As teachers, we are privileged to guide children through the magical journey that is learning, building a continuum of knowledge that embraces past, present, and future. But do children always experience individual lessons as part of the learning journey? By helping children to see the acquisition of knowledge as a whole, rather than as a collection of unrelated steps, we can strengthen the power of our teaching. One way to do this is by planning lessons that help the students evaluate what they have learned, while also giving them a direction in which to proceed. An effective lesson contains these four distinct features:
- A bridge from previous work to the day´s new knowledge
- A goal-setting introduction
- The body of the lesson, where new knowledge is presented, discussed, and assessed
- A closure that reflects on the day´s learning and previews how it will be used in the future
The basic lesson-planning structure can be used in any area of the curriculum. Feel free to adapt these lessons, or use their structure to plan lessons that fit your own curriculum. What I will describe is how these four features play out in: A reading/language arts lesson
that focuses on creating a web based on a nonfiction article. Prior to this lesson, the children would have read the article and discussed the main idea and key points. A math lesson
that focuses on multiplication of two-digit by one-digit numbers. Immediately before this lesson, children would have explored multiplication facts through 35, and would have modeled the facts using Digi-Block® materials, a place-value teaching system. It is assumed that children have already learned the concept of regrouping from their previous work in math.
1. The Bridge (5-10 minutes)
The bridge helps children see the day´s work as part of a larger unit of knowledge. It also enables you to assess the children´s readiness for the day´s lesson. The bridge, like other lesson features, may appear in many different forms. Choose the form that fits particularly well with the body of your lesson, or one to which your students respond positively. Three forms are described below.
Arrange children in one whole-class circle or in small discussion groups. Encourage them to share their responses to a statement or question. Assess readiness for the day´s lesson by listening to children´s remarks, as described for each subject area below.
Reading/Language Arts: Ask children to talk about the main idea and important facts learned from the nonfiction article. Listen for children to discuss facts from the article in their own words, rather than reading directly from it.
Math: Ask children to list multiplication facts with products between 18 and 35. Listen for them to choose facts that reflect multiplication with products within the numerical boundaries you stated.
INFORMAL JOURNAL ENTRY
Ask children to write independently about previously learned concepts needed for today´s lesson. Invite volunteers to share their journals. Assess understanding by listening to responses, emphasizing points that are relevant to the day´s lesson.
Reading/Language Arts: "Which sentence states the main idea of the article you read? What are the most important facts in the article?" Listen for concise, original responses.
Math: "How are the products of 1 x 10, 4 x 5, and 10 x 3 alike? What other products fit this pattern?" Listen for childrenÂ´s understanding of place-value as they note that the products contain no number ones.
Have children use manipulatives or drawings to assess how familiar they are with the tools you plan to use in the body of the lesson. Assess understanding by circulating and observing children at work. Look for appropriate use of the manipulative. For example, if you are using Digi-Blocks or other place-value materials, look for children to "pack" the blocks to compose groups of 10.
Reading/Language Arts: Have children draw a picture and write a short caption that illustrates the main idea from the article.
Math: Have children use place-value models to show 4 x 8. Ask them to predict what will happen if they regroup to show 10s. Look for children to combine 4 groups of 8, then compose groups of 10, for a result of three 10s and two 1s.
The bridge is used to assess prior knowledge. It is difficult to move on to new knowledge if the children are not ready to learn it. If the results of the bridge indicate that children are not ready for the day´s lesson, you´ll likely want to identify the missing knowledge and spend the time solidifying your students´ understandings. Postpone today´s lesson until tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome, the bridge offers you the opportunity to make sure your children are well prepared for each new concept.
2. Goal-Setting Introduction (3–5 minutes)
The goal-setting introduction is brief, but essential in helping your students focus their attention on the learning outcomes for the lesson. Your introduction connects the bridge to today´s learning and makes the new work part of a larger body of knowledge. Record goal-setting statements on chart paper so they can be referred to during the lesson.
Reading/Language Arts: "Yesterday, we read a news article and identified the main idea and important details. Today, we will use those ideas and details to construct an idea web. A web is a kind of picture that shows the article´s main idea and statements related to the main idea."
Math: "We have already learned how to use place value models to show and solve multiplication facts through 35. Today, we will use what we know about multiplication and place value models to find products for larger numbers such as 3 x 14."
The Body of the Lesson (30–40 minutes)
The body of the lesson contains the work that children will do to reach the day's learning outcomes. You may engage children using a variety of formats, addressing different learning styles. These may include purposeful reading, writing from a prompt, working with manipulatives, conducting investigations, or solving a problem. Encourage a mix of group discussion, pair work, and independent study.
While children are working on the assigned activity, circulate around the room to observe, question, and informally assess understanding. If you find that a few children are experiencing difficulty, you'll most likely want to work with them quietly in a small group. If you feel that many children are confused, address the misunderstanding with the class.
After the quiet work time, engage children in a follow-up discussion. The post-task discussion is an especially important part of the lesson because children can exchange ideas, learn from one another, and clarify their own thinking.
Reading/Language Arts: Have children create a web that shows the main idea and important facts about the article. Guide children to use the main idea of the article for the center of the web and write the article's important facts on the web's spokes. As you circulate, assess whether or not children are able to create the web. Look for them to identify the important facts and to restate them in their own words. Allow time for children to share their webs in small groups or with the class and justify their responses.
Math: Have children use place-value models to show three groups of 14. Then ask them to identify the product. As you circulate, observe as children combine the models. Look for them to create three 14-unit groups, combine the groups of ls and groups of 10s, and regroup 10 ones to make another 10. Provide several other examples, some that require regrouping and some that don't. As you observe and informally assess, make sure children can articulate the process of combining like groups and can explain how they know when regrouping is needed.
Closure/Preview of Future Learning (5–10 minutes)
Reflection is an. integral part of learning. Closing the lesson enables children to look back on the day's work and synthesize it, and enables you to determine whether or not the goals of the lesson have been met. First, review the goals that you posted in the lesson introduction. Use a class discussion, journal, or culminating example with manipulatives to assess children's understanding. If you are satisfied that today's goals have been met, provide a previewing bridge for the next lesson. Reading/Language Arts:
Have children use their own words to define a web. Then ask them to tell what a web shows and to suggest how it might be used. Listen for children to note that creating a web helped them organize and clarify their thoughts. To connect today's work to future learning, say, "We'll use the main idea and facts that we wrote in our webs today to help us create a summary of the article tomorrow." Math:
Ask children how they used the place-value materials to help them model and solve multiplication sentences. Then have them discuss how they determined whether or not regrouping was needed. Listen for children to note that they mode eled the same number multiple times to show multiplication and that they needed to regroup when there were 10 or more ones after combining all the groups. To connect today's work to future learning, say "We'll use what we learned today about multiplying with models to draw pictures and solve number sentences for multiplication in the next several days."
If children's reflections reveal that their knowledge is not solid enough to move on, try to locate the gaps and attempt to close them in your next lesson. Of course, this means that you may need to revise your plans. However, it is far more important to ensure a strong foundation than to forge ahead with a teaching plan that may ultimately leave weak areas in children's knowledge.
An effective lesson ties organically into the big ideas of the curriculum, building on what comes before and paving the way for what follows. As teachers, our job is to create a strategy for guiding children to see the "big ideas." We can accomplish this by planning for each lesson not as a separate entity unto itself, but as one step within the enchanting path of knowledge.