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Lesson Planning

To a college educator, the words “lesson plan” conjure images of a K-12 classroom. However, lesson plans are relevant to college instruction. A lesson plan serves as a roadmap to navigate to a specific destination or outcome. An effective lesson plan addresses the question, “What should learners be able to do by the end of the lesson?” through the use of learner-focused outcomes, framed with action verbs, and stated in measurable or observable terms. It also articulates an assessment plan to determine if the stated outcomes are reached. Attributes of lesson plans include: 

  • Learning Objectives or Outcomes - What goals do you want to achieve? What do you want learners to achieve? Ensure outcomes include an introduction, reinforcement, and assessment across time to build toward larger, course-level outcomes. 
  • Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills - Is there prerequisite knowledge/skills learners need to perform successfully? If so, will you provide materials in advance, plan diagnostic activities, etc.? Is remediation available? 
  • Assessment Plans - What actions would learners perform to provide evidence they’ve met outcomes? Think behavior, performance, and skill demonstration. Though objective tests can be used, they don’t always promote retention/transfer of knowledge in applied scenarios, so consider this in planning, along with the types or levels of assessment: 
    • Diagnostic - If you need to assess a performance gap or prerequisite knowledge and skills, diagnostic assessments like pre-tests can inform instruction and remediation.   
    • Formative - Formative assessments, also called classroom assessment techniques (CATs), are low-stakes, practice assessments that help both learners and the educator reflect on class and on individual progress. Results should inform lesson plans.   
    • Summative - Summative assessments are high-stakes, formal assessments that demonstrate outcomes are met and inform a learner’s grade. A lesson may not assess at the summative level; however, summative assessment of learning outcomes should be incorporated at some point. Formative assessments could build to later summative assessments, for instance, by having learners work on or revise parts of a project/paper with peer review to be assessed in a summative manner with a grade at a later point. 
  • Activities - Are practice activities necessary? Again, think about authenticity and application when possible. This should aid the transfer of knowledge and recall. 
  • Resources and Tools - What resources will learners need to perform activities successfully? What resources or tools will you need for instruction? 

Now, put these pieces together with transitions:  

  1. Creation of anticipation for the topic, activating prior knowledge, and explaining relevance. 
  2. Transparency in sharing of learning outcomes. 
  3. Varied teaching methods promoting engagement and application. We recommend transitions at the 15-minute mark to maintain learner engagement. 
  4. Multimodal interactivity: learner-to-content, learner-to-educator, and learner-to-learner. 
  5. Modeling or guided practice along with formative assessment. 
  6. Encouragement of independent practice and reference to later summative assessments. 
  7. Closure for the topic, reiterating its value and connection to future topics or outcomes. 
  8. Encouragement of learner metacognition or self-reflection on the concepts/process/progress. 

After the lesson, reflect on what went well. Were the learning outcomes effectively met with these methods and resources? What evidence do you have of learner understanding? How does this inform your next lesson? Are there adaptations you might make the next time? 

Video: Applying Relevance to Instruction (9:11)

This short video will highlight a few ways to achieve relevance in your instruction, which begin at the lesson planning stage.


Gagné's nine events of instruction

Gagné's nine events of instruction (adapted from Gagné, Briggs, & Wager, 1992) is one model illustrating a behaviorist approach to lesson design. The events are as follows:

  • Gain attention. 
  • Inform learners of objectives. 
  • Stimulate recall of prior learning. 
  • Present content. 
  • Provide "learning guidance." 
  • Elicit performance (practice). 
  • Provide feedback. 
  • Assess performance. 
  • Enhance retention and transfer. 

Lesson plan templates

Additional resources 


Gagné, R.M., Briggs, L.J, Wager, W.W. (1992). Principles of Instructional Design. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomason Learning. 

Hunter, M. C. (1982). Master Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.  

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design Framework. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.