9 tips and tricks for lesson planning blog header

9 tips and tricks for lesson planning

It’s Sunday night and you’re exhausted. 

Lesson plans are due Monday morning at 8 am but it’s the last thing you want to do, and you haven’t even started yet. 

Those excited three-year-olds will be ready to go as soon as you walk in the door tomorrow. 

You just need to get something on paper. 

Why does your manager require these plans anyway? 

No one reads them. They’re a waste of time! 

Sound familiar? 

If you feel this way, I have good news for you: you’re doing it all wrong. Okay, maybe that’s not good news, but at least you can only go up from here! 

(And I assure you: We have all been there.) 

If you just show up without a plan, your day will feel long and without purpose. You will have more behavior problems, and you will often feel frustrated. Lesson plans can and will be relevant to you if you change your mindset as to why we have them. Lesson plans keep us organized and accountable.  

Here are nine tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years (the hard way!) so that you don’t have to!

1. Find out what is required from your director/administrator, and then make it your own.

Every administration does things differently, so find out what exactly your supervisor requires. Two basic questions to ask: 

  • What do they need handed in? 
  • When is it due? 

Once you find out what is required, then you can make sure that is done, and then you can make it “your own.” Try not to be like anyone else except yourself when it comes to preparing lessons. If you understand the age you’re working with, you’ll be able to find really fun and hands-on ways to make lessons come alive for the children.

2. Choose a theme/topic that is relevant and age-appropriate.

If you have the creative freedom to choose your themes/topics, please make sure that it makes sense for your age group. A lot of educators get stuck and think it’s okay to teach a theme such as “The Alphabet” or “Seasons.” But while teaching those two things is important, those aren’t themes. 

children recycling in a park

Find out what your children are really interested in, and use that to your advantage! For example, if they really love “Paw Patrol,” and it seems like it’s all they talk about, then do a theme on community helpers or pets. If a child goes to the dentist and teeth are the hot topic of conversation, why not do a deep dive and have them learn about teeth and hygiene? 

Just make sure that they are actually learning about the topic. What do I mean by that? 

Well, if you’re doing a theme on frogs, and you have clipart of frogs on your math sheet and have them “leapfrog” around the room, and then they wear green on a certain day in honor of frogs, ask yourself: Have they actually learned anything substantial about frogs? 

The answer is clearly no. While those examples are fun and can be part of your theme, make sure you are teaching with objectives in mind and making it meaningful.

3. Set time aside each day to add to your lesson plan for the following week. 

If you have the gift of “prep” time while your children are at a special event or lunch/recess, OR if you have a rest time where your children nap, take advantage of that time to work on next week’s lesson plans. Do a little each day so that you aren’t working on it at home. 

Something that always worked well for me is I would write my plans throughout the week, and then on Fridays, I would gather all my materials and put them in their special bin. There was a bin for each day of the week that I would pull from and add to. I would often have a helper (for older children) or a parent helper come in (if you teach little ones), and they would help gather those materials. 

Don’t bring work home if you can help it! No cramming on Sunday nights!

4. Find the format that works best for you

There are SO many types of lesson plan books and templates. Some are meant for you to write in with a pen while others are digital on your laptop or tablet. Some just have big empty squares for you to write in the centers and stations while others are more formal, listing materials and procedures.  Once you know what is required, find the right format that works for you. If you have sloppy writing, choose digital! 

different coloured folders

Something that a lot of my educators love to use is the HiMama App, where they can create their plans right there in the app, and it already has the state standards built in. Then when they go to share their daily report with parents, they are able to share the skill by simply clicking on that part of the plan and it goes to parents! They love the convenience of it. 

Just make sure that whatever you do use, it is accessible and available for any substitute that would need it to cover for you. A very popular book that many like to use is one like the “Everything Lesson Plan Book” where you can fill in the subjects and details for each day. If you can’t find one that you like, but you know exactly what you want, then create your own! With programs like Canva, Publisher, and Word, you can certainly create it, print it, punch holes, and place it in a great binder! 

Just be sure it’s something that works for you!

5. Use bins or drawers to organize your materials for each day.

This is a game-changer. Trust me on this one! If you have a 5-drawer organizer (one drawer for each day of the week), you will feel so organized and any substitute will feel set up for success. Just label the front of each drawer with the day of the week. You can thank me later! 

6. Make sure play is the largest part of your plans.

If you are teaching in early childhood education, please do not overlook this simple statement. Play should be the largest part of your children’s day. Your lesson plans are important and required, yes. But if play is not part of every aspect of your lessons, then something is not right. Children should be exploring through play and not completing worksheets or step-by-step crafts. There should be mini-lessons where the educator is instructing a new skill, but the bulk of their day should be in centers where they are building, creating, talking, and exploring. 

Make sure your lesson plans touch on every aspect of the whole child through the various domains- social, emotional, cognitive, physical, etc. If your supervisor is requiring that your children are to be sitting at desks and completing worksheets and staying quiet all day, I urge you to challenge them on this (respectfully, of course!). 

Studies have shown that children should be playing and exploring to not only gain knowledge, but also to gain skills such as executive functioning, self-confidence, and emotional intelligence.  

7. Write with a substitute teacher in mind

When writing your lesson plans, be sure that they are clear enough for a substitute to pick up and teach from. I know you only have a set amount of space on your lesson plans, but remember why we write plans in the first place: to keep us organized and on pace. 

So, if you are absent from school, a substitute should be able to pick up your plans and teach from it with little confusion (especially if you have corresponding bins that are already set up from the week before with materials!). Many educators will say that it’s more work to get a substitute than it is to just come to work. But it doesn’t have to be that way! 

Just taking the time to make clear plans the week ahead and setting aside those materials will make everyone’s life easier and calmer! It’s worth taking the extra time each day. 

8. Include only what is necessary.

Children dressing up

While I’m sure there will be requirements you have to put on your plans for handing in, make sure your plans are realistic and aren’t pages and pages long! Include the very necessary things such as the objective, materials, and procedures. The objective will always keep you accountable as to why you are educating each item and helps you to know where to start and end. 

What is it that you want children to know by the end of your lesson? 

That is your objective. 

List the materials needed (that should be in your daily bin!), and then make sure you have the not-so-obvious steps that need to take place in order for your lesson to go smoothly. 

9. Not every lesson plan online is developmentally appropriate.

I know we all love a good shortcut. There is no shame in that! Just remember that not every lesson plan available for purchase online (such as on Pinterest) is appropriate. It is totally fine to get ideas from the Internet. Pinterest is our friend! But make sure it doesn’t take the place of what is appropriate for your children. 

Even if you see a beautiful template on “Teachers Pay Teachers” that matches your classroom but only has a bunch of worksheets, keep on scrolling! Use your best judgment and keep it simple. It is completely fine to supplement with fun videos online and different ideas you find online. Just make sure it isn’t a shortcut for pure laziness where the children would suffer from it. 

Besides being required, lesson plans exist to keep us as educators accountable and help us stay on pace with what our children need. Just like in any profession, if there isn’t a plan, there will be chaos. Once you figure out your style of plan, stick to it and see how much more prepared and joyful you are! 

What are some tips and tricks that you use that aren’t included here? 

Share them below in the comments!

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.