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Lifting the Lid on Daily Lesson Planning: Realities and Ideas

Updated: Mar 17

What’s everyone else doing?  Am I the only one still searching for that holy grail of planning systems? Am I the only one muddling through in the meantime? Are my peers really writing T-Coll-worthy unit plans? What notes do my buddies really make in those plan books? Let's lift the lid on what's going on out there, but we'll start from the top!

Year Planning

lesson planning

For seniors, generally there’s a two-pronged approach where we plan:

  1. Content with smaller text studies and assessments all falling from one central text, then

  2. Timing – mapping everything out on a year/term planner.

Some teachers noted that there is some danger in having everything fall from that central text (and therefore central theme) as students (and teachers!) can get sick of the ‘sameness’, especially if your central text is something like Neal and Jarrod Shusterman’s Dry and you spend the year in a thirsty panic.  I’d suggest you can still keep with the theme but flip it to look at the beauty and kindness in the world too.  Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” comes to mind!

Junior planning usually focuses on:

  • Genre (eg: poetry, persuasive writing) and

  • Skills to be mastered at each level, often called 'graduate profiles.

Faculty storage and sharing: faculties mostly rely on Google Shared Drives, a Google Site or their Microsoft equivalents to store resources.  Teachers either upload their own resources to share with the department, or there’s a dedicated ‘somebody’ who gets sent everything, then they upload the resources.  Having one person in charge of loading can be a clever idea to ensure everything stays organised!


Unit planning

Cards on the table: few teachers write unit plans with all the bells and whistles unless ERO is coming to visit (LOL) or they have a sudden burst of good intention!  Some though, I swear must never sleep because their unit plans really are incredible. Having said that, those that I saw doing this were seriously tech savvy and had really user-friendly templates all set to go, so they're probably quicker at it than most.

Most teachers I spoke to said if they do write a unit plan, they won’t ever pick it up again. Plans made for last year's class never seem quite right with this year's class. It also seems a bit dull to do this - which is superbly ironic considering the workload!

Most teachers have an outline of what they want to cover, then detailed planning is done within the resources created for sections of the unit (eg, symbolism in our novel) or lessons. For example:

  • Notes and activities written on the whiteboard

  • PowerPoint/Slides presentations

  • Worksheets

  • Collaborative activities


99% of teachers create a unit outline but they never know what turn things might take because students could take things in an unexpected direction.  One teacher said he has the beginning of units sorted, but the middle and end is unplanned because of this.  So, there’s a lot of subliminal student direction out there which is great, I think!

Time Frame realities

I always go through the following calculation with my beginning teachers:

  • It seems you have 4 x 10-week terms = 40 weeks.

  • Minus 10 weeks because in term 4 you have 2-4 weeks and that’s revision = 30 weeks.

  • Minus 5 weeks in term 1 because the first 5 weeks are always a mess plus you can factor in athletics sports, swimming sports etc = 25 weeks.

  • Minus at least 1 week for winter/summer tournaments = 24 weeks

  • Minus one week for interruptions like school photos… = 23 weeks

  • 23 x 4 periods a week (5 if you're lucky) = 92 lessons. 

You’d better make every lesson count!  When I was training, my father asked me, “What’s one thing every student will know by the end of this lesson?”  It's really hard to have every student learn one thing before they walk out the door, but with such tight timeframes, it's a good wee mantra to keep the pace up and to have that concrete bit of knowledge singled out.


Daily Plans

No day is the same with teaching (which is really one of the reasons why we love it, right?!) so everything starts again.  I was rapt to hear I’m not the only one who changes their daily planning system all the time!  So many of us are always trying out a new system, always looking for that holy grail. 


Most teachers note the bare basics in whatever planning diary they use because details are laid out in the PowerPoints, worksheets, notes written on the board (yes, off the cuff) etc that are created for each lesson (as mentioned above in Unit Planning). This is especially true around more complex studies such as the close reading of a written excerpt where activities need to be carefully thought through.


Experienced teachers know – without needing to write down the details – that a decent lesson includes at least some of these things:

  • A starter:  In English we often focus on language and structural features or short writing activities (eg, the daily dash). One teacher I spoke to, in an effort to push Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles is experimenting with starter activities that require a bit of collaboration. 

  • Sequencing (eg: Teacher-Pair/Goup-Individuals) and scaffolding (building on from one skill/knowledge point to the next).

  • Differentiation for:

    • Speed and ability:  Everyone begins with the ‘must do’ activity, then sees how far they get.

    • Confidence:  Give 3 levels of activity.  Students choose which one they’ll do.

    • The individual:  Give students opportunities to relate ideas to themselves – their experiences, their cultures.

  • Plenaries:  Nope!  LOL.  That fun lesson ending to check or embed new knowledge – eg, exit cards – is but a pipe dream for most of us!  Often, it’s a race against the clock to get everything done, and we’re up there with Braveheart getting the kids to pack up, tidy up, stand behind their chairs then “hooold, hoooold, hoooooooooold!” until the bell goes! 

 We do our best.

 Daily Planning - Hard Copy

The good old black/yellow plan book:

These range from sparse notes (“novel”) to the Instagram-worthy with colour coding, bullet-pointed details and – OMG – super-tidy writing. 

Lesson planning
A lovley looking plan book!

Somewhere in between are the plan books of teachers who begin the year excited about a new plan book (I mean – stationery, right?!) with the first couple of weeks ALMOST Insta-worthy, but then that becomes a few notes every now and again in black biro…to a paperweight. One good tip: use erasable pens (Frixion pens are awesome) or pencil so you can edit!

Create your own:

The method I stuck to most was creating my own diary/plan book.  One page would have my timetable with room to write notes in under each period, the other page was divided into “To print/photocopy”, “To see”, “To create” etc.  Then I’d back these pages and spiral bind them so that by opening my book I had my timetable for planning on one side and things to do on the other for the WEEK.

Purchased diary plus timetable strip down the side:

lesson planning
Combining a timetable with a commercial diary.

Using a diary with a day-per-page view, many teachers create a vertical timetable strip for each day, then literally cut out and glue these onto the side of each page.  Write a few planning notes on that, then still have the rest of the page to note things to do, meetings etc.  This is the method I ended up favouring, mostly because the strip told me where I was supposed to be, and I still had my list of things to do handy. For a FREE template to use for your diary, click here - saves a bit of time!

Agenda on whiteboard: 

Many of us do this!  Most, in fact!  A good cue for us as well as students. Having “This Week” and “Next Week” signs to swap around can be handy too if you’ve got room on your whiteboard for two spaces for each class.  So, you have your year/term planner set out in some detail to manage the timing of everything, but the daily planning is on the whiteboard.

The blank notebook: 

Many teachers use a blank notebook to note lesson plans/reminders – spiral bound so you can bend it back to sit flat on your desk and preferably A5 for easier handling


Daily Planning - Digital Options

Teachers want:

  • Something that gives easy 'click and type' options.

  • Something 'cross-platform' that gives a good view on mobile as well as laptop.

The following work pretty well once you've set things up.


Google Calendar:

lesson planning

Import your timetable from Kamar – here’s how if you have a Mac and here’s how if you don’t!  When you’re in your emails or docs, have your Google Calendar open on the sidebar to see your timetable (see image on the right for how to to do this).  Of course, you can access this on your phone app too, but it’s not as easy to view as a paper version or Google Keep (see below) in my opinion.

Google Keep:

(Similar to Evernote.)  Use the app for a really clear view on your mobile. Create a note for each day of the week – give them creative looking headings if you like.  Then just type your timetable into each day.  Brilliant because, like Google Calendar, it can sit on your sidebar when you have your emails, docs etc open.  (Alternatively, use this (or Google tasks) as a ‘Things to do’ list.)

lesson planning

lesson planning

Planning in Google Docs:

Create a table, insert timetable, copy and paste for each week.  Use menu on left to find your weeks.  When you’re in your planning document, you can have your Google Calendar open on the sidebar, or perhaps use Google Keep or Google Tasks for ‘to do’s’. 

lesson planning

Google Sheets (or Excel):

Another alternative.  Note, you can make use of tabs along bottom (ie different sheets) for each class.  The only frustration is that you have to get into the habit of hitting ALT + Enter to move onto a new line (just hitting ENTER moves you to a new cell).

Google classroom:

Create your own table for the week for that class and post it so that students can view it too.  With this in mind, you might like to read how I planned for my Year 13s using a tutorial system instead of whole-class teaching (because they were often working on different things, especially by the second half of the year).


Seems so promising.  I’ve tried it for planning but the rush of needing something to work NOW put it on the backburner.  See images below for layout suggestions if you want to play around with it. The best thing is the ability to move cards to new days if you have an interruption or don’t get something finished.

Commercial teacher planners:

There are many out there, most aligned to the American curriculum, but you can just ignore those bits if you’re from elsewhere (would we use them anyway?  Hehe!)

  • Planbook seems to be most popular.

  • I had a good play around with Common Curriculum and I must say, I did like it! Would be interesting to see how quick it is to use on the fly though!

 Enjoy playing! And rest assured, we're all doing things a little bit differently, often chaotically, but always with passion...ish!

lesson planning

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