Effective Lesson Planning: classroom systems and lesson sequencing

This is a follow up post number 2 on effective lesson planning. Now that we understand lessons should go differing lengths of time 20 – 40 minutes, what would that look like in one of the timetable blocks of 90-120 minutes.

If we were to focus on one discipline e.g. English within a primary classroom, this is generally taught in the morning blocks in this case either 120 min (block 1) or 90 minutes (block 2).

Hold on I’m presuming that trainee teachers have recognized the many classroom learning environment systems and their expectations and consequences that teachers establish in the first 20 days or so of the school year.

First, it’s important that class teachers have systems in place to start the day. Each teacher organizes this in this own way but what’s important is that it’s done efficiently (within the first 5 minutes at the start of a session – tops). Some teachers have tubs out for students to place their lunch orders, money collection (e.g. for excursions), return their home reading book and note their attendance (some as they enter the classroom).

Resources for classroom systems

What I have seen unfortunately is the teacher take 15 minutes or more to call the roll – some chanting or singing rhymes. This is very valuable instruction time and to take 15 minutes or so seems a waste of prime time. Sousa would say that student remember who is present in classroom more than your first learning intention. Anyway, teachers at the end of the session can complete marking the roll (if required manually), entering money into a cash book etc… I know there are special days where rolls have to be taken to the office but surely, we have technology solutions here.

Some teachers have the daily organization written on the whiteboard and have trained students again in the first 20 days of school what’s expected when they see a subject or task on the whiteboard. It’s really important that these routines are practiced early in the school year. It might be they see reading, spelling and writing lessons (their length e.g. 20 minutes or so) and what’s expected to be on the student’s table ready when the instruction period is finished.

I once heard a Math’s educator talk about bird’s eye view of what the table should look like (see drawing below) and had student set their tables up at the start of the lesson or the end of the previous lesson (just before recess). I have used this and thought the mental image a perfect way to communicate to visually dominated young people.

Anyway, allowing for 5 minutes means students are now settled onto the group instructional area with their tables set up. This table set up will really aid transition time during lessons and teachers repeating instructions (a question often raised by trainee teachers).

Additional Resources to support transitions:

Of course, there are many more systems in classrooms including: going to the toilet, eating fruit during lessons, classroom monitors who usually take down chairs from tables or switch on computers etc… but the point I’m making is that trainee teachers need to reflect on these for efficiency and what they might replicate or strengthen.

Anyway, to the main point of the post sequencing lessons of differing lengths in the morning period in English.

Here one has to consider that there may be parent helpers in classrooms in the morning and what might they do whilst lessons proceed. Often parents like to help out with hearing students read in which case you might start the day with Reading which may last for 40 minutes. Again, I’ve assumed the parents have completed some school training program that explains school processes and learning organization – if not then its left to the individual teacher to do this in the first 20 days or so of the school year. So, the rostered parents (another system) come in and might for the first 10 – 15 minutes return all the home reading books to the correct tubs, organized the student home reading folders ready to hear student read (a few pages) during the first down time period (where the students are completing a task to reinforce or practice a learning intention). There lots to say about parent helpers here but I’ll leave that to another post. If there are no parent helpers then the teacher has a greater choice in lesson sequencing.

So, the lesson might proceed for the 30-40 minutes (I’ll speak about the lesson in a 3rd post) followed by some transition period usually 3 or so minutes where students might stretch, music is played, a chant is recited etc… and the student then set up for the following lesson (it’s an advantage here to have a system or birds eye view of the table set up so students are then ready for the next lesson). I usually prefer a shorter 20-minute lesson which could be on spelling or vocabulary development followed by another transition. Finally, you might then have a writing lesson for the last 30-40 minutes of the block. In this sequence (Reading, Spelling, Writing) you have covered 3 basic components of the English curriculum in a 90 or 120-minute period you have had 2 transitions (6 minutes) and you have prepared for the next lesson before recess or lunch.

There are several tips here to support the sequencing:

  • have a class novel or book to read (great if the students are eating before recess or lunch break)
  • have sent of spelling or vocabulary flash cards (many different games you can play here which counts for a repetition of a previous lesson)

I hope that helps paint a picture of sequencing lessons and transitions in-between. If there are any questions or even issues please respond. The next post is on a specific lesson structure keeping in mind student retention.