The Value of Planning


It would seem that a great deal of teacher effectiveness has to do with the ability to design and implement instruction that promotes learning. An overwhelming amount of research suggests that learning is directly correlated to teacher planning and preparation. This is largely due to the fact that if a plan is ready, then a teacher can focus on its implementation.  This relates to a teacher's cognitive capacity and cognitive load.

While developing unit and lesson plans can seem like an onerous burden, doing so can prove to be important because:

  • The process of planning forces one to reflect on what you want to accomplish in each unit and in each class and how best to do so.
  • Planning helps control how class time is used and, as a result of reflection, use that time as productively as possible.
  • Lesson and unit plans can be used, with revisions and adaptations, each time you teach the material, and they can be saved to be used later.  

Many educators use a backward design planning model. The teacher starts with the end, the desired results, and then derives the curriculum o as to meet the desired results (the evidence of learning called for by the expectations and the teaching needed to equip students to perform. (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).

Backward design planning allows educators to provide what David Perkins calls learning by wholes, structuring learning around opportunities to experience or engage in the topic as it would exist outside of school.

Using the metaphor of a baseball game, Perkins, a senior professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and author of Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education, believes that the experience of most students involves either learning isolated skills (i.e., only ever throwing a ball) or learning about the game (i.e., studying baseball statistics or the history of baseball) without ever getting out onto the field and participating in an actual game. In a classroom setting, this means providing opportunities for students to experience the ‘whole game’ of mathematical thinking or scientific problem solving or historical analysis of primary source artifacts.

The backward design model is comprised of the following three stages: 
I. Identify desired results 
II. Determine acceptable evidence 
III. Plan learning experiences and instruction.


Instructional Approaches

Instructional Approaches

"Effective teaching is not a set of generic practices, but instead is a set of context-driven decisions about teaching. Effective teachers do not use the same set of practices for every lesson . . . Instead, what effective teachers do is constantly reflect about their work, observe whether students are learning or not, and, then adjust their practice accordingly (Glickman, 1991, p. 6).

 Instructional Models 

Models represent the broadest level of instructional practices and present a philosophical orientation to instruction. Models are used to select and to structure teaching strategies, methods, skills, and student activities for a particular instructional emphasis. Instructional models are related to theories about how we learn. Some examples include: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism.  Various learning theories fit within these general categories, i.e., adult learning theory, transformative learning, social interaction, motivation theory, etc. 

Instructional Strategies

Within each model several strategies can be used. Strategies determine the approach a teacher may take to achieve learning objectives. Strategies can be classed as direct, indirect, interactive, experiential, or independent.

  • The direct instruction strategy is highly teacher-directed and is among the most commonly used. This strategy includes methods such as lecture, didactic questioning, explicit teaching, practice and drill, and demonstrations. The direct instruction strategy is effective for providing information or developing step-by-step skills. This strategy also works well for introducing other teaching methods, or actively involving students in knowledge construction.
  • Inquiry, induction, problem solving, decision making, and discovery are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably to describe indirect instruction. In contrast to the direct instruction strategy, indirect instruction is mainly student-centred, although the two strategies can complement each other. Examples of indirect instruction methods include reflective discussion, concept formation, concept attainment, cloze procedure, problem solving, and guided inquiry.
  • Interactive instruction relies heavily on discussion and sharing among participants. The interactive instruction strategy allows for a range of groupings and interactive methods. These may include total class discussions, small group discussions or projects, or student pairs or triads working on assignments together.
  • Experiential learning is inductive, learner centred, and activity oriented. The emphasis in experiential learning is on the process of learning and not on the product. Personalized reflection about an experience and the formulation of plans to apply learnings to other contexts are critical factors in effective experiential learning. Experiential learning greatly increases understanding and retention in comparison to methods that solely involve listening, reading, or even viewing (McNeil & Wiles, 1990). Students are usually more motivated when they actively participate and teach one another by describing what they are doing. 
  • Independent study refers to the range of instructional methods which are purposefully provided to foster the development of individual student initiative, self-reliance, and self-improvement. Independent study can also include learning in partnership with another individual or as part of a small group. It is important that the instructor make sure that learners have the necessary skills in order to accomplish the task. Independent study is very flexible. It can be used as the major instructional strategy with the whole class, in combination with other strategies, or it can be used with one or more individuals while another strategy is used with the rest of the class.

Instructional Methods 

Methods are used by teachers to create learning environments and to specify the nature of the activity in which the teacher and learner will be involved during the lesson. While particular methods are often associated with certain strategies, some methods may be found within a variety of strategies.

Learner Involvement

Capable instructors are aware of the principle of active learner participation. "Given the choice between two techniques, choose the one involving the learners in the most active participation" (Knowles, 1980, p. 240). Below is a sample of techniques categorized according to participant involvement (Cafarrella, 2002) 


Levels of Learner Involvement

Low Involvement

Medium Involvement

High Involvement


Panel discussion


Computer-based drills

Computer-based tutorials

Socratic dialogue


Group discussion

Behavior modeling


Reflective practice--blogs, journals

Asynchronous online forums

E-mail and listservs

Audio/Video conferencing

3D Interactive Learning Activities



Role play


Case studies



Internet searches

Concept mapping

Trial and error



Educational gaming

Second Life—Sims

Real-time relay chats

In-basket exercises

Structured experiences

Problem-based learning

Project-Based Learning

Collaborative Learning

Inquiry Learning


Differences Among Learners

In addition, effective instructors acknowledge the differences among learners.  For example, instructors have recognized that adults bring rich and divergent life experiences, are immersed in various life roles, have preferred learning styles, seek learning experiences that are relevant to their goals, and want practical solutions to problems and issues (Knowles, 1980; Caffarella, 2002). With the advent of "global classrooms" and the recognition that race, gender, class and culture do make a difference, responding to learner differences has become even more challenging.

Learning Styles

McTighe and Wiggins UbD unit planning template

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Links to Resources                Download the unit plan below here:


Understanding By Design Unit Template


Title of Unit



Grade Level






Time Frame



Developed By



Stage 1 - Identify Desired Results


Broad   Areas of Learning

How are the BAL incorporated into this   unit?






Cross   curricular Competencies

How will this unit promote the CCC?








Learning Outcomes

What   relevant goals will this unit address?

(must come from curriculum; include the   designations e.g. IN2.1)











Enduring Understandings

What   understandings about the big ideas are desired?(what you want students to   understand & be able to use several years from now)

What   misunderstandings are predictable?

Essential Questions

What   provocative questions will foster inquiry into the content?(open-ended   questions that stimulate thought and inquiry linked to the content of the   enduring understanding)

Students will understand that...












Related misconceptions…






Content specific….












FNMI,   multicultural, cross-curricular…



What knowledge will student acquire as a   result of this unit?  This content   knowledge may come from the indicators, or might also address pre-requisite   knowledge that students will need for this unit.



What skills will students acquire as a   result of this unit?  List the skills   and/or behaviours that students will be able to exhibit as a result of their   work in this unit.  These will come   from the indicators.

Students   will know...














Students   will be able to…


Stage 3 –   Learning Plan

What teaching and learning experiences   will you use to:

  • achieve the desired results identified in Stage 1?
  • equip students to complete the assessment tasks identified in        Stage 2?

Where are your students headed?    Where have they been?  How will   you make sure the students know where they are going? 

What experiences do the learners bring   to the unit?  How have the interests of   the learners been ascertained?  Have   the learners been part of the pre-planning in any way?  What individual needs do you anticipate   will need to be addressed?

Learning environment:  Where can this learning best occur?  How can the physical environment be   arranged to enhance learning? 







How will you engage   students at the beginning of the unit? (motivational set)







What events will help students experience and explore the enduring understandings   and essential questions in the unit?    How will you equip them with needed skills and knowledge?


Lesson Title

Lesson Activities




















































































































































Assess and Reflect (Stage 4)



Required Areas of Study:

 Is there alignment between outcomes,   performance assessment and learning experiences?






Adaptive Dimension:

Have   I made purposeful adjustments to the curriculum content (not outcomes),   instructional practices, and/or the learning environment to meet the learning   needs and diversities of all my students?

For struggling students:










For students who need a challenge:










Instructional Approaches:

Do   I use a variety of teacher directed and student centered instructional approaches?






Resource Based Learning:

 Do the students have access to various   resources on an ongoing basis?






FNM/I   Content and Perspectives/Gender Equity/Multicultural Education:

Have I nurtured and   promoted diversity while honoring each child’s identity?






From:  Wiggins, Grant and J. McTighe. (1998). Understanding by Design, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ISBN # 0-87120-313-8 (pbk)


Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) 5E Unit Planning Template

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Links to Resources                Download the unit plan below here:

BSCS 5E Unit/Lesson Planning Template



Subject  / grade level:



Essential Curriculum Expectations/Standards, Clarifying Objectives, and Enduring Unerstandings



Lesson objective(s) by day:



Differentiation strategies to meet diverse learner needs:




  • Describe how the teacher will capture students’ interest.
  • What kind of questions should the students ask themselves after the engagement?




  • Describe what hands-on/minds-on activities students will be doing.
  • List “big idea” conceptual questions the teacher will use to encourage and/or focus students’ exploration





  • Student explanations should precede introduction of terms or explanations by the teacher. What questions or techniques will the teacher use to help students connect their exploration to the concept under examination?
  • List higher order thinking questions which teachers will use to solicit student explanations and help them to justify their explanations.





  • Describe how students will develop a more sophisticated understanding of the concept.
  • What vocabulary will be introduced and how will it connect to students’ observations?
  • How is this knowledge applied in our daily lives?





  • How will students demonstrate that they have achieved the lesson objective?
  • This should be embedded throughout the lesson as well as at the end of the lesson



Greenwich (Connecticut) Schools Unit Planning Template

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Links to Resources              Download the unit plan below here:


Stage 1: Desired Results

Curriculum Designer(s)/Teachers:

Unit Plan Title:




Subject/Discipline Areas:


Time Required:

Include unit planning date, begin of unit and end of unit dates.

LMC Use Dates and other

Include computer lab, in-class and media center use dates.

Content Standards: What are the state standards/provincial expectations addressed by this unit?  Be sure to include all subject-area standards.




Enduring Understanding: What is the “big idea” or conceptual issue that is worth student inquiry? This idea should transcend all content areas. Instead, the disciplines should be used as tools to explore the critical issue.



Over-arching Essential Question (Transdisiplinary): frame an essential question that engages and promotes higher-order thinking that relates to the critical transdisciplinary concept or issue.



Essential questions are provocative and make students think about the lessons within a greater context. Example: How can we explain the things that happen around us?

  • They can be Unit specific questions which focus attention on the important objectives of the project. Example: Are there rules that affect the ways things move? What rules affect whether an object floats or sinks? ~or
  • Content questions lead to fundamental and specific answers. Example: How are density, buoyancy, and displacement related? How can you measure volume of irregular solids?



Knowledge and Skills: what are the discrete objectives that students need to know and be able to do for effective performance?



Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

Determine acceptable evidence of understanding (Student learning goals): What should students be able to know and do or express when they understand the learning objectives?

q  Students will be able to…

Performance Task & Rubrics (e.g. Goal, Role, Audience, Scenario/Situation, Product/Performance and Standard/Criteria: G.R.A.S.P.S., Role, Audience, Format and Task: R.A.F.T.)





Other Evidence (e.g. test, quiz, common assessments)





Self Assessment








Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction

Learning Experiences: Plan instructional activities that address the learning objectives. Couch learning activities in simulations or authentic tasks that put students in charge of their learning. Plan work samples, performance tasks and other forms of formative assessment that allow students to express understanding of the learning objectives. These experiences should be designed via a gradual-release-of-responsibility continuum (immersion, guided practice and commitment/application).









Plan for information, media and technology (See Checklist of Integrated Technologies) The realistic nature of project work naturally leads students to use technology as they collaborate, solve problems, and share their work with others. How can technology support learning in this project?









Plan for Resources (Print and Non-Print): What books, periodicals, technologies and web resources will help meet the needs of this lesson?








PROCEDURE: Steps in the task – based on lesson plan w/responsibilities (example below):


Media Specialist will:

Classroom teacher will:

(Other content-area)

________________teacher will: