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Lesson Planning Strategies to Improve Student Learning*

Government sponsored research in cognitive psychology indicates that there are four vital strategies that teachers can use to organize their instruction to help improve student learning.  These strategies are listed below, each is followed by examples and some suggested professional development activities.  

Strategy One: Space learning over time with review and quizzing.

A key aspect of effective teaching and learning is helping students retain information over the course of the school year and beyond. Research has shown that exposing students to key concepts and facts on at least two occasions, separated by several weeks to several months, greatly reduces the rate at which information is forgotten. This is accomplished by re-exposing students to course material after its introduction and by reviewing material with short quizzes, review games, targeted homework assignments, and exams.

Examples

Two to four weeks after key material is introduced, consider doing some of the following…

  1. Revisit the material with a fill in the blank quiz followed by correct-answer feedback.

  2. Conduct an oral review by asking students to respond to your review questions.

  3. Develop a game or activity for review.  Something like Review Bingo will reinforce learned content.

  4. Re-teach the same content but from a different point of view.

  5. Include review problems or tasks as part of ongoing homework assignments.

  6. Set up a group review activity.  For example, have pairs of students develop review flash cards and subsequently use them to quiz one another.

 

Teacher Development

Meet with a group of peers and brainstorm for review activities.  Identify three to five different options in each of the following review categories: Homework; quizzes; teacher-directed review; games.

Strategy Two: Alternate worked examples with problem-solving practice.

Students learn more when worked examples, or solved problems, are alternated with problems to be solved. Worked examples can be provided for every other problem in a homework assignment or teachers can provide worked examples by thinking aloud with the whole class, assigning a similar problem, then doing another think aloud, followed by more practice. Students benefit from this approach, learn effective problem-solving strategies, transfer these strategies more easily, and, ultimately, solve problems more quickly.

 

Examples

  1. Instead of demonstrating a solution to a problem and then assigning eight problems for students to do on their own, a math or science teacher can achieve better learning by giving students the solutions to four problems with each followed by a similar type of problem to be solved by the students. Interweaving examples and problems is the better approach.

  2. Instead of outlining the entire research process and then having the students attack it, a history teacher may break the process into demonstrated steps.  For example, the teacher may explain and demonstrate what a primary source document is and how it is used in research.  Then immediately send the students to the library to find a primary source for their research topic.

Teacher Development

Teachers who use the same textbook or learning package can work together to prepare their own solved or worked problems to use with homework assignments or textbook exercises.

Strategy Three: Connect abstract and concrete representations of concepts.

Connecting abstract ideas with concrete contexts can help students understand challenging topics and learn to transfer their understanding to new situations. There are many ways teachers can connect the abstract and the concrete including using stories, simulations, hands-on activities, visual representations, and real-world problem solving.

Teaching a new concept in purely abstract terms can make it difficult for students to fully understand what is being taught. On the other hand, teaching a new concept in exclusively concrete terms can limit a student's ability to recognize key concepts or understand how to apply the concepts when faced with a new problem. Connecting abstract and concrete representations, and clearly highlighting the similarities and differences, can help students master the content being taught and develop better problem-solving strategies.

Examples

1. Help students visualize a concept by showing a picture, chart, diagram or model.  The objective is to represent an abstract idea in a number of different ways.

Note: Graphics do not have to be realistic to be useful. In fact, sometimes an abstract image will illustrate an idea better than a realistic illustration.

 

Note: it’s important that teachers draw students’ attention to the relevant similarities between the visual representation and the abstract idea

 

Note: Not every concept needs to be introduced with a concrete representation or situation. In fact, sometimes teaching in the abstract from the beginning produces superior results.

2. Help students understand an abstract concept by supporting it with hands-on activities, experiments, or demonstrations.

3. Help students understand an abstract concept by relating it to everyday situations.  For example, a civics teacher may connect representational government to student participation on the student council.

4. Help students deepen their understanding of a concept by having them create their own relevant diagrams based on the concept under study. 

5. Connect the concept to an activity that the students can do at home and then have them do it as homework.

6. Have students discuss in groups how the concept under study can apply to their “real” lives.

  Teacher Development

  1. Meet with colleagues who teach some of the same concepts as you do and design visuals, activities, and other ways to represent the concepts.

  2. With colleagues develop concrete representations to support textbook concepts that are not made in the text.

 Strategy Four: Use higher-order questions to help students build explanations.

Across subject areas, when teachers ask higher-order questions and provide opportunities for students to develop deep explanations, learning is enhanced. Higher-order questions often start with question stems like: why, what caused, how did it occur, what if, how do they compare, or what is the evidence? When teachers ask higher-order questions and encourage explanations, they are helping their students to develop important critical thinking skills.

There are a number of ways teachers can encourage their students to develop explanations. During class discussions, homework assignments, or while reading, teachers can encourage students to explain their thinking out loud or in writing. Units of study that begin with a provocative question, or set of questions, will also encourage students to develop explanations and deepen their understanding of key content.

Examples

  1. Pose questions that stimulate reasoning: Why? What may have caused this? How does this compare to that? Why is this important? Why did this happen? Etc.

  2.   Have students debate two sides of a question or issue.

  3. Ask students to speculate about the motivations of individuals or characters

  4. Ask students to discuss causes and consequences and justifications.

  5. Ask questions that require thought about the relationships between different events, things, or situations

  6. Challenge students to expand their explanations and what they know about a topic.

  7. Ask students to defend a position, examine causes, or present a different view.

  8. Challenge students to explain the steps they used to come to their position or explanation

  9. Pose higher-order questions: What happens when…? What causes …? Why does this make sense?  Can this be justified? What are the similarities/differences? Why is this important?  What if…?

  10. Have student come up with deeper questions on their own and then share them with their classmates.

  11. Present students with puzzling questions, paradoxes, or counter intuitive statements: “Why are forest fires sometimes good for the forest?”

  12. Ask students to discuss benefits or negatives about an issue or problem.

Teacher Development

  1. Review current lesson plans and infuse them with deeper-order questions and activities.

  2. Discuss material that you teach with colleagues and challenge yourselves to think deeper about it.  Transpose your discussion into thought questions that you can use with your students.

  3. Take a concept or topic that you teach and consider presenting it from a completely different perspective or point-of-view.  Develop divergent questions from this mental exercise that will encourage students to think divergently.

  4. Work with another teacher and design activities to deepen thought about a given topic or problem.

  5. Take a current lesson and rework it to be interdisciplinary.  For example, a history teacher can teach an event using art or music or architecture.  Devise questions or activities that require students to synthesize the disciplines.

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*Source: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/20072004.pdf#page=40