needed to target spring and new birth in March. I knew what my goals were because they were handed to me and I carried them out. You may not have your goals handed to you. You may have to search and figure out what your specific goals are for a particular classroom or for a particular program.

I also like to look at goals in terms of this is a short-term goal that I know is going to be successful at the moment, such as, the kids are going to learn something right then. It might be a long-term goal where it's an ongoing process such as a lesson that we do over and over again or it's modified as the children become more skilled that they would be able to be successful toward the end of a time period.

Something that comes to mind is children being able to write their names. Our children sign-in in the preschool. In the beginning, sometimes it's just holding the pencil and making a couple of marks, but by the end of the semester, they usually can write their name. Sometimes they're writing their first name and their last name because they already could write their first name. Those goals get tweaked a little bit over time, but I know that the first day we do that sign in, it's not a short-term goal. I know that they're not going to be able to do it perfect that first time and it's going to be different for each child. My first step is always to ask, "What's my purpose?" Does the goal fit a particular skill or concept or standard that I need to meet? Does it fit my theme? Is it something that I think the kids will just really enjoy that day? That's a good starting point.

Getting Started

Objectives vs. Main Activity diagram

Figure 2. Objectives vs. Main Activity.

The other starting point that takes me a little bit of time to figure out what direction I'm heading when I start planning is figuring out what's coming first for me, either my objectives or my activity. Sometimes when you're going through teacher blogs online and you find an activity and think, "Oh, I really want to do this with my group of kids." In that case, the activity is what comes first and you work around and find the objectives that go along with that activity. Sometimes you start with the objectives. For example, your children need help with fine motor practice. Then you're going to find an activity that's going to help you with that fine motor practice.

It can go both ways. I go back and forth when I'm planning. Sometimes I'm planning and I start with my objectives for the activity and sometimes I start with the activity. That's something that I help my students with. I may give them a situation and say, "You need to plan something that targets this particular standard, or you need to plan something that is an art activity that uses glue." That may be the activity and they're going to have to find out what objectives would fit that. This is a good point to start at too when you are doing some preliminary planning, trying to figure out exactly what it is that you need to accomplish in whatever time frame you have with your children.

Domains/Subjects

  • What domains or subjects are addressed?
  • Integration is ideal—we usually target more than one domain when planning an activity
    • Aesthetic
    • Affective 
    • Cognitive 
    • Language 
    • Physical 
    • Social 

Another pre-planning activity that I like to do is to figure out what domains are going to be addressed in the lesson. Some of you may not think of things as domains, you may think of them as curricular areas or subjects, but think about what's being addressed by this particular activity? We use the term learning domains. We look at the aesthetic domain when we think about arts and music, the affective domain when we think about emotions, cognitive for math and science, and language and physical and social. What is ideal for us is when we have lessons that target more than one domain at the same time.  For example, a lesson may target language and social at the same time or math in the cognitive area and it's also a music activity, so it fits within the aesthetic. It's nice when you can target more than one domain when planning an activity.

It's also helpful to make sure that your lessons can target a variety of skills that fit within a variety of domains. There are so many options out there on what to address in a particular lesson. If you can have a focus that brings in a lot of elements without being overwhelming, children are going to attach to what's most important to them. It might be the physical aspect of something or maybe they're more in tune with the aspect of how beautiful a painting is rather than what it felt like when they ran their hands through the paint. Kids may focus on different aspects, so if a lesson goes in many different directions, it gives your kids more options of what is appealing to them and what targets their needs and their preferences.

I also encourage people to look at the domains that you typically target and make sure that you're targeting those seldom-used domains. I find that I gravitate toward a lot of math activities. Math is not my strong point, but for some reason, I tend to do a lot of math activities with young kids. I might not do as many physical or social activities. When I look through lesson plans and activities that I've done and I realize I haven't done a lot that targets the social domain, that's a tip to me that I need to focus on that domain a little bit more. We have our favorite types of activities to do and we have our strong points for ourselves but we need to make sure that we get out of our comfort zone so that we provide a really well-rounded experience for young children. These are preliminary things to think about before you're actually into the actual lesson plan format.

Activity Name

  • Name for easy reference
  • Brief and descriptive
  • Avoid cute names that don’t identify the main focus of the plan

From this point on, we're going to actually look at the lesson plan format and talk about what goes in those different sections of that template. The activity name seems like it would be a very simple thing to do. I tell my students, "Think of a name that's descriptive. Think of a name that when you see it, it gives you a picture of what you think that activity is going to be." I caution you to avoid cutesy names that don't really address what the focus of the plan is. In my class this morning, I showed my students an activity that I had given a really silly name that didn't address what the activity focus was. I used it as a point of don't do this. 

Two children playing outside with large wooden building blocks

Figure 3. Block building.

Figure 3 shows some kids that are building outside with blocks. A name for an activity like this might be outdoor block-building or stacking.  Having a good name for the lesson will help you in however you maintain or organize your plans over time. It will make it easier when you need to find that lesson again to either revise it to fit in another domain or with a different theme or use it again. If you have a really good descriptive name, it'll be easier for you to work with it later on. It's also helpful for other people if they're looking at your plans to get an idea of what the children are doing in the activity. Your name can help set the tone of your activity.

Objectives

  • What are the main desired learning outcomes for the children?
  • Objectives must reflect the domain focus and overall goals of the lesson
  • Objectives must be addressed throughout the lesson
  • Limit number of objectives…be selective and realistic  

The objectives section of the lesson plan is a hearty part of lesson planning. Your objectives are what you want the children to achieve. These are the outcomes that you hope the children will be able to do at the end of a lesson. Your objectives should be targeting the domain, so if I am targeting math in the cognitive area and I have some objectives that are dealing with addition or counting, that certainly fits the domain focus. But if my domain focus is art and my objectives are more related to math, that doesn't fit really well. It's important to make sure that objectives reflect what the focus of your plan is. Objectives should be able to be addressed or seen throughout your lesson. They might be seen a little bit in the introduction and certainly in the questioning or the main activity.

I caution people when they are writing lesson plans to be realistic with the number of objectives that can be targeted in a particular lesson. Sometimes for those of us that use a certain set of standards for our lessons, it's easy to flip through the standards and find 15 objectives that you think your lesson's going to address. However, in a 20-minute lesson with three-year-olds, you may not get to those 15 objectives. I tell my students to be realistic and have no more than three objectives. The number you choose is up to you, but three is reasonable. Less than three is fine too. I tell my students they don't have to have three, they can have just one objective that is the main focus of your activity and is what the children are going to be able to do at the end of this activity. It's realistic to have a small number so that you're certain that you are addressing it and you're certain those children are able to actually accomplish what you're setting out for them to accomplish without you getting disappointed and the children being overwhelmed.

Writing Objectives

  • The conditions of the objectives describe the materials or supports the child will use to engage in the learning process.
  • The behavior portion of the objective identifies a specific child action that will signify that the objective has been achieved. 
  • Given/after…., the child will….

You may be writing your own objectives based on what you know young children should be able to do at certain ages or the skills that they should be able to do within a particular grade or setting, or you may have specific required objectives or standards that you're following. If you are writing your own objectives, a simple way to think about writing them is to think about what's happening, the conditions, that will help this child be able to do a behavior, which is the action that they're able to do at the end of the lesson.

I always think of conditions and behaviors. For example, if I say, "After playing shape bingo, (there's the condition) the child will be able to identify four basic shapes." That objective tells specifically what that child would be able to do at the end of the activity or situation, or the conditions. The objectives should always be reflective of the children's relationship with that activity. Objectives show what the children should be able to do so that when you are assessing to determine if kids could actually do what you said they were going to do, you should clearly be able to identify that. You should be able to see it, hear it, ask a question and find out if the kids could do that.

Targeting Required Objectives/Standards

You may be writing specific objectives, where you're saying, "Given this activity or given these situations, kids will be able to do this." In my situation and what my students are being trained to do is to actually take a required standard, such as the Kansas Early Learning Standards, and write an objective from that.  For example, look at Kansas Early Learning Standard CL.F.p3.1c: Recognizes letters in their name. This standard is communication and literacy and is for three-year-old children. The standard is for them to be able to recognize letters in their name. It doesn't give you the conditions, it just gives you the behavior portion. The main activity that we write helps set the stage for how children will be able to recognize letters in their name. That is a simple way to write your objectives.

Even if you're not using a particular set of standards or a particular curriculum, there are plenty of them out there that you can find that may fit your needs as you write objectives. This can keep you from having to reinvent the wheel and trying to guess what children of certain ages should be able to do. If you don't have specific standards or objectives or a curriculum that you're following, it might be helpful to look and see what your state has set for the age group that you're working with, or look at some different curriculums that target the type of program that you're working in. Even if you're not using that particular curriculum in its entirety, it gives you a starting point for what would be some good practices for working with young children.

Sometimes I know what my objectives are, such as I know that children are going to need to recognize letters in their name, so I'm going to design an activity that supports that. It may be that I know that my children are always going to be signing in and they're going to be recognizing letters in their name, so they're going to be addressing that standard. This is where it's hard to determine if the activity comes before the objectives or the objectives come before the activity. When you are writing lesson plans, sometimes you don't start and write them in the order of the boxes that are on the template. Sometimes you jump around depending on your thought process as you're going through that actual planning process.

Materials & Location

  • Complete list of materials
  • Detailed
  • Experiment and practice
  • Determining location can be crucial
  • Where is the best location for this lesson?
  • Opportunity to provide for a variety of locations

Another aspect of lesson planning is to determine what you need and where you want to carry out the lesson. I tell my students this is a shopping list. You should have a complete list of materials in your lesson plan. First, it helps you remember all the items you need, such as three different colors of paint, paper, aprons, and something to cover the tables with. It should be very detailed. I often see people write in their materials section, "Book." What book do you need? It needs to be detailed. If you need "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie," "Mouse Paint" won't work in place of that book. Be very detailed.

Gathering the materials is easier if you have it listed in your lesson plan and it helps when you check to make sure that you have everything that you need. It's also easier when you have that list of materials to practice to see if the materials actually work the way you think they're going to work. Many times, I've tried to do an art activity and it didn't work out as I thought.  For example, one time the type of paper that I chose didn't really work well with the medium that I was trying to put on the paper because the paint was too thick or too slick. I encourage my students to practice with the materials, whether it's to use the art materials or to read the book that you say that you're going to read to make sure you know how to pronounce all the words and make sure it's the version you think it is.

I also think it's important for you to get in your head when you're listing your materials. If I lost my voice and my administrator had to carry out my lesson, could it be done based on the materials listed in my lesson plan? Could somebody go pick out all the materials that I need for this lesson? It gets to be a habit to do this and it saves so much more time to have everything listed out. All you have to do is grab your lesson plan, gather the materials, put them in a basket, and you're ready to go the next day.

Another crucial thing to think about is figuring out where it makes the most sense to do your activity. Do I need to do this sitting down on the floor or would this be better at tables? Would this be something that I could do outside? Think about what your possibilities are. I don't like reading books to children seated at a table. I would much rather do that on the floor and have the kids around me. It's more comfortable than having kids all trying to get up on the table so that they can see the pictures or squirming around in their chairs and somebody falls out.

Determining the location in advance is really important because you can make sure you have enough room, make sure that there are not the distractions that may just happen if you just do the lesson wherever you fall, and it also gives you the opportunity to think about the different places you can do the lesson. We do a lot of lessons outside.

Boy spray painting outside on a piece of large paper hung on a fence

Figure 4. Child spray painting outside.

Figure 4 shows one of our kids engaged in a spray painting activity, which made the most sense to do outside. Messy activities are great to do outside. Sometimes when the weather turns nicer, a good motivating thing is to do an activity outside. Think about what would work best for your activity. I tell my students to be able to defend why they chose a particular location. Did you need more room? Did you need something that was easier to clean up? Did you need to be closer to the bathrooms? Really think about what would work best for your lesson so that you can pick the best spot. That's going to make your lesson go so much smoother when you know that it's going to work well in the situation that you have planned it for.

Procedures

  • Introduction
  • Main Activity
  • Closure
  • Transition

​The next section is the procedures and it actually encompasses several sections of the lesson plan. I always think of the procedures as the introduction, the main activity, closure, and transitions. This is usually a narrative that is a step-by-step of what the lesson looks like. Think about it as if you are writing a dialogue or a play-by-play to give somebody that tells what you were getting ready to do with the kids or what happened with the kids. That's the procedure section. For example, you might write, "I sat down and I read this book. Then I asked the children .... and then we moved to the tables and we did this activity. It's a step-by-step explanation of everything done during the lesson. Early on in lesson planning, I think the procedure section tends to be more detailed because you don't want to leave anything out. With experience, sometimes the procedure section shrinks a little bit because you've done it before or you know what you're going to do. In the beginning, I encourage people to make sure that you're very detailed here, especially if you're creating lesson plans for substitutes or other people who might be carrying out your activities.

Your procedures should take into consideration your knowledge of child development, learning, and developmentally appropriate practices. What do you know about three-year-olds? What can they actually do? What's their skill level and what's their attention span? What you know individually about children, what are their preferences? If you know a particular group does not like to do the bear hunt, then don't do the bear hunt, or if a particular group really loves dinosaurs, add activities that deal with dinosaurs. Use all of that information to help make sure that it fits with your children's interests.

Choose strategies that support the listed objectives and domains. Pick how you're setting the stage and how you are getting kids interested in the activities that you are getting ready to carry out with them. Those strategies should be supportive of your objectives that you said that you wanted the children to accomplish and should be supportive of your overall domain or curricular area. It is possible to do this whole procedure section and then go back and write the objectives, or you may have your objectives in place and write your procedures. This is another area where you can choose what comes first. 

Introduction

  • How will you
    • Introduce the lesson?
    • Motivate children?
    • Prepare children for the lesson?
    • Assess or review prior knowledge?
    • Provide necessary background information?
  • Introduction may be
    • Statement
    • Visual
    • Question
    • Book 

I love introductions of lessons. This is where you're getting the kids excited and pumped up to do the activity. You're going to tell them about what they're going to do or introduce something to them. You're going to get them excited and pique their interest. For example, maybe you're going to take the kids on a little outdoor scavenger hunt and you have to remind them that they're going walk in pairs and they have to hold hands and you have a bag that you have to carry. You're going to prepare the kids for what they're getting ready to do. Maybe you're charting what the kids already know about a particular topic before you lead them into learning about something new. Maybe you're wanting to know what they know about what types of pets people have because you're getting ready to do an activity about dogs or cats. Getting information about what the kids already know will help you tailor your lesson as you're in the midst of it.

You may also use an introduction to provide background information. I think this can work really well when we use books to help introduce lessons and to give the kids that are present the same experience learning about something. For example, if we want all the kids to know about the same aspect of winter, such as animals hibernating, we can read a book about animals hibernating in winter and then everybody has the same information, helping to prepare them for the next part of the lesson.

An introduction could be a statement, a visual item, a question, or a book. For example, a statement might be "When I was walking into school today, I saw worms all over the sidewalk." It might be a visual such as a picture of something or an actual item that I want the kids to look at. I may pose a question and ask the kids, "How did everyone arrive at school today? Did you walk to school or did you ride in a car?" Asking a question that's going to set the stage is going to get them thinking, "Well, why is she asking that? That's interesting. I'm going to listen to this, or I want to know more." As I said, it may be a book that helps provide some background information for the children to get everybody on the same page with the activity. When doing introductions, I like to be dramatic and excited, as it sets the tone for the entire activity. If you're excited and try to get the kids to guess what's going on, I think that really helps with setting the stage for the kids.

Main Activity

  • Step-by-step
  • Content-rich
    • Facts, terms, vocabulary 
  • Main activity should include how materials are to be used

The main activity is the step-by-step of the main focus of your lesson. This is where you're going to be providing the kids content. This may include facts such as, "These animals hibernate" or "This animal is a mammal." You want to give them facts and terms and vocabulary that they're not going to discover on their own. They need you to provide that information to them. Your main activity should also show how you're using your materials. I grade a lot of lesson plans that have materials listed that are never used in the introduction or in the main activity. You then wonder, "Why did I need to have all these materials?" Make sure that you use the materials listed in your lesson plan, you describe how they're being used within a particular lesson, and you really narrate the step-by-step process of what you plan to do. Again, this is very helpful if somebody else were to carry out this lesson. If you are detailed in your lesson plan, they could follow it and be able to be successful with the children.

Closure

  • A good lesson doesn’t just end
  • How will you bring the lesson to a close?
    • Review of the activity
    • Reflect on objectives and goals
    • Questions
    • Assessment of children
  • Closure isn’t a new lesson or topic

The next part of that procedure section is the closure. Lessons shouldn't just end. I joke around with my students that you don't just clap your hands and say, "All done" like you might say when you're finished feeding a baby to let them know there's no more food. It doesn't end. You have to bring the lesson to a close and let the kids know that. You might say, "We're finishing up. I want to know what you know about the activity." Have the kids review and recall the different things that they did, such as, "What did we do first? And what did we do after that?" or "Our book was about this. How did that relate to the art activity that we did?" Have the children help make those connections about what just happened and why.

You may reflect on the objectives and goals to try to determine if the children actually accomplished what you thought they were going to accomplish from this particular activity. Questions are a great way to help bring a lesson to a close if we ask the right types of questions.  It's important to make sure that a lesson doesn't just stop when we say, "Okay guys, we're done." That's not good closure. Closure also shouldn't be a new activity or topic. Sometimes people will finish an activity and they think they're closing their activity, but what they're really doing is starting a new activity that is kind of going to spiral. Making sure that you actually stop the activity, help review and recall with the kids, and have them state what they did is really important.

I often ask my students, if you are trying to close a lesson and reviewing, is it really important to know if the children liked the activity? I caution my students when they're finishing an activity, don't ask the kids, "Did you like that?" because it gives the kids two choices of answers. They can either say, "Yes, I liked it" or "Nope, I didn't like it." I've seen many people get their feelings hurt by a three-year-old because the three-year-old said they didn't like their activity when the three-year-old's probably ready to go do something else at this point and it has nothing to do with your activity.

If you really don't need to know if they liked it, don't ask it. Also, that doesn't really close the lesson by asking the kids, "Did you like it? Would you like to do it again?" Those are probably not the best questions to ask to help close a lesson. Better questions include: 

  • What did we do next?
  • What part did we do with this? 
  • Why did we use this material?
  • How could you do this at home 
  • Where could you find this type of animal?

There are lots of questions that help spark the kids thinking about the actual activity that occurred. Those are a good way to close. I always think, "Wrap up, recall, and move 'em on out."

Transition

  • What will they be doing after the lesson?
  • How will you assist the children in transitioning to the next activity?
  • How can you tie the transition into your lesson?
  • Ideally, transitions are learning opportunities

The next part of the lesson is the "move 'em on out" or the transition. When you're planning a lesson, you have to think about what the kids are going to be doing next. What am I going to do after this lesson? What's the next activity that they're going to? Are they going outside? Are they going to center time? Is it music time afterward? Think about what's happening next because that will help you plan the transition from your activity to the next activity. Think about what you need to do. Do I need to get them in line? Do I need to move them from one place to the next? Do I need to bring kids from a small group back to a larger group? It's best to plan transitions because it will help alleviate chaos and panic.

Think about how you're going to move the kids and about how you can tie in the transition to the lesson. If my lesson's about colors and I'm sending the children to go get name tags to go to center time, I might dismiss them by what color they are wearing. Or if we're working on identifying other people's names, I might hold up letters that are in people's names and if you have this letter in your name, you can go do this. Think of what is logical and what ties into what the lesson was about because that will help keep things cohesive. It will also help keep the flow of things and help reiterate and reinforce some of the concepts that you were working on.

It's nice when transitions can be a learning opportunity and not just moving kids from one place to the next activity. Think about how you can reinforce some of the concepts and actually move the kids. I've seen a lot of lessons where they were talking about animals and the kids moved like a particular animal or made the animal noise as they were going to the next activity to help reinforce what they just learned about a particular animal.

Questions

  • Plan on at least 3 questions to ask during the lesson
  • Ask questions that you really want/need the answer to
  • Focus on open-ended questions
  • What questions would help in determining if goals/objectives were met?

Let's talk about the questions section of the lesson plan. Obviously, questions can happen at any point in the lesson, including the introduction, the closure, the main activity, or the transition. I like to have a separate questions section in my lesson plan just to make sure that I target certain things.

For our lesson plans in our program, we have the question section and we plan on asking at least three questions during the lesson. You're probably going to ask more because there are going be follow-up questions and things that you didn't think about, but plan on asking at least three questions. I either put those in the question section, or I put them where they're naturally going to happen. For example, if it's a question I have in my introduction, I put it in the introduction and I highlight it so I remember to ask the question. I might have another question in the main activity and I highlight it there, and then maybe I have a question in the closure. It's good to plan questions that are good questions. Ask questions that you really want or need to know the answer to. I really don't need to know if the children liked my lesson because I was going to do it anyway, whether they liked it or not. Hopefully, I'm planning well enough that they enjoyed the lesson, but I don't need to know that. I don't really need to know what their favorite part of the lesson was unless it's significant to my standards or to the actual activity. If we're doing something that's all about me and I need to know favorites then I might ask that question.

Ask questions that you really want to know the answer to. Ask questions that are open-ended. Questions that require a one-word answer, like "Yes, no, blue, three" don't get very deep. They don't help you assess whether or not the children understand. You don't get to look at their thought process when you ask those closed-ended, one-word answer required questions. Ask questions such as: 

  • What do you think would happen if this happened? 
  • Why did we do this?
  • Why did the paint not stick to this type of paper?
  • What did we use this straw for in this activity?

Focus on open-ended questions that really help you understand more about the children's processing of the information and understanding of the material or the concepts or the skills.

It's also very helpful to think about your goals and objectives and what kind of questions would help you determine if a child met those goals or objectives? For example, if my goal or objective was for children to be able to identify letters in their name, if I ask them to tell me some of the letters on a sheet or on their name or I tell them to write their name, those are activities or questions that are going to help me determine if my goals and objectives are met. Sometimes questions can really be beneficial in helping you figure out if children are actually able to do what you thought they were going to be able to do. Really be thoughtful with your questions. Be very careful with yes-no questions because they really don't give you a lot to work with.

Individualization

  • What will you do to modify the lesson to fit the needs of a specific child or group of children?
  • What can you do to simplify the lesson?
  • What can be done to extend the lesson or to make it more challenging?

Individualization happens throughout the lesson, but I like to have a specific section for individualization. This is the section that helps you determine if you need to modify the lesson to fit the needs of a particular child or a group of kids. If I know that a certain child needs to sit next to me during a lesson or I know that a particular child doesn't like to get messy, how am I going to make this finger painting activity work for the child that doesn't want to get messy? How do I tailor this lesson to fit the needs of that specific child? Or maybe I have a mixed age group and I'm trying to make sure that I have aspects of the lesson that I can simplify and aspects of the lesson that I can extend and make it more challenging.

Sometimes you have that first category where you need to make an arrangement or a modification for a specific child. I always have my students and my lead teacher tell me what to do to simplify this lesson because we're gearing our lessons to three to five-year-old children. How can I make this lesson simple for my youngest kiddos that may not be able to do what the five-year-olds could do? Or maybe I have a child that is even at a little bit lower level or I want to be able to use this with toddlers too. How can I simplify this lesson to work with somebody who might need a little less challenging material? How can I also then extend this lesson and make it more challenging? I always like to think of the extensions as if I had more time, what would my next logical step be for this lesson? If a child had more experience, what would they be able to do with this activity? That's a great way of thinking of how to extend the lesson. When you think of these ahead of time and then you're in the actual activity, it helps you be able to modify things on the spot.

We individualize and differentiate lessons on the fly all the time, but it can be very helpful if you have some things already thought through when you get to the point where you realize not all the kids can do what you planned. For example, if children can't use the scissors correctly, how can I modify this activity so that they can tear things? Being prepared and thinking of these modifications ahead of time really helps you not panic. It helps you really be able to see what your possibilities are for making this lesson be successful for a variety of kids. I don't like the idea of thinking that a certain child can't do this lesson because of one thing. I want to see how I can make sure this lesson is adaptable for all the kids that I'm working with. I don't want one child to not be able to do a particular activity. The individualization section is really important, and it does take a lot of thought about what you know about your kids and about children of this age and what they are capable of. Think about what your options are for each activity to either simplify it or extend or enhance it.

Assessment

  • How will you know if the children have met your goals/objectives?
  • Your assessments should be directly related to your stated learning objectives
  • Evaluated through
    • Anecdotal records
    • Checklists
    • Samples of children’s work
    • Children’s own assessments of their work

The assessment section is sometimes tricky. This is where you're going to pre-plan how you're going to figure out if the kids have met your goals or objectives. In our program, this is how we're going to determine if the child has met those Kansas Early Learning Standards such as identifying letters in their name. How am I going to know that? In an actual lesson plan format, I like to take those objectives that I have written in that first section, copy and paste them down in the assessment section in its entirety, and then provide a statement that tells how I will know this. If the objective is for the child to be able to identify letters in their name, how am I going to know that? I'm probably going to know that by watching a child pointing at letters and identify them in their name, or I'm going to listen to them as they're writing their name if they're saying their letters as they go.

Your assessment needs to be something that you can actually document that it's happened. I might write a little anecdotal record about what I saw this child do that helps me determine that they can use scissors, or I might use samples of their work to show that a child can cut on a straight line if it's scissor skills that I'm working with. I might have a checklist that I use as I watch the kids going through an obstacle course. This would help me determine who can hop on one foot, who can jump over a rope, and who can crawl through a tunnel. I might have a checklist of those skills that relate back to the objectives that I'm hoping that the children accomplished from this particular activity.

Sometimes the kids can make assessments of their own work and they can tell you a little bit about what has gone into a particular activity. We recently had children that had painted family portraits and they were identifying different people in their family. It was so neat to see the kids go through and point out and tell about what they had just done. Sometimes the kids are crucial in providing that information to you and not just you trying to determine what a child knows or what they can do. It might be answering questions or identifying something, but when the children can help let you know that particular goals or objectives have been met, that is fantastic.

Reflection/Self-Evaluation

  • Evaluation of the children’s and teacher’s performance
  • Evaluation helps with future planning

The last portion of a lesson plan is the reflection or self-evaluation portion. I put it on the lesson plan format that I provided as the template. I don't have it on my template that I use because my reflection and self-evaluation usually comes through in a journal in a more narrative aspect. This part would be blank until you actually teach the lesson. After you teach the lesson, it is your evaluation of how did the kids do with this activity? How did I do with making sure that I targeted all the aspects that I wanted to target?

I think that evaluations work well with accompanying pictures and samples of whatever has come out if there's actual tangible evidence of the lesson. I think those are crucial to add to a reflection or self-evaluation.

Student teacher working with two children and building blocks on a table

Figure 5. Student teacher working with children.

In figure 5 you see a student teacher and some children creating a building. She can look at the picture and go back and recall if the children were actually able to build it and if she helped them with part of it or what she might have said to the kids. A picture can help jog your memory. It also helps when kids have built things that are fantastic or they've written something. If it's something that's not on paper that I can keep, but it's something that I can take a picture of, that becomes proof of what the children were able to do which helps you be able to evaluate how well the lesson went. Were they actually able to achieve the objectives that I thought they would be able to do?

Sometimes you get done with the lesson and you realize it really didn't target the objectives that you thought it was going to target. Sometimes you are teaching a lesson and you realize something else fantastic is happening and you roll with it and you can address that in that reflection piece. That will help you look at your own performance, look at what the children have achieved, and it also helps you with future planning. I never throw away a lesson plan. I could have taught the worst lesson plan ever, but I am going to keep the lesson plan because I'm going to write on it, "This didn't work the way it was written. It would be so much better if I did this" or "If I ever do this lesson again, here's what I need to do." There are so many times that I think something sounds like a great idea, and then I realized, oh, I've done that before, it wasn't a great idea the way I planned it before. It does help you with future planning and looking at lessons to see what the children did, how the lesson went, how you modified the lesson, and how you could build on that lesson or adapt it for another lesson.

I encourage you to keep track of your lessons. I usually keep track of my lessons within the different themes we use. Sometimes you realize you can pull a lesson from one theme or area and tweak it to work somewhere else. That helps you not have to reinvent the wheel when writing new lesson plans. Take the time to look back at how things went and evaluate not only the children's activity but your own actions within that lesson. 

Closing

I hope that you're able to put the lesson plan template to use and I hope that if you're already using a lesson plan template you can tweak things and have a better idea of what goes into different sections so that you can be the best at planning that you can be.  Once you get planning tackled, it alleviates a lot of stress that we have as early childhood professionals. 

References

Kostelnik, M.J., Soderman, A.K., Whiren, A.P., Rupiper, M.L. (2019). Developmentally appropriate curriculum:  Best practices in early childhood education. 7th ed. New York:  Pearson. 
 
Developmentally appropriate practices introduction.  https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/dap
 

Citation

Tankersley, A. (2019). Writing Effective Lesson Plans for Early Childhood Classrooms. continued.com - Early Childhood Education, Article 23270.  Retrieved from www.continued.com/early-childhood-education

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amber tankersley

Amber Tankersley, PhD

Amber Tankersley is an associate professor in child development within the department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary/early childhood education, a master's degree in elementary education, and a PhD in curriculum and instruction. She has worked in the field of early childhood for over 20 years as a preschool teacher, university child care center director, university instructor/professor and director of an NAEYC accredited preschool lab. She often presents at workshops/conferences on the topic of early childhood curriculum and the importance of play. She teaches courses such as: early childhood curriculum, interacting with children, parent/professional relationships, and she supervises practicum students and preschool student teachers. 



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