Today’s blog starts with a little challenge. Or should we say “big challenge.” Don’t worry, we’ll be getting to lesson planning and the ultimate lesson plan checklist in a few minutes. First, let me set up the scenario.

During the summer months I wanted to teach my sons music at home. Being a former classroom band teacher, I wanted to see if I could get the three of them to play music together in a homogeneous setting. I chose to teach recorder since I’m a wind player, and I’m interested in developing breath and finger dexterity.


The schedule that I came up with was: individual lessons on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and ensemble on Thursday. What makes this problem interesting is that my sons are ages 12, 10, and 5.

So the driving question for this summer’s experiment was, “How can I get these boys of different ages, experience, physical ability, and mental readiness to play as a cohesive group?” I also asked myself, “How can I keep the level of challenge for each child high enough for success and optimal engagement?”

The answer: lesson plans.

Planning Means Success

Now, a confession. As a band teacher, I made it through the bulk of my teaching years without a plan. For the most part I had an idea of how I wanted to run the rehearsals, and how to solve problems within the ensemble. By ‘improvising’ my way through the years, my bands had moderate success, before me giving up the classroom to travel and teach privately and write.

Looking back I now know my career could have been better, and student successes higher, if I had done one thing better. I am, of course, referring again to lesson planning.


So today, relishing in the fact that I only have three students in my class, I can take this time to practice lesson planning, especially as it relates to differentiated instruction..

On the macro level, comparing your own classroom to my 3-person classroom would be useful in identifying and placing your students into 3 groups:

  • those who need help to catch up;
  • those who need motivation, and;
  • those who are at competency and will therefore need opportunities to go further on their own.

Does this look like 3 different classes? Perhaps, but with planning we can address all levels through differentiation. That’s where a solid lesson plan checklist comes into play.

The Lesson Plan Checklist

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years from this experience regarding a lesson plans:

  1. They take a serious investment in time. If you want to be the best teacher, even if you are used to winging it, I guarantee that your teaching will gain an entirely new focus and direction if you do them properly and consciously.
  2. Lesson plans must be meaningful, and serve as your own formative assessment tool for you as a teacher.
  3. The time spent planning will always be more time than the actual class that you will teach. Think of it being as important as financial planning. If you get behind, it’s disaster. You feel lost, and you can’t make informed decisions; you lose money. Lesson planning is creating a budget of knowledge, and determining how you’re going to best impart that to students. It’s worth it.
  4. I personally didn’t want to use paper, as I knew from my years of teaching that paper clutters up my workspace very quickly. I chose to do my plans online, so I used’s Plan Board. I know there are other options out there, but I needed to start quickly and get the job done. I also highly recommend the GDCF’s Solution Fluency Activity Planner.
  5. I had to commit to writing, reviewing and rewriting lesson plans every night. I put it on the top of my Asana daily task list.

What It Looks Like

So here’s what the ultimate lesson plan checklist looks like in my book:

1. Don’t go it alone

Collaboration tools are so ubiquitous now that it would be foolish not to use them to help and get help from other teachers with lesson plans.

2. Standards

Whether they are standards that you have put together, Common Core State Standards, or NCCAS standards, listing the standards you are practicing brings focus to your class. In no uncertain terms will you know where you and your students are headed. Standards not only focus your lesson content, but bring clarity to observing admins who may or may not know your subject matter.

3. Objectives and Learning Targets

Translate your standards into layman’s language that you can impart to your students easily. They want to know what they’re going to do, why they are there, and why it’s important. Start your lesson each day with the mindset that your students have no clue as to why they are there. State your objectives clearly and precisely. Check for understanding. “I want to see if you can … How will I know if you can do it? I’ll see you do … and … ”

4. Determine Assessments

Do this before designing lesson content. Begin with the end in mind. Make your standards #1 and your behavioral objectives #2. By sandwiching the beginning and the end, you can get a better grasp of your middle.

5. Show, don’t tell

The less talking you do, the better. Show them how to do it. Your instruction should not be limited to lecture. Include in your lesson plan how you would show students to get to do what you want them to do. Don’t limit this to academic material; model and show behavioral excellence.

6. Plan for silence

Don’t jam pack your lessons with non-stop dialogue. Remember that some students take longer to formulate answers. Allow for silence after posing queries, sometimes counting to 7 before changing gears. This allows students to really think about and process your questions.

7. Honour the struggle

Ever hear of scaffolding instruction and Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix? That creative tension is what stretches the brain. Let’s not shy away from that. It won’t always be smooth sailing.

8. Allow for ownership by the students

Allowing them flexibility to arrive at the same goal by different means honours their creativity.

9. Plan forward

Get a full month’s lessons down, if nothing more than simply rough drafts. Again, the content can come, but start with goals and assessments. Often times the content of the lesson comes in last-minute inspiration, but as long as you know where you are going, you’ll do fine.

How Did This Help My Boys and I?

Lesson plans gave me that added fuel when things got tough. The diverse learning styles and experiences made it difficult. By careful planning—not only within the classroom but allowing for outside class time—I achieved the flexibility to help where I was needed. That’s the power of developing the ultimate lesson plan checklist.

My boys still struggle, but we’re getting better. That’s okay—we know where we’re going.


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