5 steps to an effective lesson plan

Time-wasting pro-formas have largely disappeared, says Hanna Miller – but consistency is still key in lesson planning

Hanna Miller

Lesson planning: Five steps to help teachers plan effective lessons

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

As an NQT and trainee teacher, completing the dreaded lesson planning template was something I loathed. 

I’m so glad that the clunky pro-forma format has largely been consigned to the past. 

But the reason for the pro-forma was and remains a valid one: to encourage consistency. 

Quick read: Why high teacher expectations can mean lower workload

Quick listen: Why we need more hands-on learning in schools

Want to know more? How to plan the perfect lesson

There is always a place for consistency, especially in light of the recent rise of cognitive science and the pivotal role that organisations like the Education Endowment Foundation play in enabling teachers to access high-quality educational research.

At a whole-school level, there continues to be much discussion around curriculum and the sequencing of content over time: but the planning of the individual lessons needs to reflect what we now know works.

Lesson planning: subject knowledge 

We have to start here. What is the portable knowledge? What do students need to walk away knowing and/or understanding?


Spend time getting these right and rehearsing them as a team in a year group or subject area. How exactly do you explain…? How do you draw it? What graphics do you use? 

How is the unveiling of this tricky concept staged? What vocabulary do you use? What if the students don’t get that – what is your plan B explanation? Analogy? Pictures? Make that explanation the best it can be and well-versed.

Questioning and responding

Planning quality questions has always been important to assess understanding, but now we know so much more about embedding diagnostic questioning and the positive implications of elaborative questioning. 

But focus on responding, too – are we spending time predicting how students might respond so we can suitably follow up with a question to clarify, consolidate or challenge?

Pre-planning for likely responses to my questions optimises my own cognitive load, freeing up space for other elements.


The current popularity of the visualiser has reinvigorated the importance of live modelling; many teachers make this a staple ingredient in their students’ daily diet.

But again, we should pre-plan our live models so we can start predicting misconceptions and consider the best vocabulary and graphics to embed that model. 

Plan here for clarity, conciseness and coherence with questions to check for understanding.


Consider the opportunities you’ll be providing in the future to drag that portable knowledge back to the surface to slow “sinking time”, where it can get lost in long-term memory. The frequency of retrieval and the spacing of this will also need to be considered.

All plans can be adapted, they are not set in stone but a plan is more than the PowerPoint slides and the stages of planning are a necessary foundation for all experience levels. 

I’m not advocating a return to the lengthy documents of old; just consideration when we plan our teaching episodes to limit what we do on the hop and make sure that the favourable bets coming through are reflected in our planning. 

This doesn’t take anything away from the nuance of individual teaching; instead, it provides consistency and that is key in limiting the “horizontal leakage” that is the loss of learning through inconsistency, which sometimes occurs in year groups and within subjects when we just expect everyone to implement what comes out of the CPD or the discussion. 

There is a lot to be said for having a whole-school language for planning to support all levels of teacher and honouring the rich research findings coming to light.

Hanna Miller is assistant head for teaching and learning across the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. She tweets @notesfromthebun

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Hanna Miller

Latest stories

Here is how to ensure effective safeguarding mechanisms

Safeguarding: 5 golden principles for leaders

The need for colleges and schools to have effective safeguarding practices has never been more apparent. This lawyer has some advice on what to look out for
Sophie Kemp 11 May 2021