10 Tips for Teachers: Lesson planning life hacks 

Top tips to help with lesson planning to start the new school term or next academic year

25 April 2022

Whether you are a student teacher, Early Career Teacher (or ‘ECT’ – the new ‘NQT’), or an experienced educator looking to remind yourself of planning 101 ready for the next academic year, planning doesn’t need to take over all your time outside of lessons.

Here we have gathered advice from teachers in our networks and some resources to help you plan effectively and efficiently.

1. Start with the curriculum as a whole

Before you get into the nitty gritty of individual lessons, you will be looking at your yearly overview for the subject (or all of them) first. Seeing the curriculum as a whole in a perfect chance to spot cross curricular-links, parts that need refreshing or any changes that have come in.

If you are a subject lead, this will be especially important! For advice on how to get started, see our blog How to design a curriculum – 5 tips for subject leads by teacher and Curriculum Lead Kerri Sellens.

If you want to upgrade your creative curriculum, our Teacher Toolkit takes you through the different steps from the very start.

Artsmark Award supports your school to develop arts, creativity and culture across the curriculum, to complement your school improvement plan. You can check out some CPD videos on drama, music and digital art for a taster of what kinds of activities and approaches teachers can use to work towards their Artsmark Award.

2. Decide on the key learning for individual lessons

Always start with the learning outcome you want to achieve and work backwards. What do you want the children to learn and what are the steps needed to get there? What is the key learning? Can you turn this into a key question to stimulate thinking and discussion that you can return to during the lesson? You can pose it at the beginning and then at the end to see the progress in learning during the lesson. Make sure all parts of the lesson are relevant to being able to inform and answer that key question.

Remember that a learning outcome is different from the ‘product’ as an outcome (although this is still important to keep in mind). What are the children actually going to learn rather than do? E.g. If you are studying poetry and you want to write a poem, before you start planning any further decide what poetry writing skill they will learn or what subject knowledge are they exploring.

3. Use existing resources

Save time and check what resources already exist for the lesson you are teaching – ask colleagues or search the school system. Find out what schemes is your school signed up to, or are any colleagues using a particular set of resources they recommend? Do you have Twinkl log in? Are there any schemes (especially if you are a Subject Specialist/Lead) that you could recommend to your school to buy in? Don’t be afraid to make it pre-existing lessons your own but don’t feel pressure to re-invent the wheel either!

If you are looking for help ensuring that your lessons are inclusive and diverse, we have collated resources for Black History Month and LGTBQ+ Month (relevant all year round) with even more resources on LookUp.

A New Direction is a supporter of the Decade of Diversity campaign, a collection of organisations committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in education. Their partner Diverse Educators have resources for educators, including ideas for diverse literature for your school.

We have school resources for a variety of topics, and you can use our LookUp directory to find ready-made resources from the cultural sector – you can search by artform, key stage and key word.

4. Refer to previous learning

Build on previous units and learning – including from past year’s by checking their curriculum overviews for any links. To support long term memory, refer to the learning that came before and allow time for reflection to pick up on any misconceptions.

Start new topics and units with a Show What You Know activity, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, it could be simply mind-mapping or doing a post-it relay race. For more in-depth thinking ways to do this, check out our Teaching for Creativity Taster Cards e.g. Picture Predictions and Free Write from the Secondary set. You can then use their previous knowledge to plan lessons – by progressing and reefing to it, while helping you to see gaps to focus on.

5. Have a hook

Have a hook such as an in image, a video, a discussion point, a story, a mystery object... whatever you choose, use it to engage the children's imagination from the start. See, Think, Wonder, Step Inside… and Predicting with Pictures from our Primary Teaching for Creativity Taster Cards work well for this across any subject.

To inject some creativity into your lessons, check out these previous A New Direction blogs:

6. Be realistic about time

Be honest in your plan about how long something might take rather trying to squeeze everything in. Time for children to reflect and discuss is where the learning really happens. It is good to have backup activities in-case they are too quick, but these can be simple and open-ended that don’t require lots of preparation, so you don’t spend your precious PPA time overplanning just one lesson.

Self-reflection and feedback is so often missed due to running gout of time, so having some questions up your sleeve that work in any topic are useful. Some of our Taster Cards can help e.g. as Machines of Learning and A Hand Full of Thoughts in the Primary set and Undercover Investigators and Ask for Advice for the Secondary set.

This also raises another important point: be realistic about YOUR time, it might help to set a time limit for yourself before you embark on a planning marathon!

7. Include pupil voice

It is sometimes hard to know where to start when including pupil voice in your planning – but this doesn’t need to be letting the pupils decide exactly what they learn. Plan in opportunities for discussions and questions, start topics with an investigation or opportunities for them to generate questions about the topics (e.g. the Wonder by Numbers activity in our Primary Teaching for Creativity Taster Cards) and give students lots of choices over the work they produce.

If you are feeling more ambitious and you have freedom to choose topics or outcomes, you could consult your class before you plan, but remember to give them choices you know you can deliver, and explain why some of their suggestions might not work.

If you teach art – a great way to ensure you have pupil voice it to have a student arts council who plan a specific week of activity. Check out how in our blog: 10 Tips for Teachers: How to plan a student-led Arts Week

8. Plan ahead any key points for wow moments and trips

Similar to a hook, a wow moment will get your students enthused and excited. When planning, research to see if any museums or galleries have exhibitions or workshops connected to your topic. If not, can you connect with a cultural partner or freelance artist specifically to develop a wow moment?

There might already be curriculum linked lesson plans out there that e.g. the Dreamachine Schools Science resources, developed by A New Direction and accredited by CREST Award, would make a great wow moment to get pupils excited about scientific enquiry.

9. Have time fillers up your sleeve

Have some pre-prepared activities for when you are in a pinch. We have mentioned our Taster Cards already – they are sets of short activities that can be adapted to different topics and done with minimal preparation, all while developing creative skills while they are at it! Some other creative time-fillers these five-minute lessons from TES, this list of follow on activities for remote learners (that could be suitable for classrooms too) and this list of creative thinking routines.

Ask your colleagues what their tried and tested favourites are, or if they have pre-prepared slides (so you don’t always end up playing Count Down or doing Just Dance endlessly!). Have packs ready for cover classes – this could be as simple as a list of different ways to discuss/reflect on your current class reader.

10. Remember creativity can be taught across the curriculum!

At A New Direction, we believe creativity can be taught, and the skills that come within it can be developed across any topic, not just the arts. To find out more about the Five Creative Habits of Mind, and lesson plans focusing on teaching these skills along with curriculum topics such as History, Geography, D&T and English, visit our Teaching for Creativity page, which also includes a recording of CPD webinar with Professor Bill Lucas (Centre for Real World Learning, University of Winchester) and Alison Peacock (Chartered College of Teaching) discussing what Teaching for Creativity looks like in the classroom.

Our blog series Creative Tips for Teachers has a range of blogs, some focusing on creativity in various subjects:

Thanks to the teachers who provided their advice and tips for lesson planning as contributions to this blog.