Building a Class from Beginning to End

It’s a given that there are as many ways to teach as there are teachers in classrooms. The myriad ways in which teachers are prepared for what they will encounter in the classroom also varies, and though my opinion that they are not prepared enough (based on my own experience), I’ll reserve for another day. Often, pre-service teachers are taught to have a beginning, middle, and end to their classes, but then to rely heavily on the district adopted texts for their curriculum and classroom materials. I would encourage new teachers (and even veteran teachers who find themselves in a rut) to not discard the Internet, or other teachers in your building. If you have the luxury to be at a high school or middle school, often publishers send whole class sets, along with all their supplementary materials, to several schools within the district when there is an adoption in progress. Even if the district doesn’t choose a particular publisher, those books and materials are kept in offices and store rooms. Sometimes, there can’t be enough supplementary material in what you are required to use, so “borrow” from another textbook set.

Regardless of where you derive your materials, to build a class, there does need to be a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like a well-written novel (and I know about that, too!). Having a problem(s) on the board when students walk in is a way to set the tone for the class. It can be a problem of the week, a daily warm up, an object that they must describe or write a paragraph guessing its function, or maybe it is a response to a question. Having a task ready for students reduces or eliminates behavior issues and can afford you time to take attendance or check in with particular students or begin to check homework if it was assigned the day before. The transitions are smoother, with more time spent on task, when students are aware of your class schedule and what is expected of them.

In keeping with a schedule, the middle of the class can be a wide variety of learning experiences. Reviewing homework or a test or quiz, a partnered activity that could be a review of previous material, vocabulary, reviewing of notes, introduction of new material by way of direct instruction, discovery learning, or an activity. Keep in mind that the brain loses attention quickly and often, so to have several short learning experiences planned would be helpful in keeping the student’s focus on learning, not on their seatmate or whatever is occurring outside the window. Sometimes, though, a 45 minute or longer “lesson” is the only way to make the material available to students. Even so, to plan for 30 second breaks for them to turn to a partner and review the last problem, the last five vocabulary words, etc., will facilitate attention back on you and the information once their “break” is over.

Ending a class takes skill. Teachers can overplan (guilty!) and keep students right till the bell, then there is a scramble to clean up and get them moved on to their next class. When that happens, there is a feeling of discombobulation for everyone. There is no chance for a summary, for students to “wrap up” what they did in class, whether that is arriving at a conclusion or understanding what is required for the homework, and it doesn’t give you the time needed for students to ask questions or for you to get feedback on what was accomplished (or learned) or what will be expected the next day (points you’ll need to review or reteach).

Those who have spent time only as a student in a classroom are often oblivious as to what it takes to build a lesson from beginning to end that is cohesive, allows for various modalities, and gives students the opportunity to not only play into how their brains function in this era (very different from most of the rest of us), but allow for some traditional skills, such as focusing, listening, sharing, and collaborating. I have more tips on my web site If you have suggestions to help teachers build a successful lesson, leave your comment here.