Whether delivering a lecture, leading a tutorial, facilitating a discussion, or something else, planning a lesson is a key step to teaching clearly and confidently. There are three main points to consider when planning a lesson:
- Goals: What would you like the students to learn?
- Learning activities: How will you guide students through the learning process?
- Time management: How will you structure the class time?
This teaching tip discusses these three important aspects of lesson planning and the use of templates to help organize and document your lesson plans. According to the University of Toronto (n.d.) Lesson Plan Checklist, “Writing detailed lesson plans is an important stage on the continuum of learning to teach.” In other words, the detail and intensity with which you approach planning a lesson will change over the course of your career, but doing it intentionally at the start will set you, and your students, up for success.
What are your objectives for the lesson? Perhaps you want to introduce or review specific content. One way to narrow your goals is to focus on concepts that are particularly important, complex, or difficult to understand. Alternatively, you may want the students to acquire new skills, for example, in solving certain problems. If you are clear about your goals for the session, it is easier to make planning decisions about what teaching and learning activities will be useful and how much class time should be allocated to each activity.
Other questions to consider when planning a lesson include:
- How will I link the information and learning from one class to the next?
- How does this lesson link across course units?
- How does this lesson connect with other courses?
Teaching and learning activities
Once you know what you would like the students to learn, you can select activities that will help them acquire the desired knowledge and skills. Activities can include lecturing, discussions, question and answer sessions, brainstorming, quizzes, etc. Activities can take place face to face or online; ideally online activities should be well integrated into the face-to-face aspects of the course and vice-versa.
For more information on activities and strategies for use in the classroom, see our related teaching tips:
- Lecturing Effectively
- Nine Alternatives to Lecturing
- Activities for Large Classes
- Active Learning Activities
- Implementing Group Work in the Classroom
- Question Strategies
- Facilitating Effective Discussions
Time management is one of the most challenging aspects of lesson planning because it requires that instructors keep track of both in-class and out-of-class time requirements to reach an approximate student workload of 10 hours per week for each course.
When planning use of class time, it is important that the goals are addressed within the available time in a manner that promotes student engagement. In-class activities and topic transitions are excellent ways to provide a change of pace in a lecture. However, it can be difficult to estimate the amount of time required for certain activities. Many of us think we can do a lot more than we can within the time we have, and if you’re going to do any type of in-class group work or discussions, they will often take about 50% more time than your initial estimate. Also consider that the more time you spend on a topic area, the more important the students perceive it to be, and the more they will cover it in preparation for a test or exam.
One way to improve your time management skills is to keep careful track of your in-class timing the first few times you teach a course so that you can make informed adjustments from term to term. Also, consider asking a cross-section of your students about the time needed to complete out-of-class work.
Lesson planning templates allow you to quickly make note of your goals, ideas for activities, and time requirements associated with these plans. As a result, they are often a helpful way to organize your thoughts. Furthermore, these written lesson plans are an easy way to document lectures and tutorial plans for review when planning assignments and examinations and for future revision and reuse.
When planning your own teaching events, feel free to come up with your own template. There’s no one right way to do this. Some people require more information than others. Some like charts, some like paragraphs. The only essential aspect is that the template allows you to quickly jot down enough information that will be useful to you when assessing your teaching, planning assignments, tests and examinations, or designing a future lecture on the same subject.
Use the template below to describe pre-class, in-class, post-class, and online student work. Indicate the time estimated for each activity, the topics or concepts being covered, activities for students to learn these concepts (e.g., course readings, brainstorming, lectures, small group discussions, assignments, tests, etc.), resources needed (e.g., audio-visual equipment, handouts, etc.), and the ungraded feedback and graded assessment methods that you will use to evaluate students’ grasp of the key concepts (e.g., questions in class, future test questions, etc.).
Course learning goals related to this lesson: ________________________
Lesson date(s): _________________________
|Time||Topics/key concepts||Teaching and learning activities||Resources||Feedback and assessment|
- Lesson plan template A [PDF]
- Lesson plan template C [PDF], (Georgian College, Centre for Teaching and Learning)
- Lesson plan template D [PDF], (Education Development Centre, Carleton University)
If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help. View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.
William & Mary School of Education. (2023, Jan. 28) The importance of lesson planning for student success.
University of Toronto OISE | Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. (n.d.) Lesson plan checklist. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from
CTE teaching tips
- Bloom’s Taxonomy Learning Activities and Assessments
- Course Design: Questions to Consider
- Course Design: Planning a Flipped Class
- Instructional Skills Workshop
- The Lesson Planning Tool
- Biggs, J., Tang, C., and Kennedy, G. (2022). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, fifth edition. McGraw-Hill Education.
- Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by Design, second edition Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Course Design: Planning a class. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.