Developing Lesson Plans

Lesson plans have three primary functions. First, the process of preparing them helps instructors organize their thoughts for each day’s work with youth. Second, they provide documentation that becomes the basis for reflection and future refinement of the instruction process. Third, they enable instructors to document and exchange specific teaching strategies in a format that is easy for others to understand and follow. If multiple instructors, volunteers, interns, etc. are working with youth in a single class, creating a lesson plan ensures that everyone knows how and when the activities will be done, and why they are being done.

A lesson plan describes a set of activities that are implemented over the course of a single session. In this context, for example, a lesson plan would describe what happens in an out-of-school program with one group of children on one day. This is distinct from a project, which is a series of interrelated lessons, implemented over sequential sessions that result in a product or group of products.

A lesson plan is a working document. Your organization may want to assemble an ongoing “best of” collection of lesson plans that have been rewritten to reflect how they were actually implemented or should have been implemented.

Since a lesson plan is first and foremost a personal planning tool for an instructor, each instructor should use a format that works best for him or her. At a minimum, lesson plans should include:

  • age of youth
  • length of time of activities
  • objectives (what youth will accomplish/produce by the end of the session)
  • learning outcomes (skills and competencies that youth will practice or develop)
  • activity steps/procedures
  • materials

Other planning areas might include:

  • introductory activities
  • transitions (activities that bridge a change of activity or a physical move to another space)
  • closure (activities that help youth process what they have learned, and prepare them for the next day’s work)
  • assessment (how to determine what youth have learned)

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Each day should consist of a constellation of short activities and work on extended projects that span several classes. Try to introduce a theme each day that unifies your activities and projects and which builds over time to form a unified curriculum.
  • Community-building activities offer simple techniques for breaking up your sessions, keeping children focused, and getting kids to work together as a team.
  • Even projects and activities that seem to focus on visual arts or technology should always have a component that reinforces basic language skills or other broader learning goals, and they should supplement what youth are learning in school.
  • Take an inquiry-based approach to collaborative learning, and consistently use fundamental principles of working with youth, particularly good modeling and pair-share techniques.

Remember that the key to all successful activities and projects is good planning. Before you do anything else, determine your main objective. Is it to support a certain skill set or topic, such as vocabulary or science? Maybe the overriding goal is to teach web development, in which case a particular topic may be less important than, say, making sure there are pictures to use.

For any activity or project, we encourage you to let the youth ultimately select their own topics. It’s important to be clear on what you’re trying to accomplish in order to guide youth toward your larger learning goals.

For all projects, as well as for other appropriate activities, the last step should always be a group share so youth can share their work and learn from each other. Don’t forget to use the work produced in these projects and activities to help you create a collaborative learning environment and reach out to parents and your community.